Bill Kutik’s excellent interview of HP had quite a few excellent insights. He initially opens the conversation by talking about some of the many innovations HP has developed over the years. One of the early HR innovations was the idea of “managing by walking around.” Really this just meant that HR was available and visible. It’s no secret that the line manager is often the first stop for any HR questions, and certainly if not directly in the path for HR service delivery, they are a critical component of employee engagement, satisfaction and productivity.
Bills question to HP was how HP has evolved this philosophy over time to cope with what I’ll call the diaspora effect of the workforce – in other words, rather than having a centralized bunch of employees working together, they can now be anywhere. Thus, managers walking around does not really have the same visibility effect that it used to. While I’m not sure HP had a great response for how this management strategy has evolved, it’s certainly a very interesting problem to think about.
I’ve obviously been a huge proponent of enterprise social medias, but I’m not sure that this is everything that management needs to stay visible to the workforce. After all, social medias may work for Gen Y, but anyone in their 30’s and older seem to still like seeing people face to face. We don’t walk out of meetings and immediately text our friends to tell then what happened. We sit in the halls afterwards and catch up.
However, social medias may be effective in the “management by walking around” concept as well. Rather than using social medias passively, managers can initiate chats and IM’s to be constantly showing their presence without the negative connotation of “checking in.” Managers can have blogs that their teams subscribe to for updates on what is going on in the company, team and what important messages there might be to communicate. And managers can be active on the networks, commenting on employee’s profile pages, and having constant digital dialogs on just about any topic on a constant basis.
The problem is that managers now have to learn these tools. This is a huge learning curve not only because it requires learning the technologies, but also because it’s is a change in the way we work. It is a complete immersion into lifestyle of digital communications without ever seeing someone live. More and more, employees are going to get comfortable with this, as we have already gotten comfortable with working remotely. Walking around was easy for managers as all it meant was opening the office door and getting out. Social medias will require major change management and learning, without which, those engagement and productivity factors may lose ground.