Success By Walking Around

Management By Walking Around

Management by walking around (or wandering around) is a concept that was popularized in the early 1980’s by Tom Peters in his book “In Search of Excellence.” The basic idea is that managers would actually leave the confines of their offices and walk around their departments. That way they would get a better picture of what was going on, who was who, and how the workplace actually worked in daily practice.

They could stop and talk with their employees in a relaxed, casual manner, encouraging more open communication. Setting the stage for discovering problems before they grew large. Giving the employees an opportunity to approach the manager without feeling they were storming a castle by fighting their way through secretaries and assistants to get into his/her office. Letting the employees see the manager was actually working him/herself.

There are many more benefits, but my article today is not about the benefits for management. This is about the benefits any employee can gain from following the same action plan.

Success By Walking Around

Regardless of your job level, you can practice the techniques of management by walking around. Just think about what makes the biggest difference in getting and keeping a job and advancing on the job. It’s communication.

Few people have gotten ahead by staying in their offices or cubicles and simply working and working.

You have to be visible and get credit for your work and contributions to the organization. You have to be seen as a candidate for moving up. Appreciated for leadership qualities. Known to — and liked by — as many people as possible in the organization.

It’s a lot easier than you may think.

Strategies You Can Use Right Away

For the ordinary non-managing employee — or low level managers with very few employees — success by walking around can be achieved by a few simple strategies. These strategies get you out from behind your computer, your phone and inter-office mail. They get you face to face with people at every level who can help you get ahead. Who will want to help you get ahead. Here’s a list of five great strategies to get you started. Maybe you can think of some more.

1. Hand deliver your work — in physical form, when possible. Don’t just send email attachments or pdfs. People who see you delivering the work associate your face with the work. They get to ask you questions. They get to feel that you have a personal interest in your work and in them. This works well for the same reasons that sending physical greeting cards gets a better — far better — response than e-cards. That which is tangible seems more real. You seem more real. More memorable.

2. Stop playing telephone tag. Stop replying by email and text messages. On important issues, go see the person who left the message, with a written reply in hand — and discuss the issues involved. For all the same reasons as #1 above.

3. Offer assistance to colleagues who look overwhelmed. The old adage “A friend in need is a friend indeed,” is true. Favors with no strings attached makes friends fast and endear you to both the person you helped and anyone else who finds out about them. Especially if you are very humble about it and make no fuss about it yourself.

4. Send personalized, attractive email within the office — when it looks like you’ve taken time and consideration in the message interface, you can make the message shorter and you’ll still be seen as attentive (another way of putting it is that if you are attentive to detail, you will be seen as attentive in every way — that’s the psychology of generalization.)

5. Get involved with company extra curricular activities — write a department newsletter, attend company sports team events and cheer for your team, participate in charity events. anything that shows enthusiasm for the company. Social involvement is social proof of value.

Do these techniques take time? Of course they do. But they are some great uses of that time and will pay off in greater benefits than alternate uses of your time. You can never be productive enough to make yourself well-known and liked. Performance and productivity are essential to doing and keeping your job. But it’s your visibility and likeableness that help you succeed.

Article Recommendations

If you want to read more about management by walking around, here are some good articles.

From The Economist: Management By Walking About
From IT Managers Inbox: Management By Walking Around MBWA
From Are You Walking Around for the Right Reasons?

You might also be interested in hearing Tom Peters explain how he discovered the concept of management by walking around. Here’s a video.

New on the job: Three Rules of Working.

It’s the middle of June.  Most graduation ceremonies are done and the grads are looking for jobs.  Some are high school grads, some are college or tech school grads.  It doesn’t matter which you are.  The “new job” experience is pretty much the same.  Exciting and difficult.  And these days, it’s exciting and difficult just to get a job in the first place.

