As a manager first starting out, I learned an effective, easy method to increase staff productivity: “Managing by Walking Around.” While this is a great method to keep in your leadership utility belt, to evolve from manager to leader, it is necessary to mix in different tactics. First, I will explain “Managing by Walking Around,” and then I will describe its equally important counterpart: “Leading by Disappearing.”
Managing by Walking Around
Most successful managers are either taught this method, or figure it out from common sense and observation, early on. It is extremely simple, effective, and easy to see immediate results by doing this.
The principle is simple:
- You are the boss.
- Employees want the boss to think that they are doing a good job.
- By you merely being present in front of employees, they will work harder.
Simple enough, right? In the rare instance when a person does not want the boss to think that they are doing a good job, you should probably reconsider that individual’s employment status. It’s one issue if an employee does not do well, it’s an entirely different issue if an employee just does not care at all. This is all assuming that this is a decent place to work, has a successful culture, and that you are not a complete asshole…
So, simply being visible to employees will improve productivity. However, the real benefit from this method is when you actually engage with the staff:
- Ask them questions.
- If you see any mistakes, this is a perfect opportunity to immediately correct.
- If you see any positives, this is a perfect opportunity to praise an employee (remember: praise publicly, correct privately).
- Use this time as a chance to reiterate the overall vision or important factors that affect the business.
- Do role-play scenarios that challenge them by seeing how they would react to a variety of obstacles.
- Teach, teach, teach! “This is what to do when x happens. This is why we do it like that.”
By being present, you’ll make your staff more effective, but only for the duration of your presence. You cannot always be everywhere, which is why you engage with the staff during your “visits.” You encourage them, correct any errors, start having them buy-in to the vision, and prepare them for situations when you will not be available.
It is necessary to engage with the staff in this way, in order for your staff to start wanting to do things the right way. Managers improve productivity by staying involved. Leaders improve productivity and develop staff by convincing them that the “right” way is best (regardless of if you are there or not).
See the difference? A manager gets short-term results by successfully getting the team to be more effective, because the staff wants to do a good job. A leader gets long-term results by successfully getting the team to be more effective, because the staff wants to do the right thing. A leader’s role is to prepare the team for independence. A leader will create more leaders among the staff, by setting expectations, encouraging positive behavior, and most importantly making employees believe in what they are doing.
Leading by Disappearing
Now that you are engaging, role-playing the unexpected, and instilling the vision to the staff on a regular basis, you are ready for some “advanced” methods. The “Disappearing Act” is one of my all time favorites. I have found it to be extremely effective in developing new leaders, as well as getting a reality check to just how effective your team really is.
As I said, please do not attempt this until you are already doing those things above. Otherwise, you are only setting up your team for failure.
It’s a bit more than just disappearing:
- Be spontaneous.
- Go out the front door… come back in the back door 15 minutes later.
- Have a minimal schedule and don’t even follow it.
- Call and say that you’ll be there in 45 minutes. Walk in the door 5 minutes later.
- Show up 5 hours late for work.
“That sounds like a terrible boss!” No. Remember that as a leader, you have a different role to play in the big scheme of things. Your “lack of reliability” is irrelevant, because it is not your job to make the staff better when you are there. It is your job to make the staff better all the time, regardless of who is in the building.
By combining these two methods, you will slowly start to develop leaders out of the staff. You will see who takes responsibility and “keeps it going” in your absence. That’s what I would have done, when I was just starting out. That is the sign of a natural leader.
You know that they aren’t just acting perfect when you are around and slacking off the rest of the time. If you do not believe that there are employees exactly like that, you are blinded to reality. What better way to test their credibility than by seeing how they act when you are not there.
FYI: nothing destroys employee morale more than when one of these two-faced, suckups get wrongfully promoted. Plus, do you really want to promote someone like that?