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Is “management by walking around” an outmoded fad?

Let’s set the scene.

One of the CEOs I used to coach started his day by walking the floor of his extended facility and checking in with managers and employees of the various departments, especially the call center.  He tried to feel the pulse of the company by the intensity of motion, the metrics of backlog, and the stated problems brought to him as he asked

…and ask this question:

Was he a relic of bygone times, when employees worked in a single facility, managed directly by people who could see and speak to them in person?   In this age of remote workforces, self–managed contractors and employees, outsourced call centers and development, is this a dying art?

And does the presence of a caring CEO taking the time to check in personally change anything after the waves of his or her presence pass in the calm of departure?

Well, yes.

Everyone knows when the CEO or senior manager stays in their personal office – or nowadays doesn’t come into work when others make the effort – especially when closing the door, that “something must be wrong” or “the person doesn’t care enough” or “what does he or she do all day?”   The facts seem to show that younger employees, under 30, want to be personally present to be visible to management. What if management, usually older, cares less about being regular at the office?

Let’s use the “C” word (“culture.”)

[Email readers, continue here…]   It is more than showing the flag when a manager or CEO spends time focusing upon the immediate issues of subordinates and offers resources to solve problems without the need for formal meetings or Zoom calls.  It is a mark of corporate culture when everyone knows that those above are serving them in very visible ways by taking the time to be present, and to hear and react.

But there is something more.

A good manager can feel the mood and the level of business activity, but not easily from behind a desk or on the other end of a phone or Zoom call.

It is one of the reasons that senior managers who travel to the workplace from afar and show their presence only several days each week are not as effective as companies grow and span of control increases.

Does management by walking around still work? 

Is it as valuable as it once was before our communications systems became so complex and varied and well defined?

Yes.  Yes. And yes.

  • Lee

    Yes, yes I agree. People want and need that love connection. Women that are centered and nurturing are rising in power, too, as leaders.

  • Terence Ronson

    Especially true – YES, if you run a Hotel – MBWA was and still is a great way to feel the pulse of the business and interact with customers and staff. However, only too often, you don’t see Management on the floor – and if in the odd chance you do – they are easily recognizable, and not just by their name tag. When I was a young turk in the business, if I did not spend 40-50% of my day on the floor, I was chastised by my superior.

  • William Fisher

    Well said. I agree completely.

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