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Leadership, OD, Staff Development

Revisiting Management by Walking About (MBWA)

Some twenty years ago, just after I was hired by General Electric Capital and tasked to implement something as strange to a bank as continuous improvement in their newly acquired, yet dusty German banking environment, life was not walk in the park anymore. Gaining the skills for the new job with the help of the outstanding GE Capital people development engine was challenging but rewarding.

Leadership, OD

Management by Walking About

Management by Walking About - Meeting Staff at Their Desk

Management by Walking About – Meeting Staff at Their Desk

“People leave bad managers, not companies …,” is one of the results of a famous Gallup survey at corporations in the US. This does not mean we have “bad” people as managers. It rather means that not every high-performing employee is really suitable for a managerial position. Other surveys have shown that less than 30% of high performers have the ability to do well as supervisor.

Many managers lose their people because they have not been able to develop processes for sensing their environment, for feeling the pulse of their organisation beyond what numbers show. Since they have reached senior rank, they unintentionally surround themselves with various mechanisms that prevent them from getting an accurate picture of what is going on. They may have the facts and figures, but often they do not know too much about the feelings of the people, about the heartbeat of the organisation.

In my opinion, there is a real need for managers to constantly gain feedback from all levels in order to help improving the company as well as their own performance. How can managers learn, how can they develop if they do not know, where things are going right, where they are going wrong, particularly if it affects their own managerial behaviour?

Annual culture surveys are not good enough to connect managers and their staff. In fact, they are too formal and deliver only lagging information in a very stringent way. They cannot measure the daily pulse of the organisation. Therefore, we need other, more informal ways for helping sense the environment and creating bonds.

Management by Walking About – MBWA

When I was with AT&T, we were encouraged to see our Managing Director taking time to meet staff on the production line and at the office. He did it nearly every day after lunch, dropped in unannounced and spent time talking to people, found out what was important to them. Staff members did certainly acknowledge the meaning of our MD taking a personal interest in them. This routine – “Management by Walking About” – is an amazingly simple method of going to your staff, listening and talking to them and finding out what drives or bothers them. Yet, it is a powerful way to get feedback from all levels.

Later, after I became HR Director of an insurance broking company, I applied what I have learnt at AT&T. Especially for an HR Director, it is too late to learn about staff leaving the company – during the exit interview. Therefore, I made regular visits to the different business units which were located at different storeys. So, I did my Management by Walking About. I made it a habit to speak to my colleagues nearly every day. We had short chats to find out how they were and what they were doing … even beyond work. At the beginning, most of them were not comfortable to see their HR Director walking around and interacting with them. Some were suspecting that I was checking on them. However, trust was built over time.

One day after I came back from my vacation, a colleague approached me when I was doing my usual Management by Walking About and said “I have been waiting for you as I do have some issues I would like to seek your advice on …”

I truly learned a lot about my colleagues. From time to time I was able to help them – sometimes even with personal issues. And, I have to admit, I learnt about myself, too.

Never underestimate the power of face-to-face dialogue, even in the era of email and SMS.

"Moment
BPR, Lean Six Sigma, Operations

Gemba? I was There

When Uwe asked me whether I would like to go to Gemba in order to help understand the client’s process we have been studying, I looked it up on Google. To my surprise, Gemba is not a secluded, unknown part of Singapore. Gemba (现场) is a Japanese word that means “the real place”. Japanese detectives use Gemba to point to the crime scene. In our process excellence context, Gemba stands for the place where the “real value for customers is created”. I was wondering about the need for this. After all, we had received detailed information about both, flow and timing for all processes directly from project teams.

"group
Competency, Enablers, Staff Development

Manager as Coach

Coaching is a powerful style of leadership for developing people and enhancing business performance. Especially, with the rapid changes at workplaces, keeping employees’ committed and motivated during tough economic times seems like a tall task, especially after downsizing or programme cutbacks. Hence, it is evident that the very survival and success of any organisation depends on the human capital: people are highly knowledgeable, versatile, innovative and mobile. And, their skills and talents are the currency of competitiveness, and companies who hope to retain their services need to recognise that these individuals expect greater personal choice, autonomy and an active voice in the management of their workplace. A good coach knows that.

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