Crash course: Management by walking around

Tom Peters made this bureaucracy-buster famous 40 years ago, but it's easier said than done.

by Natasha Abramson

As your company grows from ten people to 50 to 200 to 5,000 people, a suspicion starts to creep in. As a leader, you no longer know everyone by name, and most of what you know about the day to day operations of the business come from your own direct reports. So how can you be sure you’re not inadvertently managing the company you think you have, rather than the one you actually have?

Many businesses have been undone when communication between top floor and shop floor breaks down. Remote, isolated CEOs lose the ability to influence culture. Valuable information - such as when a frontline staff member sees a business threat or has an idea for a business opportunity - gets lost in layers in hierarchy. Growth stagnates.

‘Managing by walking (or wandering) around’ is one approach to solve this problem. Popularised by Tom Peters in the early 80s management bestseller In Search of Excellence, the idea actually originated with former chief executive of Hewlett Packard, John Young. 

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