Management by walking around is one of the first concepts introduced to students of management, and for good reason: A manager who resides exclusively behind a desk only speaks to nervous, scripted direct reports who have been called to his office.
A manager conducting informal check-ins learns more, builds trust, and discovers new business opportunities more quickly.
But is management by walking around compatible with Lean? How can a manager determine whether or not “walking around” is the best use of his time? What can be done to make this management style as efficient as possible?
Let us delve deeper into the intersections between Lean management and management by walking around, a component of strategic management.
Start with the Requisite Knowledge
Management by walking around only works if you are perceived as a colleague, not an interference. Do not begin an informal check-in program until you are sure you know what your employees are doing, when they’re scheduled to do it, why it’s important, and how to do it.
(You do not need to be able to do every job in your company, of course, but knowing where to start is a bonus.)
Do Not Distract
Strive to ensure your presence is never distracting enough to reduce efficiency. While you likely cannot practice management by walking around without occasionally speaking to someone who is operating equipment, causing him or her to pause in that work, it is certainly possible to avoid affecting key performance indicators.
Many Lean greats were known for rarely being behind their desks, feeling more comfortable strolling the manufacturing floor and observing work without reducing efficiency. Decide how long you can talk to an individual without detracting from performance, and strictly limit conversations to that period.
Make Things Happen
Management by walking around is no use to you or to your employees if it does not lead to continuous improvement; at best, in an organization where ideas generated by management by walking around are not implemented, it keeps an executive busy and out of the way while others work.
Hardly the endorsement you want for your use of this strategy!
When an employee shares with you during an informal management by walking around check-in that something could be changed to make her work more efficient, evaluate the idea immediately. If your initial assessment agrees with the employee’s analysis, return to your desk and begin taking steps to implement it.
After word spreads that sharing an idea with you results in action, employees will be eager to see you when you next leave your desk to manage by walking around.
Management by Walking Around Means You Go Alone
An entourage tells employees, “I am talking to you, but I am not the one hearing you. I have people for that.”
Do not take assistants, junior managers, or even board members with you on management by walking around visits. If you want to demonstrate your technique, let employees know ahead of time that you will be showing someone around; make clear that this is a one-off, and not you distancing yourself from the one-on-one connection generated by management by walking around.
Do you walk around as part of your leadership?