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Is management by walking around an outmoded fad?

One of the CEOs I coach starts 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 tries 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 asks.

Is he a relic of bygone times, when employees worked in a single facility, managed directly Management-by-wandering-aroundby people who could see and speak to them in person?   In this age of remote work forces, 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.

[Email readers, continue here…] Everyone knows when the CEO or senior manager stays in their personal office, 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?”

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.  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 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 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 well defined?

Yes.  Yes. And yes.

  • Sales employees do not like it when their manager is walking around and snooping in on their activity. It’s called micro-managing and is very disruptive to the sales cycle flow and process.

  • Diane P. Scott

    As a program and people manager, I believe it is essential to walk around, whether in person or virtually. In my experience, this is what forms a strong team. I want them to know I’m there for them, help to remove roadblocks, and assist in identifying risks before they become issues. You can’t do that if you sit behind a desk and don’t effectively communicate.

    Dave, another great column!

  • When the pace is fast — and in most modern companies, it is — it’s important to spot and resolve issues as quickly as possible. As a tech developer, I regularly visit each of my people and ask how they’re doing. I often end up giving them specific help on a blocking issue or explaining more clearly a specific requirement. Without a doubt, this improves efficiency and reduces stress. It also sends a good message, as noted above, that management cares and wants to participate actively in what everyone in the company is doing.

  • Cheryl Centonze

    Thank you for this article.

    It validated my style of management, which I have questioned recently if it was outdated and ineffective.

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