Saturday, February 11, 2012

Leadership Series - Part VI - The Fine Art of Wandering Around

MBWA (Management by Walking (or Wandering) Around) became a popular term in the early eighties when management consultants Tom Peters and Robert H. Waterman coined the phrase in their book, "In Search of Excellence." It is an extremely valuable technique for leadership, in my view, and one that I tried to use often.

So what does "wandering around" mean exactly. In a nutshell, it means being human.  There was an opposite view of management around the same time. In the recent book about Steve Jobs, he is quoted in the early stages of Apple as saying that you have to be ruthless if you want to build a team.  He went on to say, "It's too easy, as a team grows, to put up with a few B players, and they attract a few more B players, and soon you will even have some C players."  According to the book, Steve Jobs did wander around, but it was more often to berate his employees for something that wasn't being done to his expectations. It is obviously difficult to argue with Jobs' brilliance and success, but I am not sure leaving a trail of broken people in your wake is an appropriate way to get the best from your staff. I will address the issue of C players in a future post.

Wandering around helps you know your staff on a personal and work level. It involves dropping by unannounced at someone's desk to say a few words. It could be to talk about last night's game, a new baby, things they do in their free time, etc.  It is an opportunity to show that you are the leader, but that you are also human. It is a few minutes to understand their work and some of the difficulties they face in their jobs and in their daily lives.  On some days, it may be just walking around and saying good morning.  The purpose is not to get too close, but to just to be visible and approachable and to listen and share normal everyday conversation for a few minutes.

It may also be an opportunity to explain what the organization stands for and how it affects each individual and where they fit in.  It may help individuals feel more valuable to the organization.

It should not be an opportunity for the complaint department to open from either side.  If the conversation turns to issues the employee is having with his/her supervisor, it is time to remind the person that they should address those issues with the person they are reporting to.  And it is not an opportunity to remind them that they could be doing better. That too is a conversation that should be held with their supervisor.

The best way to show the people you are leading that you are human is to ask questions of them. What are you working on? How was your weekend? How is (name of child)? Once you know a little about them, it is easier to ask questions about things that may interest them.  Everyone should receive the same amount of attention so there is no feeling of favouritism. 

This only takes a few minutes, it gets you away from your desk, it helps you understand the issues of the office and it is actually kind of fun.  The payback is well worth the time invested.

Next week: Setting an Example

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