Management by Walking Around the Frontlines [Lessons from ‘The HP Way’]

President Abraham Lincoln visiting the Union Army troops during American Civil War In the early part of the American Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln regularly met the Union Army troops and made informal inquiries of their preparedness.

Decades later, on the eve of the Allied invasion of Normandy in June 1944, Dwight Eisenhower paid a visit to American and British paratroopers who were preparing to go into battle. As I described in two previous articles (here and here,) the Normandy invasion’s success was wholly dependent on the weather across the English Channel, something Eisenhower could not control. Eisenhower famously told his driver “I hope to God I’m right” about his wager with the weather in launching the Allied attack.

These two leaders were carrying out what is now called Management by Walking Around (MBWA.)

Without MBWA, managers rarely emerge from their offices-turned-fortresses

General Eisenhower addressing American paratroopers on 5-June-1944 before the Battle of Normandy MBWA is a widespread management technique in which managers make frequent, unscheduled, learning-oriented visits to their organization’s frontlines. Managers interact directly with frontline employees, observe their work, solicit their opinions, seek ideas for improvement, and work directly with the frontline to identify and resolve problems.

Hewlett-Packard (HP) was the first company to adopt MBWA as a formal management technique. In The HP Way (1995,) co-founder David Packard attributes much of the success of his company’s remarkably employee-oriented culture to managers’ good listening skills, employees’ enthusiastic participation, and an environment where employees feel comfortable raising concerns—all cultural attributes directly engendered by MBWA.

Fostering open two-way communication

The American quality management pioneer Edwards Deming (1900–1993) once wrote of MBWA, “If you wait for people to come to you, you’ll only get small problems. You must go and find them. The big problems are where people don’t realize they have one in the first place.”

Acclaimed leadership guru Tom Peters popularized MBWA in his bestsellers In Search of Excellence and A Passion for Excellence. Even today, Peters advocates that leaders and managers use MBWA to not only personally spread the company’s values to the frontline but also to accelerate decision-making by helping employees on the spot.

Sam Walton with Walmart's Frontline Employees » Management by Walking Around

Learning about problems and concerns at firsthand

'The HP Way' by David Packard (ISBN 0060845791) MBWA is comparable to the Toyota Production System‘s concept of gemba walks” where managers go to the location where work is performed, observe the process, and talk to the employees. By enabling managers to see problems in context, organizations can better understand a problem, its causes, and its negative impact. Gemba (Japanese for “the real place”) thus facilitates active problem solving.

Because of MBWA, managers’ presence on the frontlines sends a visible signal that a company’s management connects with the realities of the frontline and that leadership is serious about listening to employees’ opinions and resolving problems. MBWA thus complements an organization’s open-door management policy.

Idea for Impact: Practice MBWA

Employees will appreciate that their managers and leaders are open-minded and will sincerely listen to what employees have to say.

Don’t use MBWA to spy on employees or interfere unnecessarily with their work.

The Power of Sharing Your Goals

Seek the Positive Effect of Goal-Accountability

This research from the Dominican University of California suggests that writing down your goals, sharing them with friends, and sending your friends regular updates about your progress can improve your chances of accomplishing your goals. The research implies that

  • People who merely thought about their goals and how to reach them accomplished their goals less than 50% of the time.
  • In contrast, people who wrote down their goals, enlisted friends for them, and sent them regular progress reports succeeded in attaining their goals 75% of the time.

Let Your Goals Guide You

  • Put your goals in writing. Writing down goals can be a strong motivator. Use the SMART technique to avoid being vague about your goals. Connect each goal to a larger purpose, be specific, use action verbs, include measurable outcomes, and stipulate target dates for completion.
  • Enlist the help of others. If you can identify a friend or coworker who may share a goal, team up with them. Convince the other person to go to the gym, quit smoking, or share healthy meals with you regularly. A partner can help you stay motivated and committed.
  • Seek a mentor. Look for role models who may have struggled with goals similar to yours or already achieved the goals. Ask them for advice and suggestions.

Idea for Impact: Seek the Positive Effect of Goal-Accountability

Committing to friends, family, or coworkers on goal-directed actions and making yourself accountable can impel you to stay on course and reach your goals.

Write your goals down, share them with others, provide them regular updates, and ask them to keep you on your toes.

Advice for the First-Time Manager: Whom Should You Invest Your Time With?

Advice for the First-Time Manager: Whom Should You Invest Your Time With?

Before you were a manager, success was all about your individual performance. When you become a manager, success is all about growing your employees. It is about bringing out the best in people who work for you—making them smarter, pushing them to perform better, and advancing their professional development.

