Guest blogger and trusted business associate, Bill Boyer, is the President of CEO Focus of Tidewater, a consulting/coaching organization for small company CEOs. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (757) 233-2577.
How often do you go into all your departments and operational areas and just listen to your employees? Giving instructions and then listening for feedback doesn’t count. You must ask open-ended questions and just listen. If you rarely do this, the few times you try or have tried it, you will be regarded with suspicion – your employees will wonder what is going on and will not be open in their comments to you.
Tom Peters, an alumnus of McKinsey and Company, in his book In Search of Excellence introduced this as a concept to MBWA (Management by Wandering Around) in the early 1980’s. Some managers had always done this as a practice, but he was the first to identify it. This concept has withstood the test of time.
A true life story.
A good friend of mine (now retired) was highly demanded as an operational consultant for many years. Tom had a diverse background including being the president of an international corporation. Tom’s consulting approach was to spend the first day talking with senior management getting their input on why they had hired him and defining the organizational issues they wanted him to address. For these meetings he was always dressed in a coat and tie. He always asked for a full tour of the facility including the offices, and asked to be introduced to some of the employees. He also asked that an announcement be sent out that he was there to see if there were improvements to be made. At the end of this day he told senior management that he wanted to spend the next few days walking all over the facility to observe operations and having discussions with the employees.
When Tom went into the plant, he dressed down to fairly casual attire and spent a good deal of time initially watching until most employees were comfortable with his being there. Employees gradually warmed up to him and started talking. And Tom gradually started asking more questions and listening intently to the responses.
Tom would spend a few days in the operation before he got back with the senior management team to present his suggestions. He normally would request an initial review fairly soon. Some of his initial suggestions were based on his vast experience. But on many others he could often identify the employee who had made the suggestion. Senior management was usually shocked that such a suggestion could have come from one of their own employees.
How to get there.
You cannot just start walking around if that has never been your approach. You could cause more harm than good if the change is not executed properly.
Here are a few tips to assist you in developing this style of management:
- Appear relaxed. Employees will reflect your action and mood.
- Be sure these visits are not seen as being planned. Visit at different times and try to balance the time in each area.
- Observe and listen. Be sure that everyone is seeing you do this.
- Talk to the employees about their life outside of the company–family, hobbies, vacations, etc.
- If you do not understand what they are doing, ask them questions about it. You do not have to know it all.
- Remain open and respond to your employees’ comments. If you are unable to immediately respond, commit to them that you will get back to them – and do it.
- Ask for suggestions. If some of the suggestions prove to be beneficial, be sure the employee is praised. And if some suggestions will not work, you need to explain why.
- When you see someone doing their job well, praise them.
- Do not criticize. If you see something you do not like, save it and discuss it with their supervisor later. Get the supervisor to handle it without bringing you into the equation.
- Remember: you are a coach, not an inspector. You are there to listen and learn.
As your employees realize that you are genuinely interested in them as persons, and in their work, they will trust you with their observations and suggestions. Your respect for them will increase their own respect for themselves – and for you. Opening the lines of communication – and keeping them open – will build a cooperative team spirit that will make your operations stronger than ever.