Being new on a job is hard in many ways.  But the worst part is that you don’t know the people, the “rules,” the purpose of much of the work or the real expectations of your own work (which are all too often different from what you are told when you’re hired.)  You feel like you’ve just been dumped into a pool of cold, dark water and you don’t know how to swim.

The “new job” experience reminds me of an amusement some of my family (of origin) members enjoyed at my expense.  They asked me to sit down with their precocious child and play a video game.  I never play video games.  Computer games, yes.  Particularly adventure games and first-person shooters.  But this was a child’s game.  No one even told me what the name of the game was.  I didn’t know how it was played, what I could do, how the controls worked, what was the purpose, or how to perform any of the activities.  So, my loving family stood around and laughed at my inability to perform up to the level of a 5-year-old.  Luckily for them, the weapons I had my hands on were only virtual ones.

New jobs, even in the same company where you’ve worked for years, are unexplored territory.  There are new rules, new purposes, new expectations and new cultures at every level and in every section or department of an organization.  So, whether you’re new to the organization or just new to the job, you’ve got learning to do.  Or maybe some relearning to do.

To help you out, I’ve compiled some general rules that seem to apply to every job, profession and business:

1. Rule number one is always this: Your job is what your boss tells you it is.  Do what he tells you to do unless it’s harmful or unlawful. It doesn’t matter what your job description says.  It doesn’t matter what you were promised when you were interviewed.  It doesn’t matter what you’ve been trained to do.  It doesn’t matter what the last person in your job did. It doesn’t matter if it’s fair.  It doesn’t matter if it’s legal to require it of employees. Let me repeat: Your job is what your boss tells you it is.

Why does it work that way?  Because the boss controls whether or not you keep your job, whether or not you get the good assignments, whether or not you get a raise, whether or not you get a promotion (or demotion), and whether or not you get a good recommendation when you leave.  He controls who you can talk to above him in rank — just try jumping over his head and find out how fast you get fired.  He hears about it if you complain to others behind his back.  He does your performance appraisals and he can lie about you no matter how good you are.  Or he can rave about your wonderful abilities. Whatever he puts on your record can follow you throughout your entire career.

If your boss likes you, he might mentor you.  He might help you rise in the company.  He might make your work life heavenly.  If he doesn’t like you, he can make your work life hell.

Do what your boss says and be nice to him.  As far as the organization goes, his powers are god-like.  The organization always backs the boss.  Even if he’s wrong.

And remember what I said upfront about doing what he says unless it’s harmful or unlawful?  Even if it is harmful or unlawful, you may be fired if you don’t do it.  Don’t do it anyway.  You don’t want to work for a boss like that.  You don’t need any particular job badly enough.

2. You need friends on the job. And it is highly likely you will find friends on the job.  Job-friends will help you discover the organizational rules, expectations and culture.  They will help you find other like-minded friends and colleagues.  They will help you learn to fit in to the organization, the department and the groups of employees that will help you survive and succeed.  They will help to protect you and help you protect yourself against your on-the-job enemies (and frenemies.)

Without a social support network on the job, your chances of survival and reasonable comfort level are very low.  If you are shy or even a bit reclusive, get over it.  I don’t care how you manage that.  Get psychotherapy if necessary.  A social network (both on the job and off) — albeit a small one — can make a huge difference.

However, for those of you who are not merely new to the job, but also new to the working world, here’s a word of caution.  Making friends on the job takes more care and discretion than in your normal social life.  You can’t afford to make friends with bad reputations: you will be judged by the organization with the same suspicions that they have for your friends.  You can’t afford to have friends who are difficult to get along with.  You have to see and work with those people every day and can’t have personal disagreements with them.  You can’t afford to make friends easily with the first people who reach out to you — often they are busybodies, gossips or jealous rivals who want to undermine you.  Be friendly and play nicely with everyone. Then, take time to choose on-the-job friends with greater deliberation.

