The Power of Observation: Better MBWA

The Power of Observation: 6 Ways to Show Up Helpful

I just got off the phone with a frustrated CEO, who was fired up after a half day of observation in one of his call centers.

“Karin, Why don’t these managers GET IT?

I just left a visit to one of our call centers and within an hour, I’ve seen more than a dozen urgent and easy things to address that really matter. I’ve been encouraging managers and team leaders to be out on the floor. So they’re there. They’re theoretically doing the observation I’ve asked.  But I don’t think they know what to do!

They are standing right next to the issues I see, and they don’t see them! When I ask them for what patterns they’re noticing they offer to pull a report. How about the patterns they heard on the calls today in their observation?!! When I ask how the calls are going, they tell me “they’re good.” What does that mean? Can’t they hear what I hear? No one has a pen in their hands… I’m so frustrated. Isn’t this common sense?

How do I make them see that getting out of their offices is not enough? It’s what they do with that time.”

Does this sound familiar? This “Why can’t they see it?” feeling is the worst. And surprisingly hard to teach. But it is possible.

Observation Matters: Really Practical Ways to Ensure Your Presence Makes an Impact

After a few weeks in the role Verizon Sales exec., it became clear that there was a real difference between spending time in the stores and EFFECTIVELY spending time in the stores–observing what’s going on, learning, and being truly helpful to the team.

Some District Managers really understood the power of careful observation and used that in their helping. And for others, it was an art that needed to be taught. There were a few DMs who could be in a troubled store all day and completely miss the glaring issues– and of course, ignoring the obvious problems is far from helpful, it’s destructive.

If you’re looking to help your managers and supervisors be more observant and helpful, try working with them on this list of six ways to show up helpful.

6 Ways to Show Up Helpful

1. Start with connection.

Winning Well managers balance results AND relationships. You can’t show up helpful if your employees think you’re there to play a game of “Gotcha.”

Connect first with something personal. And then ask about what they’re most proud of and where they’re struggling. It’s amazing what you’ll hear if you just ask, “What do you need to better serve our customers?”

2. Think like a customer.

Observe what the customer is experiencing.

When I would do my store visits at Verizon, we would start in the parking lot. What does the customer see when they first walk up? Is there trash on the sidewalk? Are the windows clean? Are the signs hung correctly? Are all the light bulbs working?

Observe the customer interactions. If you can see the customers, do they seem relaxed and confident, or agitated? If you’re walking around the call center floor, are you hearing empathy from your reps? Are they providing clear and accurate information? Are they going out of their way to create a positive experience?

If you’re doing a ride-along observation on a repair truck, are you showing up during the committed time frame? Have we left the customers home cleaner than we found it? Have interactions been polite and friendly? Does the customer know how much we care?

3. Pay attention to the MITs (Most Important Things.)

Focus your observations on the most important things and work on them one or two at a time. As you’re walking around notice how employees are spending their time. Are they focused on the Most Important Things (MITs?)

If they’re not, get curious. Do they understand the behaviors that are critical to success?  If not, it’s time to revisit expectations. Are they clear on what behaviors will lead to success? Have you connected what you’re asking them to do, to why you’re asking them to do it?

One of the biggest mistakes I see managers make when they’re riding along or doing floor support is focusing on too many priorities at the same time.

If you tell someone: “Your desk is messy; you forgot to use an empathy statement; you didn’t mention the new promotion, and by the way, your handle time for that phone call was 15 seconds too long,” they’re not likely to retain much.

4. Look for patterns.

It’s easy to overreact when you see one employee with wrong information or a bad habit. I’ve seen many managers react with an emergency meeting because of one bad actor, and everyone is wondering why their manager is wasting time talking about something everyone already knows.

Of course, it can go in the other direction too. If you uncover a few employees struggling with the same issue, it’s worth keeping your eyes open to see who else needs help. The next obvious question any manager would think is, “Where else is this an issue?”

5. Connect work to outcomes.

In my Verizon days, I would never leave a store visit without spending time with the store manager in front of his “Big Board” (a white board that was to be updated daily with metrics in the back of the store for all the team to see).  We would talk about the customer experience and what they were doing to make it better. Nothing was more frustrating  than to see outdated metrics. “Oh wait, it’s better now!” The manager would say as they erased the numbers and put up new ones. “So how would your team know that?”

