Time to Act
June 2016 Vol. 5 No. 6
Charlie Goodrich
"Management by Wandering Around," a term coined by Tom Peters back in the eighties, remains an effective way of keeping your ear to the ground while ensuring that communication flows smoothly between management and front line staff.

Today's newsletter takes a look at this tested concept and offers five suggestions for making your management wandering as productive as possible.

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Charlie Goodrich
Founder and Principal
Goodrich & Associates

In this issue...
Management by Wandering Around: Recommendations for Doing This Effectively

In today's world of email, text messaging, video conferencing, PowerPoint and more, executives often neglect one of the most useful tools in the chest - their feet. Indeed, Tom Peters, the McKinsey consultant and co-author of In Search of Excellence, called using your feet, "management by wandering around." Actually, that is what Hewlett-Packard said they did, back when they were a successful company, or so Tom's story goes.

So just how are you supposed to use your feet? Well, at its simplest it means walking around in an unstructured way and talking to employees. It is a great way to listen, communicate and observe, because what you see, hear and say is not filtered by your organization - an organization that is, after all, designed to filter. (I have talked about this before in, "Listening to the Noise. How Paying Attention to Alternative Sources of Information Can Make or Break Your Organization.")

Some tips on how to walk around...
  • Be random. Walking through unannounced has the benefit of surprise; nothing is staged in expectation of your arrival. When I was in the rent a car business, I would often visit the Logan Airport location late at night - ostensibly to get free gas, a nice perk.

    But that also gave me the opportunity to watch the crew cleaning and gassing the cars, chat with the night customer service agent and so forth. When I then drove up the road a short distance and drove into the lot where extra cars were stored, the security guard on duty put his car in reverse and hid behind the building, twice! Yes, he was replaced.
  • Be routine. The benefit of having a routine is that if someone wants to say something to you, they know where and when they can. When I ran a VOIP company that was trying to sell itself, I would start every morning by walking through the building. I would start in the back and talk to the Chef (tech companies are supposed to have chefs, or so I am told), then the operations guy, the electrician, through the engineering department and finally customer service.

    Not only did I see what was happening or not, people were free to talk to me about whatever was on their minds. When a business is being sold, there is usually a lot on employees' minds! In this situation, the owner to whom the employees were very loyal was barred by a Federal Judge from showing up at the premises or otherwise interfering with the sale. The owner was constantly stirring the pot, however, and by walking around, the employees heard directly from me what was happening and what was not. The pot did start to boil from time to time, but never over the sides.
  • Engage people. They won't always talk at first; it takes time for them to learn you are approachable. So probe when you talk to people. For better understanding, but also to see if they have the resources to get the job done and to assess how clear they are regarding the organization's vision, objectives and strategies. This is your opportunity to explain things without filtering and miscommunication from others. In the VOIP company, this was a great way to quell commotion that was instigated by the owner.
  • Visit everyone within reason. This refers to both time of day and location. If there is a night shift or early shift, make sure you wander around at those times too. Visit different locations. If the locations are near to you, this is easy to do unannounced. If you must travel, your arrival will usually be known in advance.

    For example, when I was CFO of the S. S. Pierce Company, a food service distributor, I would often come back to the office after dinner. Why? Besides having a lot of work to do, the evening is when the night shift works loading trucks for delivery early the next morning. It was a critical operation that affected a lot of costs and represented over a third of the hourly work force. My visits to other locations were always planned, however, as they required an overnight stay. I didn't get the benefit from wandering around on those trips.

    When I was in the rent a car business, I would make unplanned trips to our locations on the East Coast. Yes, I did call the general manager over the weekend to let him know, and typically I had been scheduled to arrive sometime in the next four weeks, so it wasn't a complete surprise. But, this allowed me to visit before preparations were made for my arrival.

    Admittedly, my surprise visits did eventually become a bit predictable a day or two in advance. When a Nor'easter was moving up the coast, I would skip the snow, fly to South Carolina and work my way up the coast after the storm. These trips served to build trust and communication. When the General Manger in South Carolina went off the deep end and started writing checks to himself (along with doing other bizarre things), I promptly received a call. Yes, my internal control system would have brought this to my direct attention in a few days, but because of the trust that had been established from these visits, local management knew that to preserve the trust they needed to call me about the problem immediately.
  • Always be positive. If you don't like what you see, tell people what you would like to see instead. (To learn more about this concept, click here.)
Naturally, there are some limits to walking around, the biggest of which is your time, so plan wisely. Also, if you are part of a larger company, wandering through someone else's turf uninvited is not always a good idea. Finally, the larger the enterprise and the higher up you are in that enterprise, the less effective this tool becomes. You can't be everywhere and when you do show up, it is planned and structured by necessity.

Limitations aside, wandering around should be a key, go-to tool in your management kit. It is a great source of unstructured and unfiltered information and an effective way to communicate. All needed to both manage and lead.

Heard on the Street

Everybody knows that money can't buy happiness. But can it buy good health? Not according to recent empirical research.

More specially, giving people money doesn't improve their health. John Cochrane, a Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford and former Professor at the University of Chicago Booth School of business, summarizes the research here.

About Us

Goodrich & Associates is a management consulting firm. We specialize in helping our business clients solve urgent liquidity problems. Our Founder and Principal, Charlie Goodrich, holds an MBA in Finance from the University of Chicago and a Bachelor's Degree in Economics from the University of Virginia, and has over 30 years experience in this area.

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