3. Have a good satisfying life outside of work. Do you want to live long enough to retire?  Get a life.  Work/life balance is a popular concept these days.  I don’t know if it is possible to have real 50/50 balance, but even if it is, I encourage you to skew the balance toward life outside of work.

In fact, for a healthy life, both physically and psychologically, work should probably hold no more than a one-third section of your life.  Two-thirds or more of your life should be about yourself, your loved-ones and your interests.  My favorite quote is “Nobody on his deathbed ever said, ‘I wish I had spent more time at the office.'”*

We all have a limited amount of time.  If we follow the philosophers who encourage us to make the most of every day, that means we want to live the best we can in each twenty-four hours.  Since we have to spend eight of those hours sleeping, that means we need a great home/social life and a work life that is as minimized and fulfilling as possible.

How to achieve that is well beyond the scope of a single article.  For that matter, it’s beyond the scope of a single book.

Those are the condensed “rules” of working.  There are numerous others, but if you understand and practice those three, they’ll serve you well.  And you’ll end up with enough time to learn and practice your own set of rules.

Working can be an unhappy drudge or a satisfying, fulfilling experience.  An amazing amount of how it turns out is in your power.  Think about these “rules” and see what you come up with to make your work and your life go your way.

*(The original quote said “more time on my business,” but I like the subsequent revision better.)

Value in old books and a new feature on this website…

When I was practicing as a clinician, I frequently recommend books to patients and clients as an adjunct to therapy. I even kept an extensive library of the books I recommended, in order to loan them out to those who couldn’t find copies of them or who couldn’t (or wouldn’t) afford them.

I still review and recommend books on this site. I think that books, audios and videos are invaluable to any self-improvement program. Just as most of your education is found in your “homework” assignment rather than in the actual classroom, most of your growth and development is in what you do outside of coaching, counseling, consulting or therapy. Reading tops the list.

I’ve been reading quite a bit lately about the value of older “classics” in self-improvement literature. Promoters of reprints of the old books like to say that many of our newer writers are merely rehashing old ideas and that we can get a lot from old writers, stuff that we don’t hear about today or that somehow has greater import by being more “original.”

But, there is very little literature of any genre that is unique. Almost every idea is built on something already known. Let’s face it: much of our philosophy in the West comes from ancient Greece and Rome. And many of our ideas for self-improvement come not only from Greco-Roman philosophy, but also from the teachings of the Buddha, from Indian mystics and from the Judeo-Christian bible.

Put them together with a knowledge of history, observation, research, experience and logic, and — voila! — other ideas emerge. Sounds just like what a writer does, eh? So, self-improvement (including business self-improvement) writers do end up saying a lot of similar things.

However, good writers come up with ways of thinking about the classic ideas that make them relevant to their own generations. They also illustrate them with stories that are contemporary for their readers. Plus, they write in styles that are popular for the readers of their own time. That’s why most of us will prefer the newer books. They are easier and more pleasant to read.

Yet, there’s a charm to the “old fashioned” styles and expressions. Many appreciation them. And the early books contain some wisdom and some ethical values that may have been, well, not lost but temporarily misplaced during the changes that naturally occur in education and culture as we develop technologically and socially.

Just as an example, Benjamin Franklin’s autobiography and his “Poor Richard’s Almanac” are considered as relevant and helpful today as in his day.

And just think of all the articles and book chapters of modern writers that begin with quotes of famous thinkers and doers of earlier ages. I often use the idea embodied in a quote to make a point relevant to psychology or business today.

This is a long way of saying that I’m beginning a new feature on my website. I’m going to be adding old books for you to download from time to time.

Today, I have two classic books that cover an inspiring historical event. One describes the event’s relevance to business and employment. The other is the personal experience of the main actor in the event.

1. A Message to Garcia
2. How I Carried a Message to Garcia

There’s no particular reason I chose these two books. I just happened to run across them when I was thinking about adding the “download old books” feature. Next time, I’ll provide some better known old classics. And I’ll take the time to give a brief overview of each.