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Management by Talking Around

Management by Talking Around

Management By Walking Talking Around


“Just the act of listening means more than you can imagine to most employees.” Bob Nelson


‘Our employees are our greatest asset,’ is a popular phrase in today’s workplace.


And as business leaders, it is critically important to recognize that our people are the key to the success of our business.


However, we must be careful not to fall into the trap of forgetting that our employees are people. Everyone has a life outside the workplace and needs that are different from those of the organization.


In other words, we should avoid the trap of viewing employees as a commodity or a product. The danger in this mistake can be seriously detrimental to the stability and endurability of your business.


I have often said that I practice a Management by Walking Around (MBWA) philosophy.  Whether I am in the office, at a customer location, or on a job site, I make every effort to engage everyone.


What a great idea, right?


It is a great idea if you can see your team during your “walks” and, more importantly, maintain focus on the true purpose of your walks.


The key to effective MBWA is your legs aren’t the primary muscles you are exercising. It isn’t the walking around that yields dividends, it is the personal interaction with the team.


I have often seen people stroll through the office greeting people and asking how they were doing, while never stopping to hear an answer. With that in mind, it should really be renamed Management by Talking Around, or MBTA.


Here are a few ideas on how to truly engage with your employees while you practice Management by Talking Around


1. Listen more than you talk

Technically it should be called Management by Listening Around, but that doesn’t have the same pop.


If your goal is to be seen walking through the office and be admired and adored by your team, you may as well stay at your desk.  The purpose of MBTA is to engage with your team, to forge relationships and hear about what is important to them (hint, it might not be work).


After a friendly greeting, ask a sincere and meaningful question and then stop, stand still, and listen to their answer.


2. Tell Me More

Take the time to dig deeper into their response. If the employee tells you they went camping this weekend, ask them follow up questions: Oh, that’s interesting, where did you go? Did you stay in a tent, cabin, or RV?  Who went with you? Spend the 5 or 10 minutes getting to know the person on the other end of the conversation. Asking, and caring, about things that are important to your team builds a relationship beyond manager and employee, it builds a human connection.


Then, double down.


Remember the conversation and follow up on it in the future. Hey Tom, you mentioned you were looking at schools with Olivia a few weeks back. Does she have a favorite?


You have now transformed the way your colleague or employee views you. You may transition from “my boss” or “someone from work” to someone who has taken an interest in them.


You are building employee loyalty.


3. Be respectful of their time

Not everyone on your journey will have the time or desire to stop and chat. That is OK. If someone is on a call or heads down working on a project, acknowledge them and move on.


Caring means knowing when to stop and talk and knowing when not to.


By the same token, if during your journey, someone stops you and wants to talk, try to take the time and engage in the conversation. Once someone knows you listen, and you care, they are more likely to come to you with problems or concerns. The quickest way to shut that down is to not make time for them. If you are headed to meeting, acknowledge them and let them know you are heading somewhere but will come back to them later.




Either be sure to go back and see them or schedule some time for a quick meeting.


4. Look them in the eyes but check their feet and yours

Body language speaks as much as the words in the conversation. Eyes and feet are key indicators of your conversational engagement.


If you are MBTA with an employee but keep looking at the other side of the office, the employee will know they are not your priority.  Your feet tell the same story. If you stop to talk and simply turn at the hips to make eye contact, your feet are telling them you are ready to walk away. When you are speaking to someone make them a priority. It may be five minutes, it may be ten, but that time is invaluable when it comes to employee engagement and loyalty.


Keep an eye on your conversation partners body language a well. If you are the boss, it may be difficult for them to say they can’t talk, they need to work on something else, or they are just uncomfortable talking to you. Read the signs and be respectful. Know when it is time to move on and know that it is ok to come back and build a rapport with those that might be uncomfortable.


Personal relationships are stronger than work relationships

Employees will do more for someone they believe cares about them and not just the job. They will be loyal to that manager and the company they represent. They do that because they know you are loyal to them and care about them.


Furthermore, employees are willing to bring concerns to a manager who they know will listen to them and address their concerns.


Engaged employees yield higher efficiency and productivity which has positive impact on the bottom line.  Why wouldn’t you increase the bottom line of your business by simply having meaningful conversations with your team?


Transform your management by walking around approach to management by talking around and watch your workplace thrive.


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