Since the title of this blog is “manage by walking around”, I thought I’d share a few examples of how I personally use that philosophy in my job. By background, I have a fairly large team that resulted from the combination of multiple, somewhat competing, teams in the last year. About half of my direct reports are in nearby buildings but the other half are as many as 10 time zones away.
I describe myself as a better leader than a manager. By that, I mean that I manage more by influence (suggesting direction) than by control (enforcing rules). I also believe in management by exception (tell me about exceptional successes or unexpected issues) than management by status (tell me about what you accomplished). I’ve used this style since I was a first line manager and regardless of whether I was in development, sales, services, or marketing.
Although I’ve never formalized it, my general management guidelines revolve around three pillars:
Focus on outcomes, not on activities
This is the heart of my performance management philosophy and I’ve written about this extensively in this blog. While it’s easy to trivialize this as “focus on results”, it’s important to remember to track impact (how much change occurred) rather than output (how much we produced). Unfortunately most people miss this distinction.
In my management meetings, I usually avoid discussion of red/yellow/green items and instead focus on trends. To me it’s more important to discuss a green objective trending down than a red one trending up.
Reward people for a focus on results
When it comes to individuals, I apply the same discipline. I don’t like to reward people for trying hard if they were working on the wrong things. While congratulatory emails have their place, I prefer to catch people doing the right things and provide them with instantaneous feedback. At my last job, I handed out ‘Becher bucks’ to reinforce behavior but there are many ways to reward employees that aren’t financial.
When things go wrong, I adopt the posture of “hard on the issues, not on the people”. Failure is rarely the fault of a single individual or team. However, if you are going to be late/over budget/fail, don’t make it a surprise. Another reason to focus on trends, not current status.
Hire good people and let them do their jobs
I want my employees to be able to do their job better than I can do it myself. If I think and act like I can do it better than they can, I don’t really need them around. Without this ability to let go, employees become less productive and willingly wait for you to tell them what to do.
As a result, I prefer to hire talented and motivated people than to fill specific positions. Job requirements change frequently; I want people that can adapt too. This means I invest in people – not just functional training – but an education of the business surrounding their current responsibilities. If they are successful, it reflects well on me; I don’t need to take credit directly.
If anyone reading this has worked for me, please share whether my actions reinforce my beliefs. Is this theory or practice? Feel free to stay anonymous if that makes you more comfortable.