Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Working By Walking Around

By Matt:

I don't remember a whole lot from my high school classes. I was there. I learned things, so said my report cards.

But one thing that does stick in my mind vividly was a passage from a business text about Hewlett-Packard co-founder Dave Packard's principle of "management by walking around". It was such a straight forward simple idea:
Get up off your rear and go interact with the people that work for you.
Bring the team together, listen to your employees, involve everyone, make them feel important. Makes sense right? I said to myself, "Self, when you're a boss someday, you need to do this."

Fast Forward
Fast forward 10 years and, well, I'm not running a multi-million dollar computer manufacturing company. Technically I don't manage a team of individuals either, but I still find Packard's concept very valid.

I work in a building of 200 employees, and my job regularly involves the coordination of many cross-divisional individuals towards a common purpose. Meaning, I have to convince numerous people to focus on a goal that is collectively beneficial even though it's not a core focus of their day-to-day job. When all is said and done, one of my most useful techniques for getting things done in the team atmosphere has been a derivative of Packard's ideas - I guess you could call it "working by walking around".

Working By Walking Around
It's really the same core idea as Packard's - I will be much more effective in getting everyone on the same page if I get up off my rear and just have an actual in-person conversation instead of relying on phone and email. I maintain that meetings are generally inefficient, and I would much rather correspond by email, but we are humans after all, and sometimes a little face time is all it takes to get somebody on your side. Here are some "working by walking around" tips that I try to put to use:
  • Build Relationships: Begin by simply leaving your desk and seeking people out. The end goal is to create genuine friendships so find a common ground - hobbies, sports, music, the latest episode of Lost. Friendships that center around the water-cooler tend to remain superficial, so make an effort to visit their office or desk, so long as this doesn't come across as intrusive.
  • Not Just When You Need Something: It's easy to get in the habit of visiting a colleague only when you need something from them. It's also easy to get in the habit of having a genuinely friendly conversation, and then changing the topic to something work-related because you feel guilty. Resist these urges from time to time. There's enough work going on already - sometimes you need to take a moment to just be real and genuine with your co-workers.
  • Sharing Bad News: When you have bad news you must share regarding a project, force yourself to convey it in person. It's much more difficult than sending an email, but delivering the message personally conveys a greater sense of joint ownership, and in my experience co-workers will appreciate your personal approach.
  • Befriend The Assistants: It's human nature to be friends with our direct peers, therefore, in terms of organizational hierarchy - if you're a mid-level employee - be very careful that you don't overlook the assistants and administrators. At the end of the day, when you need to get something done, you'll need to have these folks on your side, so befriend them genuinely.
  • Your Needs, Their Needs: If you come to a colleague with a need or a request, be sure you end the conversation with "Is there anything I can do for you?" You'll leave a bad taste in everyone's mouth if every time you show up at their door you have a new project for them to work on. At the same time, you can convey a genuine team atmosphere by offering your assistance, help, insight, feedback, and support towards their goals.
To be clear Working By Walking Around is not some superficial form of colleague manipulation in order to "get things" from them. It has both business-related and personal intentions, as well as payoffs. I genuinely like the vast majority of the people I work with, and this is because I have taken the time to get to know them on a level deeper than "Where are we on this?"

So while, yes, Working By Walking Around helps me get things done more efficiently and effectively, it also makes work-life exponentially more enjoyable. And enjoyment in our work leads to fulfillment, and after all... that's the point of all this anyways, isn't it?


Michael Henreckson said...

Yet another proof of the power of networking. It seems like being friendly and making connections with people is sometimes the best thing we can do for everyone concerned, including ourselves. Even more valuable than the "work" we might use as an excuse for not walking around.

Sarah said...

This is actually a quick and effective way of getting things done. When you send a request thru email, people tend to ignore them and forget about them. By phone, they will chat with you then will continue their work sometimes without realizing you've requested something from them. But the downside of this in my organization, is that when people see you walking around and chatting happily with colleagues, they tend to think you are so free to not need to be at your desk. They will talk among themselves and will wonder how did you get a promotion when you're always walking around instead of doing work. How can I get rid of this mindset in them?