Successful Business Leaders ‘Walk the Floor’

I’m sure most business leaders and managers have heard the saying ‘walking the floor.’ But are we doing it? What does it mean? And does it actually work?

It means making time on a regular basis to find out what’s really happening in your business (department or team) – literally walking around the place where your employees actually work.

Many successful business leaders believe it’s crucial to improving morale, performance and results.

They say it helps show employees that you’re interested in them – that you value their knowledge, skills and opinion, and that it can improve results – because by asking questions you get to know the real issues affecting business performance and can often get the best suggestions for resolving problems.

These business leaders believe it helps foster commitment and push forward actions to change problem areas much more quickly than would otherwise happen, because by dealing with them personally people see that you’re serious and this can empower them to take action quickly.

When I ask the business owners and managers I work with whether they ‘walk the floor’, some common themes occur. See if you recognise any of these statements:

  1. I don’t have time to go out and about meeting my staff; I’m too busy trying to do my job/get new business/sort out their problems. (I’m sure there are a multitude of statements you can substitute here – you get the idea!)

    If you say this yourself at the moment, then it’s clear you’re prioritising other things i.e. you don’t think it’s important enough!

    What if you could view this as one of the most important parts of your role as a business leader?

  2. I don’t have any staff, I work with associates, and they’re not based in the same office as me- so this doesn’t apply.

    Of course it doesn’t apply in the same way, in the sense of physically being with your team, but it can be applied in other ways. For example, you could set up regular meetings via Skype.

  3. My staff shouldn’t need overseeing, they should be doing the job they’ve been paid to do anyway!

    While I agree that most team members don’t need monitoring 24/7, the majority of them will respond to knowing that you are genuinely interested in what they’re doing, that you feel their job really matters to you, to the business and to your customers.

  4. It’ll just antagonise them if I go out and ask questions. Or they’ll think I don’t trust them and I’m checking up on them.

    Whilst it’s possible some may feel like this, in my experience and in the experience of many of my clients, the majority won’t – provided you are genuine, ask questions, listen, and praise appropriately.

    Also, I guess sometimes you will be checking up on them, or rather checking progress on actions! Again, provided you’re genuine and not constantly criticising, then I believe trusting relationships can be developed this way.

On the opposite side of the equation, when dealing with people who are being managed, I’ve heard the following complaints:

  1. The boss doesn’t know who I am or what I do!

    Regardless of the truth of this statement ‘walking the floor’ can demonstrate that you do know your staff and that you do have an appreciation of what they do.

  2. We don’t know the boss – we never see her.

    Making time on a regular basis to ‘walk the floor’ will mean that you’re more visible to your staff, they’ll get to know who you are and it will help show that you are approachable and interested in them.

  3. When things are going well she takes the credit and when they’re not it’s our fault!

    Again, ‘walking the floor’ allows you to give recognition and credit where it’s due and create a problem solving rather than a blame culture.

Of course, this activity must be done with the right intention and with sufficient attention for it to work. Your team will see through it immediately otherwise – people can always tell when you’re not genuine or you’re preoccupied with other things.

I believe ‘walking the floor’ (or making regular time for your employees or team members where you’re geographically dispersed, or you’re home based) is crucial to Leading rather than Managing, to allow employees to see, feel and hear you – to actually experience you and the direction you’re taking them in, so that two way trusting relationships can be built.

So, if you recognise yourself in any of the above statements, then maybe the time is right for you to start ‘walking the floor.’

How about scheduling some time on a weekly basis? After all, you have little to lose and potentially much to gain, as a leader and as a business.