Sunday, January 18, 2009

“Please come to my office”

Ah – the comforts of being the boss. The office, support staff and resources to get the job done. Hopefully you’re successful and you get a bigger office, more support staff and more resources to accomplish even bigger things. Take that a couple more levels and you have the risk of creating a completely protected and out of touch manager (note, I did not say leader). Email and the Blackberry have the potential to make this even worse. If you ever hear yourself say “would you please come to my office”, you know you are on the edge.

I’ve found a good way to really understand the pulse of the organization is to get up and visit the person or team you are wondering about. You are certain to learn more about the people, productivity and challenges of the team on your way to and from the place you’re headed than many managers will learn in a year. Tom Peters coined the term many years ago as MBWA (management by walking around). As the organization’s leader, take a look at your schedule and see how much time you send openly engaging with your team. Done correctly, the team will see these visits as recognition and caring.

Do you schedule yourself open walk-around time? How did you feel the times when your boss visited you without a specific task to be completed?


VMAN said...

Its funny you should say this because I work in a virtual environment where most managers are sometimes in a different state. Looking at today's economic struggles with companies, would virtual townhall meetings serve this purpose of keeping in touch with your people as leaders? Like to here some responses

Karl Waggoner said...

MBWA sounds a whole lot more productive than management by crisis.

Comment shared from Linkedin said...

Heard, heard!

This is the only way to manage/lead.

To support your comment on doing this correctly, some people will probably give you some pretty strange looks when you stop by their office or when you show up on the shop floor for the first time. Just keep it up! Show a sincere interest in the work that they are actually doing (remember the work they are doing is probably paying your paycheck).

Your own managers may also feel that you are stepping into their zone. Just keep it up! Be open with them ensuring them that you are not trying to take over their job, you just have a sincere interest both in the work that is being done and in the people doing it and you want to have your finger on the pulse. Most of them will accept this - at least over time. I had one who couldn't handle it and found other challenges.

Ultimately, your employees - all the way through the organisation - will expect to see you and if you don't show your face for a while will start asking what's wrong. :-) You'll get all kinds of first hand information that gives you vital input to the important business decisions you are making.

Good luck with your MBWA.

Comment shared from Linkedin said...

For four years, I was the VP of Technology for a market leading business printing firm. Everyday that I was in the headquarters office, I walked out among Customer Service, Purchasing, Finance, Production and Warehousing. I doubt that there was a single day that I didn't come back with some easy and inexpensive way that a procedure or report could be changed that would result in an improvement in efficiency, a reduction in cost or an increase in customer satisfaction. All thanks to MBWA. I took an interest in what the employees were doing and they loved to share ideas with me.

Comments shared from Linkedin said...

Hi, John - good question.

During those times when I have held active management roles, whether with direct authority or working through influence, I have found that MBWA is the primary way to both get a feel for what is going on and to develop a rapport with those for whom you are responsible.

I remember, as a junior officer, watching the Operations Officer for our unit, walk up to a tank during field maneuvers, climb up to the turret, and greet the tank commander with a cheery "Hi!. Watcha doing here?" and then listening carefully to the answer. Do that with a few tank crews and you get a pretty good idea of how the exercise is going and whether the persons know what they are supposed to be doing.

I was struck by the fact that, while not ignoring military courtesy and rank, the Major used a personable and informal approach to gather information about the operation. Being friendly, as opposed to being "on inspection", made people more willing to open up and really talk about what was going OK and what was not.

I have used this same approach in healthcare, higher education, social services, and corporate settings with the same results.

As to scheduling, my example above is obviously an informal and relatively unscheduled thing. When I am new to a department, I have made it a point to announce my intention to "visit" and given some indication of when, at least at first. After you have rapport, whether the visit is scheduled or impromptu is not important, in my experience.

I like it when my boss just drops by and chats without a specific goal or purpose. To me, this is part of developing a bond between two colleagues, so that the more formal visits have a solid relationship base upon which to happen. That integrates with my general personality and expectation for the workplace, so it is individual to me.

Comments shared from Linkedin said...

my two cents.

Just manage the frequency.
For MBWA to be effective it should something that is be a looked forward to (by both partcipants), rather than a mundane ritual.

Comments shared from, Linkedin said...

