Management by Walking Around
August 20, 2012
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Do you know the person responsible for your unit or organisation? Do you have any idea about what he considers important or what is important to him for success of the organisation? Or do you only come to know about it by proxy through your line manager? Too many questions to start today’s post. My readers will question me for covering a topic that is more to do with human resource management than it is to do with project management. Think about this … the motivation of the project team is the responsibility of the Project Manager. With that in mind, a Project Manager performs a lot of duties that a line manager would otherwise do.
There are two schools of thought on how management should interact with the staff. In one end you have managers who will only ever deal with their immediate reports and all communications and actions are transferred through them. You may have seen the CEO and the executive team commandeer the top floor and look down on the rest! At the other end of the spectrum there organisations that have the ethos of open plan with management sitting next to other employees. Is either one more effective than the other?
There are enough studies to show co-locating people with similar responsibilities actually works quite well in terms of productivity and sharing ideas. So having the management team in the same location is not as bad as many think. There are also good reasons to have a level of buffer between the various levels in the organisation – for reasons of privacy, confidentiality and sheer strategy. While open plan potentially builds trust in the organisation at large, it can also hinder free and frank discussions. How can you have the best of both worlds?
This is where management by walking around can play a very useful role. So, what is Management by Walking Around? It is a slightly unstructured communication that managers spend with their subordinates regularly to ascertain the status of work for their own. You will find many references on how to do it most effectively. The purpose of this post is not to examine how to do that, but more a discussion on why that approach is necessary.
There is nothing off putting for employees when the top brass intentionally keep distance from the rest. Good working relationships are built on levels of trust. It is nigh on impossible to build trust with someone that is invisible to you. You as a leader also need to be wary of only ever getting a single version of the truth. Part of your responsibility is to validate status reports you get. This is a very good way of both building trust and validate reports you get from your immediate subordinates.
What are the consequences of not doing it well? I have seen instances where management have been blissfully unaware of simmering discontent. Even when it had been reported, no one could conceive there may have been issues. Many times you will think you work in the same office as these people; how on earth could they not see the inevitable? In reality you have to be looking to pick up the pulse in the organisation … be it positive or negative.
If you have a million dollars worth of machinery, you will most likely spend tens of thousands of dollars to inspect and maintain it. People are the best assets an organisation has. Yet how much time do managers get allocated to service those for best outcomes?
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