Peripatetic Managing: Does It Really Work?

Do you walk around the office? Some management experts think doing so is a critically important business skill. Others warn against it. In “Seven Habits of Highly Successful Executives,” Steven Covey makes suggestions for limiting and avoiding casual chats around the office. In Covey’s view, these are unnecessary and often counterproductive.

In the newsletter Communications Briefings, however, editor Stephanie Winston argues for more such meetings, saying “I’ve found that stubbornly fighting off interruptions and tightly controlling access to your time isolates you from your colleagues and your organization.” She adds that her interviews with “48 top executives” reveal that successful managers spend two-thirds of their workdays in unscheduled conversations. I’m a big believer in walking around the office.

It’s almost as important as getting in early. But when it comes to chats, I tend to side with Covey. If you allow your unscheduled conversations to become a primary platform for solving problems, you are going to get swamped. There’s a time and a place for everything. I’ve made this point before. Walking around the office is your time to see what’s going on, who’s working, and how productive things feel. Don’t use it to get the hard work done. I like sneaking up on people.

Sometimes, I’m very surprised at what I discover. I also like asking the occasional question, but I believe to keep them short and sweet.

* “How’s the project going?”

* “What are your main problems?”

* “How do you intend to solve those problems?” If things are going well, I ask, “What can we do to make things go even better?”

And, yes, you can chat about sports, babies, and/or the weather too. Do so with enthusiasm, but not in any depth. Run your business by working all your venues: person-to-person conversations, print memos, e-mail, and phone contact. (See earlier ETR messages for when to use each.)