You have absolutely hit on one of my hot buttons John. When I do leadership or management training MBWA is always a critical component. I even provide a formula for managers to 'make an appointment' with themselves' to get up off their seats and out of their offices three times a day for just 10 minutes. I recommend they do it sometime between 9 and 10, 1 and 2 and 4 or later (depending on their company work schedules).
I completely agree with Seema that HOW they do it is critical. This must be with positive intention and sincere interest in connecting with their people. The quick conversations can (and should) touch on how they are doing personally, what they are working on, and what they need to accomplish their tasks.
When done right, employees look forward to that brief time with the boss and there are two HUGE benefits for the leader. 1) it keeps them in touch with what's going on...they will see and hear things they would never know if closeted in their office or in meetings all day. 2) it stops (or at least cuts down) on the got-a-minutes which interrupt their own priorities.
I enjoyed everybody's comments and hopefully this concept will come back into vogue. With companies having to make tough decisions and in many cases employees being the ones being left behind after colleagues have been down-sized, it is more important than ever to stabilize and encourage.
Bravo John for stimulating this discussion!

Stuart Bishop said...

A couple of extra thoughts. The practicality of this will depend on just how lofty your position is and the size of your operation, but - even better than MBWA is placing your desk in the heart of your teams.

If you manage 10 people this is easy. A larger department? Well, you can place yourself pretty centrally in an open plan office of 30 or so. 60+? You can still do it, just change your desk position 3 or 4 times a year. 100+ in multiple teams, spread across different floors/buildings? Still doable - just have multiple desks available in different locations for hotdesking.

My company relocated a couple of years ago, and has no private offices anywhere in the building. I confess that initially I could see only the downsides, and there's no question that it is an inconvenience when it comes to dealing with confidential business or people issues.

However, I've come to see that as a minor cost, well worth paying. I sit "on the floor" surrounded by mostly "junior" staff, and my familiarity with what everyone is doing has been a HUGE benefit. One of the side-effects I like most is the way it removes the fear factor for the youngest employees. Remember how far removed and intimidating "the big boss" seemed when you had your first job?

It also provides fantastic opportunities for informal coaching, without any of the formality or misconceptions that go with having to arrange "1-1's", "reviews" or "development sessions".

In the upper corporate reaches, this will obviously be much harder to do, but I'd still contend you can do bits of it wherever you go. If you've got a laptop and a mobile, there should be little to stop you spending at least some time working in the heart of your teams wherever you go.

Comments shared from Linkedin said...

Walk-abouts are a good way of maintaining good relations with employees.

Another way, I found, was getting the boss or the boss' boss to the employee's job for half a day or a day. Changes in policies/process made by people not directly doing the work, can have serious negative ramifications. Firstly getting those managers/supervisors to perform the tasks, understand the skills involved, the limitations of the X (computer software, logistics, other resources), I find encourages constructive feedback from the employees, more engagement or "buy in" from them --- It acknowledges the skill levels and competency of the staff in performing the tasks.

One company I know of, has the director hold an "Open Office day". While feedback is encouraged throughout the year, this company wide, highly publicised day is "I will listen more attentively today, and I will not say who visited, and who did not visit". All employees were encouraged to "Vent", air grievances, suggest solutions, or just chit chat for a few minutes. This way, executive management gets an idea of trends inside the company, employees have an opportunity to raise sensitive issues which might not otherwise had been raised (out of fear, shyness, other).


Comments shared from Linkedin said...

Ideally MBWA i have seen has a huge psychological effect on the employee, depending on the personality of the big boss. If you actually are the kind with personality type, no smiles, no humor, straight face and always with a negative spirit, It transcends on you by the huge negative aura you carry into the room.

Such visits are bound to only create an atmosphere of tension, fear and basically send negative signals .

MBWA would only be of immense benefit if it helps the employees connect better avoiding negative stereotype behaviors on the part of the boss.

Comment shared from Linkedin said...

It is not the "Walking Around" that is important it is the opportunity that walking around gives to the workforce to speak to their managers and most importantly, to get direct feedback from them.
In a normal "Command and Control" scenario the manager is sufficiently removed from the realities of the job that they feel no need to respond to the workforce, who are after all just employees.
When an employee has an idea it will be submitted to management who in the time honoured fashion will fail to respond.
This makes the employee feel pretty insignificant, and that is not a good way to feel. So the employee does not submit any more ideas for improvement because being ignored hurts.
The managers behaviour has effectively prevented him from ever getting any input from the workforce.
Walking around restarts the desire for the workforce to communicate because they know that face to face they will get a response.
However, many managers argue that their responsibilities are too huge and complex to ever allow them to walk around, despite the fact that by not doing so is acutely affecting their employees ability to perform.
If these managers do truly want to improve their performance they have to know how the people they employ feel and what they are thinking.
If they have not the wit to devise a method to get the key feedback to their employees then they probably deserve the performance they get.
The manner of getting the input from their employees is never as important as the manner in which they deliver feedback to them.
It is the feedback that changes the way the workforce feel about what they do, if they get feedback they are engaged and enthusiastic.
If they don't they are sullen and uncommunicative.
The kind of workforce the manager has is directly related to the way that the manager behaves towards them.
Treat the workforce as if they are valuable and that is what they will become.
Treat them badly and that is the way they will perform.

