management by wandering around, revisited.

“You are out of tune with the times if you are in the office more than one-third of the time.” — Tom Peters, “Thriving on Chaos”

One could wonder if Peters’ 1987 quote no longer applies now that we can connect with the world via email, social media and countless new channels without leaving our offices. I would argue his point is more valid than ever.

I’m bad at this. I spend way too much time in front of my computer in my office. There was a running gag where our web/new media coordinator, who reports to me, and I would say “good morning” to each other face-to-face for the first time in the afternoon. But this is marginal management on my part, so I’ve made a point to try to check in with her early in the day, every day.

Moreover, working on a college campus, it’s really hard to get a picture for what’s happening from the island of our offices. Getting out and around helps immensely.

Peters had a term for this: Management by wandering around. It’s not complicated. Just by walking around your area, talking to your employees, co-workers, bosses and the like (in our case, students!), you not only maintain a good line of communication but can improve how everyone does their job.

I notice this most when I get out of my building and go through places like our Campus Center. In buildings teeming with offices, casual spaces and interesting people, I often find myself in conversations that solve some kind of problem for one or both of us, move a project along or spark a whole new collaboration. Sitting down to lunch or talking over a cup of coffee provides a much richer, deeper and more fruitful conversation than text messages or email, Facebook or Twitter ever could.

This is not to discount online communication. I’ve worked on good projects and formed great friendships with people before meeting them in person. But meeting them face to face — interacting in three dimensions in real time — makes the relationship so much richer. The same goes for your bosses or employees, your colleagues and your students. Social media can facilitate connections and communication, but it can never replace in-person interaction.

So … if you’re reading this in your office, I offer this simple challenge: Get out from behind that desk and wander around to talk face-to-face with at least three people you don’t normally speak with over the course of today. It could prove much more fruitful than you imagined!

3 Comments

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3 responses to “management by wandering around, revisited.

  1. Ken

    Interesting concept Tim. It does help keep you connected. Even JFK said he felt the need to wade out into crowds, and away from the Secret Service, to meet people and shake hands, all for the sake of feeling connected. I wonder if the president has considered going for a little more management by wandering… or at least a little less management by Howard Hughes.

  2. Dave B.

    Exactly correct.

    When I was working as a solo PR practitioner, one of my clients was a manufacturing facility. The HR manager there had responsibility for more than 200 people.

    He knew every single one of them. Knew their likes and dislikes, their kids, their stresses.

    I followed him on the factory floor many times where he’d stop to chat with a worker — or they’d stop him to talk.

    He made a point of walking the floor every day, both shifts. He could spot problems ahead of time and find stars in the rough. More than that, he put a human face on a factory.

  3. Tim Nekritz

    KEN: That’s exactly the point. The more insulated we are, the less touch we have with the people and realities that should be our top priorities.

    DAVE: I love stories like that! I’d totally expect employee turnover to be very low and morale to be very high. When the guy who calls the shots talks to — and listens to — everyone, everyone benefits.

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