As a manager and a team-leader, your performance as an individual matters in the sense of how you cultivate your team’s efficacy and foster their self-confidence through coaching and feedback. Your success will be measured less by what you do and more from the reflected glory of your team.

Given a team to manage,

  • Don’t invest the same amount of time for each employee. Treat employees differently, based on their responsibilities, strengths, and their developmental needs. Do spend some time every week chatting with each employee. Then prioritize and invest more time with:
    • those who ask for your help.
    • those who need your help, but may not ask for it—especially those employees who may be struggling with some assignments because of their weaknesses.
    • those who are transitioning into their roles or may be experiencing changes.
    • those whose ideas and performance have the biggest impact to the organization—now or in the future.
    • those competent employees who understand the responsibility you’ve assigned them and the results expected. Especially with employees who need little help and direction getting things done, focus on ensuring that your expectations and priorities align with theirs.
  • Give your employees the freedom and responsibility to do their jobs. Set high standards and make them accountable for achieving the results.
  • Give your employees continuous, timely feedback: not just during the HR-required mid-year or end-of-year performance reviews. Thoughtfully use every meeting, design review, brainstorming, project closure, or client-presentation as a teaching moment.

Eight Ways to Keep Your Star Employees Around

Eight Ways to Keep Your Star Employees Around

Every manager should make employee retention a priority and regularly inquire, “How many of my star employees would leave my organization if they could?”

Employee turnover can be expensive. Managers must find and hire replacements, invest in training the new employees, and wait for them to get to up to speed—all while suffering productivity shortfalls during the transition. The more talented an employee, the higher the cost of replacing him/her.

Here’s what you need to do to keep your star employees around.

  1. Identify them. Find key attributes that distinguish top performers from average performers. Then rank your team against these attributes and identify those employees who are critical to your organization’s short- and long-term success.
  2. Perform salary and compensation research within your industry and offer an attractive-enough benefits package. Beyond a particular point, compensation loses much of its motivating power. Consider flexible work arrangements.
  3. Understand what your star employees value and help them realize their values and regard their work as meaningful, purposeful, and important. Often, the risk of losing employees because their personal values don’t correspond with the team’s values is far greater than the risk of losing them because of compensation.
  4. Get regular feedback from your star employees. Ask, “What can I do as your manager to make our organization a great place for you to work?” Let them tell you what they need and what they like and don’t like about their jobs. Adjust their assignments and their work conditions accordingly.
  5. Invest in training and development. Give star employees opportunities to develop their skills and increase their engagement and job security. Hold frequent and formal career discussions to determine employees’ goals and aspirations and coach them.
  6. Give your star employees the autonomy, authority, and resources to use their skills and do their jobs in their own way.
  7. Keep them challenged and engaged. Make work more exciting. Set aggressive, but realizable goals. Move your star employees around into positions in the company where they will face new challenges and develop critical skills. Employees would like to be challenged, appreciated, trusted, and see a path for career advancement.
  8. Appreciate and give honest feedback regularly. Make timely and informal feedback a habit. Don’t disregard employee performance until the annual review. Help employees feel confident about your organization’s future. Earn their trust.

How to Prepare an Action Plan at a New Job [Two-Minute Mentor #6]

Winning at a new job by preparing a plan for action

Meet with all the people your new role interacts with—bosses, peers, suppliers, internal and external customers, and your employees.

Inquire what they expect to see you accomplish in five weeks, five months, and five years. Ask,

  • “What should we continue to do?”
  • “What should we change?”
  • “What should we do?”
  • “What shouldn’t we do?”
  • “What are the two or three levers that, if pulled correctly, can enable us to make the biggest impact?”

Synthesize their responses and prepare a one-page “plan for action.” Keep it as simple as possible for all your constituencies to understand and buy-in.

Communicate your proposals across your organization: “Here’s what I heard from you. Here’s what I think about it. Here’s our list of priorities and an action plan.”

For more guidelines on preparing an action plan, see my article on doing a job analysis; it’s part of my three-part (parts 1, 2, 3) series of articles on how to write a job description for your present position.

Don’t Reward A While Hoping for B

Effective Award Systems

We do what we are rewarded for doing. We are strongly motivated by the desire to maximize the positive consequences of our actions and minimize the negative consequences. Academics identify these aspects of behavioral psychology using the monikers “expectancy theory” and “operant conditioning.”