Comment shared from Linkedin said...

Hello John,

You touch on a good subject, as we managers are always in pursuit of “the thing” that makes us a good leader and a good example for others. I would like to add that “walking about” is in fact information gathering to be used by the higher-up manager as one of the tools. Otherwise she/he may receive filtered information from their direct manager reports, their perception of the situation.

Learning from DMAIC principles (Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, Control; an incremental process improvement using Six Sigma methodology) perceptions are not necessarily representation of truth. A word of caution: since high-level managers don’t usually have much time to walk about, they should be also cautious about quick perception-making. One case, one example: during one of the “walk-abouts” one may receive information from administrators that over-cumbersome databases are to blame for loss of productivity. Administrators can demonstrate how they switch between screens and repopulate databases causing them to duplicate work. Later after process analysis, deduction is made instead that WAITING for information to populate these databases is mostly to blame for loss of productivity. So, walk about and don’t be quick to judge situations to make quick fixes (in this case to change databases causing you to spend a nice amount of cash in these strapped financial times). Use methods to analyze the “truth” before leading the company in the logical direction. More suggestions are welcome.

Comment shared from Linkedin said...

I think there is something missing from these comments.... off-site employees and virtual offices. Walking around works if you are working in the same office or region. Two years aog, I lived in Maryland - my company and boss were in Texas. I can tell you, the dreaded tools listed above like email, conference calls, WebEx, Blackberries, and others were the saviors not the demons. If my boss "walked around" and ended up at my home office, I would have been upset!! Waste of time, effort, money, and kind of creepy! :)

Today's workplaces are diverse - nothing is cookie cutter. There isn't a perfect answer for all work environments. What you need to implement is what works for your employees, your work environment, and your personality.

Even if there is a central office environment, I still believe that a manager has to find out what works best for them, their environment, and staff. There is nothing worse than having an uncomfortable manager forcing themselves to "walk around" because they were told it was a good way to get to know people and manage better. I would rather create a comfortable environment and set of tools/processes - even if it means getting an email or visiting them in their office - if that's where "we, the team" work best.

Comment shared from Linkedin said...

Many excellent points have already been made, but I wanted to add my agreement to this forum. There is not a bad time to begin your MBWA journey. In times like we are in now, your interest, sincerity and openness will help you win the hearts of your staff. I feel I benefit from this by hearing a variety of perspectives and learning what is top of mind for the front line staff. This often gets lost in the filtering of information in a large organization.

If you are uncomfortable just showing up with your staff, start with taking the long way to the rest room a couple of times a day. In other words, at least walk through your department intentionally and build up from there.

As leaders, we have the responsibility to know what is going on in our organizations. MBWA is one way to break through the filters and get the real story.

John Bishop said...

To all the commenters - outstanding job. I'll share my most extreme MBWA was inside the wings of the MD11. The entry hole was a 10"x14" oval hole! Once I was what the mechanics had to do - we got them better tools.

Amen on the VIRTUAL topic - I personally believe that every "in person" leadership topic has a counter-method for the virtual world. So the imaginative 21st century leader is using every possible way to MBWA virtually. Yes - this is a get topic for a future conversation thread.

Thanks for joining.


Comment shared from Linkedin said...

Walking about or Talking about for remote people is essential - I think it important to take the time to listen (remember the opposite of talking is NOT waiting to talk) and be prepared to help people who raise issues even if they are small to you - be sure to do this in a way that does not make the person who raised the issue look helpless (make sure they want the help). I have had bosses who step into situations and rob me of any chance of working it out and leave me with no credibility for the next go round.

Comment shared from Linkedin said...

I did enjoy my management's open door policy. Very inspirational.

Comment shared from Linkedin said...

Appreciate your discussion on leadership by walking around. Seems we might have more in common than Clarkson alumni group. I've been "walking around" the aerospace sales group at MSC Software for a few years now. We do quite a bit of business with Boeing. Perhaps you've heard of us, or our local sales manager, Keane Barthenhierer. Best to you and your team.

John Bishop said...

Thanks to everyone for such a great dialog on this tpoic. There is ovious agreement that face time done correctly is very important. We'll dive into how to do this virtually in future posts.

