We live in an age of emails, conference calls and online meetings, so we often forget what business is about. Business is about people. Without your people, you don’t have a business.

Pressure for results is high and schedules are tight so we rush from one activity into the next. This does not leave any time for informal meetings and that is bad for business.

Recently there was an interesting article in the Wall Street Journal about CEOs who don’t have a desk and those who do. I thought about my own management style and of course how our MeetingKing meeting management software fits with the different management styles. (Good news; whether you are a desk person or not, MeetingKing will help you run your business more efficiently).

What is your management style? Are you a desk person or do you like to walk around?

I never went so far not to have a desk, but I do spend a lot of time NOT at my desk. I admit I have a hard time sitting at the same place for a long time, but more importantly I really like personal interaction and believe it has value for running the business.

In one of my previous jobs I was VP of sales of a large retail operation in The Netherlands. I was responsible for 80 stores with a total of 500 people. The managers of the five largest stores reported directly to me and the other 75 stores through 3 regional managers. However, I knew all 500 people that worked at our stores and I spoke with all of them. Of course formal budget planning, detailed marketing campaigns and other management issues, I discussed with the managers only, but I did have informal conversations with all other people.

These informal discussions are not planned, there is no preparation and in many cases these conversation don’t even result in immediate action items, but they are incredibly valuable.

More recently I ran a software company, WinZip, and even though I was more or less tied to the same office building, I did the same thing. Instead of sending an email with a question or assignment, I would walk over to my colleagues and discuss it. You could argue that at times this might be disruptive, but often it is much more efficient. In most cases an email leads to new questions, so before you know it you have a whole string of emails for something that could have been done in a 5 minute conversation.

Management by Walking Around (MBWA)

What to me seemed the natural thing to do, actually has a name: Management by Walking Around also known as Management by Wandering Around and MBWA. A little research showed I was in good company as Steve Jobs was also known for management by walking around.

How does Management by Walking Around work and what are the benefits?

Better communication

There is a huge barrier for people to send an email message to senior management. In meetings people are afraid to speak up or the issue falls outside of the scope of the meeting. As a result you will never find out what people really think. If you just have an informal discussion, about work, hobbies, whatever comes up, people become comfortable with you. They will tell you what can be improved and where the pain points are. Things you can never find out from a spreadsheet behind your desk or even from the manager of that department.

Better motivation

If you walk around to assign tasks, people have the opportunity to ask details. This will help to make sure they will do the right thing. In addition you can explain the context, the big picture, so a person understands WHY he or she is doing something. If people understand the big picture, they will be much more motivated than when they have to perform a series of tasks without understanding what the total goal is.

Of course team meetings (agenda, minutes, tasks list) play an important role in communication and therefore motivation, but these informal one-on-one meetings also play an important role in getting people excited about their work. (Still make sure you document the task that you assigned, so it won’t fall through the cracks. You can do so in the MeetingKing task manager).

Increased loyalty

If you are visible and communicate open with everyone, your colleagues see you care and are willing to share problems with you. Of course with most colleagues you have a professional relationship and I am not saying you need to become friends and I definitely would not suggest you connect with colleagues on Facebook, but showing a genuine interest in a person makes a difference. And lets be honest, if someone if is a difficult situation privately (sick child, divorce, etc.) it will affect the person’s professional performance. If you are there for them as a human being at those moments, that person will never forget. However let me stress, don’t show an interest because you think it may help you down the road, be interested and supportive because you care.

You cannot create loyalty by sending emails nor with money. Personal interaction, visibility and interest create real loyalty.

Build a real team

If you are visible and your lines of communication are open to everyone, you will build a great team. If your communication style is open, your colleagues will follow and also be more open to each other and work more as a team.

Some words of caution for MBWA

Make sure that you talk with everybody. If you only talk with a few people and never pay attention to other people, those other people will feel left out. Of course you will spend more time with the people who report directly to you, it is work and most of the conversation will be about work.

Follow-up! If someone gives you a great idea and you say you will get back to that person, do it. If you don’t you are worse off than not talking to the person in the first place. To make sure you don’t forget things you can of course use MeetingKing.

Keep in mind these are your colleagues and you are their boss, so it should remain a professional relationship. Do not friend your people on facebook, they don’t need to see your pictures of skiing or your great vacation on the beach!

More information about Management by Walking Around

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Management_by_wandering_around