Flawed Reward Systems

Reward systems ought to commend positive behavior and punish negative behavior. But many organizations tend to reward one type of behavior when they really call or hope for another type of behavior. For instance,

  • A manager who wants his sales force to create long-term customer relationships mustn’t reward salespeople for new business from new customers, but for retaining customers and expanding sales to them.
  • A project manager focused on work quality shouldn’t reward a team for completing a project on time.
  • At institutions of higher learning, especially at prestigious universities, a professor’s primary responsibilities ought to be teaching and advising students. However, the academic rewards systems assert that the primary ways to achieve promotion and tenure are through successful research and publishing. Hence, given the constraints of time, a professor is likely to dedicate more time to research at the expense of quality teaching. Alas, mediocre teaching isn’t censured.
  • As I described in my article on “The Duplicity of Corporate Diversity Initiatives,” managers who extol the virtues of “valuing differences” stifle individuality and actively mold their employees to conform to the workplace’s existing culture and comply with the existing ways of doing things. Compliant, acquiescent employees who look the part are promoted over exceptional, questioning employees who bring truly different perspectives to the table.

“On the folly of rewarding A, while hoping for B”

In 1975, Prof. Steven Kerr wrote a famous article titled, “On the folly of rewarding A, while hoping for B” that’s become a management classic. Over the decades, this article has been widely admired for its relevance and insight. The article (the 1975 original is here and the 1995 update is here) provides many excellent examples of situations where the reward structure subtly (or sometimes blatantly) undermines the goal. The abstract reads,

Whether dealing with monkeys, rats, or human beings, it is hardly controversial to state that most organisms seek information concerning what activities are rewarded, and then seek to do (or at least pretend to do) those things, often to the virtual exclusion of activities not rewarded. The extent to which this occurs of course will depend on the perceived attractiveness of the rewards offered, but neither operant nor expectancy theorists would quarrel with the essence of this notion.

Nevertheless, numerous examples exist of reward systems that are fouled up in that the types of behavior rewarded are those which the rewarder is trying to discourage, while the behavior desired is not being rewarded at all.

Idea for Impact: “Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is”

Aligning Reward Systems If you see behavior in your organization that doesn’t seem right or doesn’t make sense, ask what the underlying reward system is encouraging. Chances are that the offending behavior makes sense to the individual doing it because of inefficiencies in your reward system.

Take stock of your reward systems. Effective systems should induce employees to pursue organizational goals by appealing to employees’ conviction (or intrinsic motivations) that they will personally benefit by doing so. To inspire employees, translate levers of extrinsic motivation at your disposal to intrinsic motivation as I elaborated in my previous article.

Idea for Impact: Make sure that you understand and clearly communicate expectations, and reward what you really want your employees to achieve. Don’t encourage a particular behavior while promoting an undesirable one through your rewards and praises.

Effective Goals Can Challenge, Motivate, and Energize

One of my blog readers asked me to write more about goal-setting and performance against goals. In response, I studied the work of University of Maryland’s Edwin Locke and University of Toronto’s Gary Latham, two renowned researchers on goal-setting. Here is a summary.

Effective Goals Can Challenge, Motivate, and Energize

Goals Impact Performance in Several Ways

  • Goals can help direct: A person’s goals should direct his/her attention, effort, and action toward goal-relevant actions at the expense of less-relevant actions.
  • Goals can help motivate: A person’s goals can motivate him/her to pursue specific outcomes. The person can be motivated only when his/her goals are sufficiently challenging and can nudge him/her to put in special efforts.
  • Goals can help persist: A person is likely to persist at his/her efforts when his/her goal is worthy enough to attain.
  • Goals can trigger learning: Goals can either activate a person’s knowledge and skills that are relevant to performance or induce the person to acquire such knowledge or skills.

