My wife’s grandfather used to walk around his factory every morning, greeting each employee by name and catching up on what was going on with their work and their life. This morning routine took a good amount of time, but whenever someone mentioned that he might want to stop, he assured them that this was critical to the success of the factory. He wanted his employees to know that they could always come to him and he felt that these morning chats also helped him stay on-top of everything going in his business.
Management by walking around may seem basic, but it is extremely effective in communicating to your employees that you value them and their success. By walking around, even occasionally, your employees will have an experience of you being present, rather than available upon request or in times of crisis.
As you meet with employees during your walks, it is important to listen to them. When people hear others talk about problems or challenges, there is a natural tendency to want to help and fix the problem by offering solutions. If possible, resist this urge. Instead, it is important to listen to what the other person is saying. Are they asking for help or are they just informing you of the challenges they have had?
Listening is not a passive process. It can require a lot of effort to pay attention to the other person, examine the situation from their perspective, clarify meaning, and interpret their intentions. One of the biggest challenges people have while listening is breaking the habit of thinking of what they are going to say while the other person is talking. To start, work on just listening to your employees without worrying about what you are going to say. Listen to what they are saying, being careful not to interrupt with solutions. Sounds simple enough. But it is amazing how few people practice this simple technique.