Manage With “Walkabouts”

manage employees with walkaboutsReally want to know what’s going on with your team and their customers/clients? Get out of your office and go ask! Find out what’s really happening, asking your employees insightful, probing questions like, “How’s this week’s performance against your goals?” “What challenges are you having?” “How are customers responding to us?” Just asking, “How’s it going?” isn’t enough. Get your people’s thoughts on what improvements need to be made — and how to ensure them. By doing such regular, interactive walkabouts, or purposeful strolls, throughout your own business, you’ll build better communication with your team. This management discipline will also get the scoop you need to drive sustainable, high-impact solutions.

Walkabout DOs and DON’Ts:
When you’re walking the floor, engaging with your employees:

  • DO have a purpose. This is not just about you needing to get another cup of coffee, either. Your overall goal might be to learn whether the red widgets are selling better than the blue ones. Answer: red. But a more critical goal would be uncovering what customers are saying about red vs. blue widgets. Answer: the blue widgets are hard to see at night. “What” questions provide information or data, while “why” questions reveal reason or motive. Have an agenda for what you want to accomplish with your time on the floor.
  • DON’T blow it off. Schedule time in your day, week or month — whatever your calendar can reasonably allow for — and make this part of your job responsibility. Plan for enough time, too. Depending on the subject and the number of people you’re chatting up, discussions could go longer than you anticipate. Be consistent about when and how you do it, so people come to expect this accountability.
  • DO guide the conversations. As mentioned above, discussions could sometimes go longer than anticipated, but if that becomes more the norm than the exception, then you can find yourself in a real time waster. Keep on task, true to subject, and direct the conversations as best you can. If they’re not moving forward or aren’t productive in nature, use exit strategies (being polite, of course). If you need to, practice (privately) those exit strategies to avoid coming across as disinterested or rude.
  • DON’T break your promise to follow-up. If you’re chatting with a phone rep about a fault in the phone system and say you’ll look into the problem, then do it! And also let that person know you followed up. If you don’t, you’ll destroy any shred of credibility you created with that person by undermining your goals to improve communication and build respect.
  • DO have an arsenal full of good, purposeful questions. Having a variety of questions and conversation starters, perhaps framed in different ways and that center on your purpose or goals, will keep the communication fresh, candid and genuine over time.
  • DON’T play favorites. Make it a point to talk with different folks throughout your chain of command. This will paint a broader, more accurate picture of what’s going on, and your staff will respect you for your fairness.
  • DO encourage two-way dialogue. When you’re conversing with your employees, take turns talking and listening. Don’t hog the conversations. Don’t be silent (all the time) either. Remember, you’re not just getting feedback but building a productive, professional relationship in the process.

What DO or DON’T can you add to this list?


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