Managing By Walking Around

For a long time a core piece of my ‘style’ has been to wander the halls a couple times a day to see what is going on. It’s been effective as a consultant and as a DBA, I get a lot of requests for help as I pass by that I wouldn’t get if they had to email or call or IM, it’s just how things work. It’s also how I find out how things are going when I’m managing. It’s not about “checking up” but more “checking on”.

I was thinking about that recently, I see most senior managers either in their office or in a meeting, and I think its easy to get disconnected like that. I find most people like having me drop by for a minute once they realize I’m not there to catch them not working every minute of the day. It also means that I when I need to drop in for five minutes to discuss a sensitive topic that they aren’t immediately defensive. Not sure what I mean? Imagine that a manager two levels up dropped in on you, what would you be thinking?

Thinking on all of that, I was trying to recall where I learned this, and I just don’t remember seeing someone do it. The first time I used it was when I had a team of about 25 in the military. I had my own work to do, but I needed to make sure they had what they needed, so every couple hours I would make the rounds to see how they were doing. They liked that I checked on them, I cared about their success.

If you try this, I would offer a couple of tips:

  • Do it all the time. Teach them that you’ll walk by a couple times and if they aren’t obviously busy that you might ask “how is it going?”
  • Be sensitive to interrupting. Sometimes they have that rare hour to think and they will defer to you if you show up,so you have to learn the signals to know when it’s ok.
  • Don’t talk to everyone every time. You’re not running for office. Find a few different routes to walk.

Maybe not for everyone,but it’s been a useful tool for me.

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