I once had a boss who I could never find. He was always out of his office, away from his desk and somewhere in the building. I used to get so frustrated at the idea of not being able to locate him, but today I appreciate his management style more than ever. His style was one that allowed him to be out among the staff as one of the people. When I wanted to get in touch with him he always emailed me back and was fast to respond, but sitting at his desk was not something he enjoyed.
He told me that the best advice he ever received was to “manage by walking around.” Today this sounds a little cliche, we’ve heard a lot of so-called management experts discuss this topic and stress the importance of being out of your office and on the office floor. The truth if this style of management is probably one of the most effective for a number of reasons.
1. Everyone plays on the same playing field
In your office, you are the boss. Out on the office floor, you are among peers. Please don’t mistake the notion that you only have power in your office but there is an intimidation factor that plays into someone coming into your office, closing the door and sitting across from your desk. This setting isn’t normal for the employee and they have officially entered into your domain. It’s a home field advantage for the boss, and a road game for the employee. Being out with your staff gives them the perception that you want to help.
2. You give off the vibe that you care
When you walk into an employee’s cubicle, you put off the notion that you want to be on the same page as them. Chances are the question, “what’s going on” while asked in their cubicle will lead to a problem solving situation in which you can assist. If you ask how the weekend was, and then parlay that into, “hey I need you to take care of something for us” then the task is going to be met with more gratitude than it would if it was discussed in your office in a formal setting. Being on the floor shows you care because you have now stepped out of familiar territory to converse with employees.
3. You take a pulse on the organization
Consider your office a bomb shelter. Now consider the office floor the place in the city where you are most likely to get shot. Doesn’t feel so comfortable, right? While this might be a strong and very false connection between the two, the office floor is the place where you can take the pulse and learn what exactly is happening on a day to day basis. It is the place where you can learn about the weekend activities that everyone took part in but it is also the place where you can learn about the failures that are taking place by other employees. You will also learn the scale for office morale and exactly how happy your staff is with recent changes.
Leaving your office to walk the floor and spend time with your staff is an invaluable skill that believe it or not, several managers know nothing about. If you make it a habit to walk the floor just once a day, I promise you will learn more about your staff in the first week than you’ve learned in the previous months.
In closing, I once had a manager who never left their office. We always wondered what they were doing in there. They were eventually let go. Turn out, they weren’t doing anything.
Great article. I agree with you that visibility is great leadership.