Management Without Walking Around

For those of you that started reading this blog after my initial post, you may be wondering why I use the title “Management by Walking Around” for a blog about performance management.   Some snapshots from that initial post:

For Hewlett and Packard, managing by walking around was a way to get everyone on the same page; what they believed was the secret to their success.  As Packard wrote in The HP Way, “It is necessary that people work together in unison toward common objectives and avoid working at cross purposes at all levels if the ultimate in efficiency and achievement is to be obtained.”

Manage by walking around worked well when companies tended to be centralized in one campus-style environment.  Unfortunately, modern organizations have become decentralized with multiple locations, often spread throughout the world.

The goal of this blog is to comment on the market for product and services that help organizations achieve alignment and highlight specific cases in which organizations have been successful in increasing their performance by getting people on the same page.  I’d like us to rededicate ourselves to the original intentions of “managing by walking around.”

Essentially, my belief is that technology can help individual contributors better understand strategy and can provide real-word feedback to executives. With improved alignment comes improved performance.   While technology is not a substitute for managing by walking around, it can amplify the affects. 

Given this, I was interested to read an article called “Revisiting Management By Walking Around” which recently appeared in Furniture World.  (Don’t ask.) The author claims that, despite the rise of Internet shopping, management by walking around is still relevant for retail furniture stores.  As an example, he points out that management can choose to mimic the shopping experience of a prospective customer by visiting the Web site and trying to find/buy a product.

A similar notion applies to virtually all parts of an enterprise.  Every executive should call their own customer support line a few times per year to understand what their customers are experiencing.  I like to call the main switchboard of companies and ask for sales; you’d be surprised how often I get forwarded to a voice mail box.  Imagine: Someone who specifically asks for sales has to wait to get their question answered.

I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that all of these examples of “walking around” can be done from the comfort of the executive office in just a few minutes.  The busy executive has little excuse.  If you want to improve performance, walk a mile in your customers’ shoes – even if that walking actually doesn’t require you to leave your desk.

3 Responses to Management Without Walking Around

  1. Robert E says:

    Busy executives of today have the same lack-of-time to manage by walking around as the founders of HP did. It is a matter of importance. They made it a priority. It has to be a priority to engage, in a meaningful way, either physically or electronically, with your people and your business.
    Larry Mullins writes that when managers become predictable, the troops learn how to loaf without risk. The point is not catching people doing something wrong, it’s understanding what is actually happening: on the floor, at the counter, on the docks. The higher the position, the harder it is to get unvarnished truths. Being able to make crucial decisions about a business neccesitate having good information, even if that information may appear to be ‘bad news’.

  2. crossderry says:

    The post is spot on. My experience is that the driver is the character of the executive. Specifically, whether he/she is willing to see the “world as it is, not as he/she would like it to be.”

    It is simple enough to go “outside in,” but not easy. It is easier to let the bad news get buffered and muffled through middle management (then blame them for not having the courage to speak up).

    BTW, we’ve met when you first came to SAP (you met w/ me and Scott Bolick in Palo Alto). It was a kick to stumble upon your blog.


  3. Jonathan says:

    Paul, thanks for the nice words. When I worked for small companies, I used to say one of the biggest issues that we struggled with is that we believed our own bull. The reality distortion field can get too strong.

    I remember meeting you and I manage to catch up with Sott from time to time. Let me know the next time you’re in Palo Alto and we can chat live.

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