Best Practices for Goal-Setting and Performance

  • Specific, difficult, but attainable goals lead to better performance than easy, vague, or abstract goals such as the general-purpose exhortation to “do your best.” Hard goals motivate because they require a person to achieve more in order to be content with his/her own performance.
  • 'Goals' by Brian Tracy (ISBN 1605094110) Goal specificity and performance share a positive, linear relationship. When a person’s goals are specific, they direct and energize his/her behavior far more effectively than when they are vague and unspecific.
  • Performance is directly proportional to the difficulty of a goal as long as a person is committed to the goal, has the requisite ability and resources to achieve the goal, and does not have conflicting goals.
  • Taking on excess work without access to the necessary resources to realize the goals (“overload”) can moderate the effects of goals.
  • A team performs best when the goals of the individuals on the team are compatible with the team’s goal. Therefore, when an individual’s goals are incompatible with his team’s, his/her contribution to the team will be subpar.
  • The goal need not be in focal awareness all the time. Once a goal is accepted and understood, it resides in the periphery of the person’s consciousness and serves to guide and give meaning to his/her actions.
  • While long-term goals are relevant and helpful, most people find short-term goals more effective because they channel a person’s immediate and direct efforts and provide quick feedback. This suggests that it’s best to divide long-term goals into concrete short-term objectives.
  • 'Living in Your Top 1%' by Alissa Finerman (ISBN 1453619232) Self-efficacy plays a key role in the achievement of goals. A person is much more likely to buy into and pursue goals if he/she believes himself/herself to be competent enough to reach those goals. The most effective goals must therefore embrace a person’s strengths—such goals help him/her strive towards success by leveraging the best of who he/she is and what he/she can do.
  • One reason a person may lack self-efficacy is his/her past failures with undertaking similar goals. Such a person may believe that he/she may never reach his/her goals and should first undertake a series of small, near-term goals instead of difficult, distant goals. The person’s success with a series of smaller goals can boost his/her confidence and can inspire him/her to undertake larger goals. For example, a chain-smoker will find the goal of smoking cessation daunting. He should therefore focus on smaller goals like gradually cutting down the number of cigarettes he smokes every day. Experiences of goal achievement can build up momentum to tackle the larger goal.
  • Goals are not effective by themselves. Feedback is the most important moderator of goal-setting because it tracks the progress of performance towards goals and creates new sub-goals. If a person finds his/her progress towards a goal unsatisfactory, the feedback he/she receives can drive corrective efforts to develop new skills or pursue the goal in a new way.

Your To-Do List Isn’t a Wish List: Add to It Selectively

Your To-Do List Isn't a Wish List

Poor time management is often not about a packed schedule as much as it is about an indecisive, unorganized, undisciplined mind that struggles with task management.

One persistent problem in time management is how people go about managing their to-do list, whether it’s a paper list, on an app/software, or just a mental record.

Unwieldy Buildup of Tasks

People find it easy to add things to their to-do lists. They tend to say yes to almost everything that is asked of them—because right when they are asked for something, saying “yes” involves nothing more than adding one more item to their already lengthy to-do lists.

What’s more, people can’t seem to complete and cross-off more than half of their to-do lists. The buildup of tasks is never-ending; for every task they complete, they tend to add a few more.

Consequently, they end up with a large, ever-growing task-list, which they postpone from one day to the next. No wonder they constantly feel besieged by work and get disheartened that there seems to be no light at the end of the tunnel.

Take Control of Your To-Do List

  • Be very conscious about your time.
  • Be very selective with what you add to your to-do list. As I mentioned in “the world’s shortest course in time management,” focus on things that you must do and avoid everything else. “An earnest purpose finds time, or makes it. It seizes on spare moments, and turns fragments to golden account,” said American Unitarian William Ellery Channing.
  • Learn to limit the demands on your time. Don’t say yes to everything that people ask of you.
  • Favor close-ended tasks over open-ended tasks. Break down complex tasks into smaller, bite-sized tasks that can be close-ended.
  • Associate everything on your to-do list with a date, time, and duration. Instead of adding a task to your to-do list, consider scheduling it on your calendar. Scheduling forces you to consider a task’s length and to confront how much time you actually have to devote to its completion.
  • Don’t tackle the tasks that you fancy instead of the ones you really need to do. Don’t focus on smaller, insignificant tasks on the pretext of making tangible progress quickly and in an attempt to avoid doing the significant projects.
  • Don’t wait for motivation to strike. Instead, discipline yourself and launch into action. As I mentioned in my article on the “10-Minute Dash” technique to overcome procrastination, action leads to motivation, which in turn leads to more action.

Extrinsic Motivation Couldn’t Change Even Einstein

“He that complies against his will is of his own opinion still,” wrote the English poet and satirist Samuel Butler (1613–1680) in Hudibras (Part iii. Canto iii. Line 547.)

Extrinsic Motivation Couldn't Change Einstein to Quit Smoking

Einstein Wouldn’t Quit Smoking

Consider the case of a rational person as great as Albert Einstein. Grandson Bernhard Caesar Einstein, himself a reputed physicist, recalled in 1998 that Grandpa Einstein’s two prized possessions were his violin and smoking pipe; his reliance on the latter “bordered on dependency.”

Despite deteriorating health, Albert Einstein couldn’t be motivated to quit smoking. His doctor tried but just couldn’t convince Einstein to give it up. To circumvent the doctor’s effort to stop him from smoking, Einstein would scour his neighborhood’s sidewalks to collect discarded cigarette butts to smoke in his pipe.

People Will Change Only if Intrinsically Motivated

People are who they are; they have their (intrinsic) motivations and will continue to live their way. Despite well-meaning intentions, you simply can’t change them or mold their minds into your way of thinking.

