Management By Walking Around
July 15, 2014
Why doesn't the CEO of an iconic office furniture company have an office? That's right; Herman Miller CEO Brian Walker doesn't have his own private office, unlike his West Michigan counterparts from Steelcase and Haworth. Instead, like the rest of the employees, Walker has a desk arranged in an open-office plan with his executive team.
"Instead of a singular space I live in everyday, we've opted for tightly scripted multiple places I can go for the right activity during my daily agenda." His office disappeared years ago, despite growing criticism that "open office" layouts are distracting and unproductive. Using his sit-to-stand desk, Walker believes sharing work spaces beats owning a private office. There are plenty of private areas whenever a closed meeting is required.
Over the past decade, "management by walking around" has become somewhat accepted in American leadership circles. Why? Probably because in a business like radio or television, which are human-dynamic and fluid, being seen and being accessible contribute to a relatively small, intimate team's sense of self. When someone feels isolated or alone they miss things that might take a week or month to become recognized. The same goes for leadership. A manager can see and hear more in a day than they might in a month, simply by being in the flow of their group.
This concept directly connects to what our clients have heard from us on multiple occasions: the tight-loose concept works better for human development than any other approach. Sales manager, program director or talent, "tight-loose" simply means that when someone is new, inexperienced and unproven, tight-tight is the order of day. It doesn't imply coming from an air of suspicion or taking on the persona of a critical parent. Instead, it requires a tighter, closer space between someone new or inexperienced and their boss; think of it as something you owe a new or inexperienced team member and not something you inflict on them.
The "loose" part of the model comes with stepping back from a proven position-holder, ultimately realizing that with some staff members, their desire to succeed is greater even than your desire to see them exceed expectations. The very best leadership knows where everyone lies on the tight-loose continuum and leads accordingly.
And by way of caution, try never to go to the extremes on either end. Too tight and someone feels smothered as opposed to supported. Too loose as in "ah, he/she doesn't need my help, they're on autopilot," qualifies as performance punishment and results in someone's stunning and unexpected departure, only to remark, "I felt taken for granted."
Walking around, connecting with people on a daily basis is the equivalent of a team huddle just before kick-off. The size and scope of an organization is directly related to the impact of the tight-loose and management-by-walking around models, though huge international examples like Apple or Microsoft practice it daily on a departmental level.
Radio begs for more sophisticated yet simple human development. Anyone can capitalize transmitters and digital equipment. Great companies put their emphasis on human capital and are richly rewarded.