Comment shared from Linkedin said...

I very much like John's questions and the remarks so far.

I would point out the the invitation to the office may be viewed as an obstruction. As an underling when I was "invited" to the office it was often without regard to my priorities or current work load. If I am in the middle of something and interrupted, my attention may not be what you were wanting especially if once I get there I find that I must return at a later date because I was unprepared for the topic at hand.

I am a proponent of getting out of the office. Go talk to your team. If you truly believe in the servant-leader concept you should be going to them. It becomes easy to hide in an office and loose touch with things around you and nobody is served.

Comment shared from Linkedin said...

John you make a great point. Kouzes and Posner refer to the concept of managing by walking around. Even in today's technologically driven society it seems that there are ways of connecting to the people who report to me beyond the traditional Webex or Blackberry communique. However, I will say that these mediums do provide some sense of togetherness within the Organization when people within only see Leadership at major Conferences which are held three times per year.

This previous week my Lead (Actually a Manager; just a less abrasive term) came out to see me. At the end of his visit he provided me with my annual review for 2008. While I felt the review was fair and balanced I also felt there were many good points made both positive and constructive. Yet. I sat there at that evaluation wondering whether the guy was clueless to what I actually go through out in the field. It seems however (and in this case the manager is not clueless) the higher ups seem to be tentative. So, what I am saying is this: If you have feedback to offer, then offer it at a time when it makes sense. And there is not a more connective time than for that feedback to be provided more frequently and in person. If one cannot provide some sort of feedback the direct report (in this case me) is consistently wondering whether he or she is doing a good job or not. In a similar vein, I have often heard leaders say that if you are wondering whether you are doing a good job; you most likely are not. This is nothing short of a lame attempt to recognize the fact that direct reports get more out of a face to face interaction and it also goes a great deal further if the feedback is genuine, sincere, and positive (when warranted).

Managing by walking around also has an additional benefit. It allows the direct reports to observe and model the positive attributes that a leader has. On the flip side of the coin, leaders attempting to lead in this model need to be even more sensitive to their interactions especially if they do not model the way (another concept by Kouzes and Posner in the Leadership Challenge).

In conclusion, I find your question thought provoking on two levels. First, on the level of my manager coming to me and how I think that could be fleshed out a bit better. Second, if this is my expectation why should it not be a reasonable expectation of those who report to me? Many thanks for the good question.

Comment shared from Linkedin said...

John- this was a great question.

I think it is vitally important for managers to walk about, whether they visit staff offices or the main floor of the assembly plant. Additionally, I think MBWA also speaks to the concept of Emotional Intelligence as defined by Daniel Goleman (1995). Goleman posits that managers can develop a set of emotional competencies (i.e. self- awareness, self management, social awareness, and relationship management) to inspire and develop others while managing conflict. I can think of no better way to manage and respond to the needs and conditions of your employees by visiting them on “the front line.”

I once had a colleague who would often equate her level of respect for institutional leadership by the number of senior staff who visited her office. I remember she would always ask “How can senior staff advocate on my behalf if they don’t take the time to stop by and see what’s going on? Thus, walking about can make a difference. Not only does it allow your employees to feel respected and appreciated for their work, it also allows them to take a vested interest in the success of the organization.

Comment shared from Linkedin said...

Good point John. Seeing is understanding.

Comment shared from Linkedin said...

Hi John,
You make an excellent point. I do walk around at least once a day, especially since the people I work with are scattered all across the office, just to say Hi. However, the intra office messaging service also seems more personal than a phone call or email and I am glued to this and available whenever the team needs me, even if for a personal chat (Since my entire team is not even in the same office).
Yes, there are a few in our office, who have mastered this art of walking around and having a quick word or two with colleagues. My boss used to do this, till he moved to another floor!
Unfortunately, there is also a flip side to it - if these words spoken while doing the "walkie-talkie rounds", so to say, are shallow or are perceived to be shallow, well all is lost.
Ultimately it all boils down to trust. If colleagues trust their boss, then any form of communication will work well - be it an email,phone or IMessaging.

Cynder said...


Clearly a great topic that generated many great comments and suggestions to keep in mind while walking the halls. Thank you for all the great suggestions for those of us who work in a virtual environment. I met a leader recently who keeps an excel spreadsheet of all the people in his office and all of the people he wants to stay in touch with who are virtual. He reviews the sheet every day and makes a point of talking with each person at least every other month. He keeps information like birth date, number of children, hobbies, etc. I love the idea and have started doing the same.

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