You may be frustrated by their reluctance to mend their ways, stop engaging in destructive behavior, or even realize that they’re throwing away their potential. But you just can’t force change down their throats if they aren’t intrinsically motivated. You can only express your opinions, offer help, and even persist. Beyond that, you can only hope they change. You can control your effort and create the conditions for success. Beyond that, the outcomes of your efforts to change are outside your span of control. Control your efforts, not the outcomes.

As I elaborated in a previous article, you will succeed in changing another person’s behavior only if you can translate the extrinsic motivation at your disposal to the elements of his/her intrinsic motivation.

Idea for Impact: Extrinsic motivation is pointless in itself

You can’t change people; they must want to change for themselves. In other words, they must be intrinsically motivated to change. Extrinsic motivation is, in itself, pointless.

To Inspire, Translate Extrinsic Motivation to Intrinsic Motivation

Extrinsic Motivation Does not Exist

Motivation can be activated and manipulated in another person with the effect of altering his/her behavior and achieving shared objectives.

In a previous article, I have elaborated that motivation is derived from incentives (or disincentives) that are founded either externally or internally, through extrinsic or intrinsic motivation. Intrinsic motivations arise from within—for example, doing a task for its own sake. In contrast, extrinsic motivations propel you to seek external rewards or avoid threatened punishments.

Extrinsic Motivation Doesn’t Exist

One could argue that extrinsic motivation doesn’t exist—that all human behavior is motivated by intrinsic needs alone. In support of this viewpoint, Professor Steven Reiss of Ohio State University observes, “Extrinsic motivation does not exist as a separate and distinct form of motivation” and elaborates,

When I do something to get something else, ultimately I am seeking something of intrinsic value to me. Otherwise, I wouldn’t do it. I go to work to support my family, and I value my family intrinsically. Some seek wealth so others will respect them, and they value their status intrinsically. In a means-ends chain of behavior, the end is intrinsically motivating, and it is the source of motivation for the means. The motive for the means is the same as for the end; it is an error in logic to assume that means are motivated by a different kind of motivation (extrinsic motivation) than are ends (intrinsic motivation.)

Try to imagine a chain of purposive behaviors that do not ultimately lead to some intrinsically valued goal. You can’t do it because such a chain has nothing to motivate it and, thus, never occurs. All behavior is motivated by an intrinsically valued goal.

Only Intrinsic Motivation Exists

Extrinsic motivation is nothing but a trigger for intrinsic motivation. Suppose that I ask you to refrain from smoking for a week in return for a $100 cash reward. Originally, you do not intend to refrain from smoking for a week, even if you acknowledge that smoking is harmful. In other words, you have no intrinsic motivation to refrain from smoking for a week. Therefore, the $100 offer acts as an extrinsic motivator. Upon further analysis, recognize that even though the $100 appears to be an extrinsic motivator, it capitalizes on your intrinsic desire to take the $100 to perhaps enjoy an evening out, take a loved one to dinner, or buy yourself a present. The $100 thus acts on an element of your intrinsic motivation.

A Case Study: How Xiang Yu Motivated Troops during the Battle of Julu

Commander Xiang Yu Chu Dynasty In ancient China, during the Battle of Julu in 207 BCE, Commander Xiang Yu led 20,000 of his Chu Dynasty troops against the Qin Dynasty. Yu’s troops camped overnight on the banks of the Zhang River. When they woke up the next morning to prepare for their attacks, they were horrified to discover that the boats they had used to get there had been sunk. Not only that, but their cauldrons (cooking pots) had been crushed and all but three days’ worth of rations destroyed.

The Chu troops were infuriated when they learned that it was their commander, Yu, who had ordered the destruction of the boats, cauldrons, and supplies. Yu explained to his troops that this maneuver was to motivate them to mount a spirited attack on the enemies. They had no chance to retreat and were thus forced to achieve victory within three days. Otherwise, they would die trapped within the walls of an enemy city without supplies or any chance of escape. Despite being heavily outnumbered, Yu’s motivated troops defeated the 300,000-strong Qin army and scored a spectacular victory within three days.

Xiang Yu cleverly translated extrinsic motivational devices at his command (viz. lack of boats, cauldrons, and supplies) to instigate a powerful intrinsic motivator of survival and success in his troops.

Idea for Impact: To Motivate Another, Always Lever Elements of Intrinsic Motivation

When trying to motivate a person who lacks intrinsic motivation for a certain behavior, first understand what truly motivates that person—i.e. his/her other elements of intrinsic motivation. Then translate the levers of extrinsic motivation (rewards, salary raise, fame, recognition, punishment) at your disposal through one of the other’s elements of intrinsic motivation.