Management by Walking Around

7791-mullins07073 Recently, our firm has experienced some significant growth, the result of making important strategic decisions early last year (yep, right in the middle of the recession).  With growth comes challenges for both leaders and staff.  Systems break down.  People show their weaknesses.  Structural challenges arise.  As I was thinking about what we we're experiencing, I exposed one of my own weaknesses. 

Like most of our clients, I spend a good deal of my time focused on directly providing a service.  I also spend a significant amount of time thinking and planning for tomorrow and spend about 50% of my time traveling.  Sometimes, as a result of this focus, I become insulated from day-to-day organizational issues.  In my case, this is a goal…I don't want to be tied into daily issues…that's why I've built (and continue to build) a management team.  Further, with technology such as e-mail and texting, we are becoming even more isolated as we miss the nuances resulting from face-to-face interaction (stop e-mailing the guy in the next room).  This insulation and isolation comes at a cost.

So, late last year I decided that I needed to get a bit closer to our daily operations. In my case, I had become insulated from the line staff and both they and I felt that there was something missing in our relationship.  I set out to have chats with each of them .  Simply stated, I learned many useful things, some of which are driving current decisions in our business.

This experience reminded me of a concept I first learned from Tom Peters, the great management guru, in one of his wonderful books back in the 1980s.  I share with you below some thoughts on Managing By Walking Around (MBWA) which I've borrowed from the archives of futurecents.com.  Enjoy…and get out there.

Do it to everyone.

You may remain in such close contact with your direct reports that MBWA is redundant with them. The real power of the technique lies in the time you spend with those in lower levels of your area of responsibility. Get around to see those who work for your direct reports and any others whose work is important to you.

Do it as often as you can.

MBWA sends positive messages to employees. It reveals your interest in them and in their work, and it says you don’t consider yourself "too good" to spend time with them. MBWA also enables you to stay in touch with what is going on in your department, section or unit. Put aside at least thirty minutes a week to spend with all employees. Aim for once a quarter to see those you must travel long distances to visit.

Go by yourself.

MBWA is more meaningful when you visit with employees alone, and one-on-one. It encourages more honest dialog and speaks loudly of your personal commitment to the idea.

Don’t circumvent subordinate managers.

Some employees may take advantage of your presence to complain about a supervisor who is your subordinate. Counsel them to discuss the issue fully with their supervisor first. If you have cause to question the supervisor’s judgment, don’t indicate so to the employee, but follow up privately with the supervisor.

Ask questions.

MBWA is a great opportunity to observe those "moments of truth" when your employees interact with your clients. Ask them to tell you a little bit about the files, projects or duties they are working on. Take care to sound inquisitive rather than intrusive.

Watch and listen.

Take in everything. Listen to the words and tone of employees as they speak to you and to each other. You’ll learn a lot about their motivation and their levels of satisfaction. In the words of Yogi Berra, "You can observe a lot just by watching."

Share your dreams with them.

As a Yukon Dog Team handler used to say, "The view only changes for the lead dog." MBWA is a solid opportunity to make sure that when you lead the sled in a new direction, the employees behind you won’t trip over themselves trying to follow. Tell them about the organization’s vision for the future, and where your vision for the department / unit/ section fits in with the "big picture." Reveal the goals and objectives that you want them to help you fulfill together as a team. Ask them for their vision, and hold an open discussion.

Try out their work.

Plop down in front of the computer; get behind the wheel; pick up the telephone; review a project file. Experience what they endure. Sample their job just enough to show your interest in it, and to understand how it goes. Think of great ways to reconnect with your front line workers, and gain a current understanding of exactly what they are dealing with during a typical work day.

Bring good news.

Walk around armed with information about recent successes or positive initiatives. Give them the good news. Increase their confidence and brighten their outlook. So often employees are fed only gloom and doom. Neutralize pessimism with your own optimism, without being non-credible.

Have fun.

This is a chance to lighten up, joke around, and show your softer side without being disrespectful or clowning around. Show employees that work should be fun and that you enjoy it too.

Catch them in the act of doing something right.

Look for victories rather than failures. When you find one, applaud it. When you run into one of the many unsung heroes in your job site, thank them on the spot, being careful not to embarrass them in front of peers or to leave out other deserving employees.

Don’t be critical.  

When you witness a performance gone wrong, don’t criticize the performer. Correct on the spot anything that must be redone, but wait to speak to the wrongdoer’s supervisor to bring about corrective action.

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