Management by Walking Around: Natural or Forced?

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Published: 28th November 2016
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When you hear top corporate executives state their management team will be mandated or strongly encouraged to "manage by walking around" (MBWA), you cannot help but wonder, "Will this be successful?" Why are administrative assistants being asked to schedule 30 minutes a day for an executive or senior-level manager to walk around? Can you be successful managing your team by walking around when the team-members suspect you are not comfortable with this approach? A majority of leaders would prefer to stay behind closed doors and send emails. If the leader is uncomfortable, then the team will feel uncomfortable with causal, ad hoc discussions with their leader.

The success stories of leaders managing by walking around have been well-documented. There is no doubt how beneficial this can be for the leader, the team and the company. If this is a proven technique, why doesn't every leader walk around daily to talk to their team-members? It's very difficult for managers to initiate unscheduled or unplanned conversations with their team. It's not easy for anyone to have these types of conversations at work.

What are the keys to being successful at managing by walking around? Leaders must be the first to initiate conversations and establish lines of communications. As a manager or leader, are you a "wall hugger?" Do you walk down the hallway with your head down and avoid any opportunity to talk with those around you? Do you merely say, "Good morning" to everyone and maybe ask, "How are you doing?" or "How was your weekend?" It is obviously important to go farther than this. You must establish consistent lines of communications, so team-members will be comfortable when you approach them to discuss a work related issue.

Don't be a "vulture" looking for the first opportunity to speak to a team-member. Many managers continually walk-by waiting for the opportunity to "pounce" with their questions. Instead, make walking-by your team part of your normal path to your office, bathroom or meetings. The team needs to know that you walk-by their desks "naturally" and that you are not "stalking" them. The worst scenario is stopping-by their desk and waiting for them to complete a call or stop working on a task (so you can finally "talk business" with them).

Be aware of when you interrupting team-members. I always enjoy watching leaders managing by walking around during lunch. They are thinking that the team-member is eating their lunch at their desk while working. The leader thinks, "Why would they mind if I stopped-by and asked a few questions?" Be respectful of their time.

Do you only stop-by to ask questions or extract information? If this is your standard operating procedure, many team-members will figure out ways to avoid you. Stop and provide positive feedback, or thank them for an outstanding presentation. If you know them well enough, ask them about an event in their life. I always find it motivating when my manager asks me about a family affair, like a graduation. I think to myself, "She took five minutes to walk over to ask me about something important in my life!"

Be "short and sweet" with your questions, and always thank your team-members for their time. The team wants you to respect their time. Follow-up in a day or two and tell them they were helpful in resolving an issue or assisting in a project. Everyone wants to know if they were helpful or provided value. This is an invaluable technique for motivating team-members.

For many leaders, this is difficult and "outside their comfort zone." I recommend starting slowly and building-up the relationship with your team. Your relationship with each team-member will be unique, and you must treat it as such. Everyone understands the possible benefits from managing by walking around. Do not "make an announcement" that you are going to start this new process. The technique may be forced upon you by senior management, but make it appear natural and easy for you. Begin with the team-members with whom you feel most comfortable, and then branch-out to the entire team. It all starts by offering a sincere "Hello" or "Good morning" in the hallway.

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