Management by walking around reinvented

If you are a leader in bigger organization you face a very challenging task. How do you ensure that you are seen as a leader not only by direct subordinates but by the whole team? Daily visibility is the answer. People will not follow you if they don’t see you, if they don’t understand your values, your expectations, if they don’t see the results of your efforts and if they don’t see the goals towards you are marching.

You need to figure out a way how to ensure that you are giving people the attention they need and you need to be visible doing so. A lot was written about management by walking around (MBWA) but let me give you my take on it anyway. The original term supposedly comes from Hewlett-Packard and can be traced to the 1970s. It is essentially a very hands-on and informal style of management that marries nicely with coaching approach to leading people. This approach allows the leader to be approachable, collect suggestions, understand what is going on and keep his finger on atmosphere in the teams and pulse of the organization in general.

Walk

The first thing you need to change is not being locked in the office. You must be on the floor with your team every single day. Go for a walk amongst your teams and go slow. You don’t want to rush through the office like a tornado or a person on a mission who cannot be bothered even to say hello. You need to appear as someone who is approachable and ready to talk. People need to get accustomed of you being there, they need to realize that you are genuinely interested in their work, in them and that you don’t come only when you need something. You don’t have to talk to every single person every day, which would be challenging in large organization, but at the same time you shouldn’t always talk to the same person as it could be seen as favoritism or worse, it would set the routine that you didn’t come to talk to the team but only to that particular individual.

Talk

What to talk about? The good start can be “Hello, how are you doing?” Obviously you don’t want to ask the same question all the people and not every day. And here comes another aspect that will help you to become a leader who has a genuine interest in people. We are all individuals, remember that. If you talk to me and I mention that I’m not doing that well because my dog is sick, you may want to come back in a day or two and instead of asking how I’m doing you may want to ask “How is your dog?” This immediately gets the discussion to the next level as the person will realize that you remember what you talked about last time, and that you show genuine interest in the person and his problems. And then you want to ask about business related things, like what is the person working on, what issues or obstacles he has, gather feedback, reinforce the goals and acknowledge the job well done.

Remember

The empathy, body language and tone of voice are important and they need to be aligned with the words. What if you are really interested but the team is just too big or you don’t have a good memory? You may want to use some tools to help you with this task. You are not only a leader of your team, you are their steward. You may see your team as your customers who are buying leadership and support from you. So why not use the same approach and tools you would use with your external customers? Your sales department may be using some CRM (customer relationship management) software and you can do something similar to make sure you remember where you left off last time and can project the air of genuine interest. Also by writing the thought/topic down will actually help you to remember it as you will employ other parts of the brain and will use not just auditory but also visual and kinesthetic channels.

Follow up

Quite often it happens that you are being asked for something or you will compile a list of action items for yourself after your wandering around the office. It is vitally important that you follow up on any questions or tasks. When you go around the next time you bring your answers or update on some of the tasks you implemented based on the suggestions or requests from your team.

Make a habit of it

Do it and do it often. There is nothing more important than leading your team so there is no excuse why you shouldn’t do it at least once every single day. If you start saying things like “I have too many meetings today”, “Nothing is happening so why visit the team”, “I have to deal with my emails first”, then you are focusing on the wrong things and you don’t lead. Do you truly believe that your email inbox is more important than your team? Do you truly believe that by being closed whole day on meetings enables you to lead your organization? I didn’t think so. When making a habit of it and doing it consistently people will get used to you being around. They will get more comfortable talking to you, will bring more things to your attention and you will have bigger impact on your organization.

Do you practice management by walking around? What are the tips and tricks you use to make it as productive and useful as possible?

3 thoughts on “Management by walking around reinvented

  1. Thank you. I enjoyed this. I suggest asking team members how the day is going. Then follow-up with: what do you like most about it? What do you like least about it? And “lets see what we can do to help with that? (If you can)

  2. Pingback: Physical Distance In Management Matters | The Geeky Leader

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