In your observations, it’s helpful to ensure the team has an easy, updated, way to know where they stand.

See more on developing critical thinking in your team.

6. Celebrate small wins.

When doing observations, it’s easy to focus exclusively on what’s going wrong and what needs to be improved. It’s so important to also notice what’s going well. Making a big deal out of small wins can go a long way in pointing out the behaviors that will lead to success. We get more of what we celebrate and reward, and less of what we ignore.

Your turn.  What are your best practices for effective observations and showing up helpful?

See Also: The Secret to Managing Up: The Green Jacket Effect (with Video)

When MBWA become OCHTC Oh crap here they come).

5 ways leaders screw up management by walking around

Five Ways Managers Screw Up Management By Walking Around

No matter what level leader you are, if you want to really make an impact on your team, get out of your office. Walk around. Connect with the human beings you’re supporting, and their customers. Listen to them. Act on what you hear. Explain the “why” behind “what” you’re asking them to do. Ask deeper questions and listen even harder. Thank them for their input. Recognize their efforts. Management by walking around is a powerful tool.

Do even half of this every single week and your influence and results are bound to improve.

And yet, if you get out of your office, and stir things up, without a sincere “How can I best help?” and “What must I learn?” approach, you’re likely to make things worse for your employees, your business, and your customers.

If you overreact, under-support, or act like you’re above the day-to-day BS that’s driving them crazy, you’ll jeopardize your credibility and influence, not to mention the results you’re looking to achieve.

Five Ways Managers Screw Up Management By Walking Around

Be careful that Management by walking around (MBWA)doesn’t become OCHTC (Oh Crap, Here They Come)

1. Over-reacting to a Single Incident

One employee in one office is screwing up your new program, or can’t explain your new product, and you conclude that “no one gets it,” and frantically start gathering all your National leaders together to fix this “Big Problem,” which might actually be just one dude with his head in the sand.  And you know what everyone else is thinking, including your National leaders who are scrambling to fix the “Big Problem?”

“Seriously, if s/he wants to work on something BIG, let’s me show him the real fish we have to fry.” But of course, they don’t say that.

That would be defensive, and they’re not stupid. So they diaper drama  the conversation and do exactly what they’re told. And save the real conversation for another time.

If you’re lucky.

2. The “Gotcha” Game

With the wrong tone and an imbalanced lens, all those “helpful pointers” feel more like “gotcha.” It’s great to point out what can be done better, along with stories and sharing of best practices, but be sure you’re also looking for the good news. I’ve seen many execs come through sweating all the small stuff that was “wrong” and completely overlooking the huge accomplishments of the team. Sure, they MAY remember to throw away the pizza box in the break room next time, but they’ll certainly remember that you didn’t even mention their significant sales wins. In some cultures the word on the street is that you “Can’t ever have a good executive visit, the best you can do is not have a bad visit.” Trust me, if that’s the case, you’ll get better long-term results by staying in your office.

3. The Drive-By

You come in long enough to make an appearance, but don’t spend time making any real connection. Such drive-bys feel like you’re checking off a to-do. Equally destructive is showing up, and heading to a nearby office to close the door and take calls. Wandering around takes time.

4. The High-Maintenance Prep

In anticipation, the team runs around making everything just right. Even if you think you’re low maintenance, watch what your local team is doing to prepare. It sends a terrible message to the frontline when local management starts scurrying to “clean up the place” or order special food in advance of your visit. A clean work environment is important for the employees every day, not for the execs. I once had a Director apologize to me that he had not “had the rugs replaced in advance of my visit.” They were filthy and needed replacing, but not for me.

5. The Talking Tour

Management by walking around is about listening and learning. Sure it’s great to reinforce priorities, but be sure you’re really taking the time to listen to ideas and concerns and to ask what you can do to be most helpful. Listen well, take great notes, follow-up with the person who shared their idea.

A MBWA  (Management By Walking Around) Secret Weapon

When I was a call center Director, I worked for a Senior VP who was strong, tough and introverted. Wandering around did not come naturally for her. But, she was a good leader who deeply understood the value and made it a point to spend quality time in the centers. So the morning before her visit, we went to each rep’s desk and color-coded their cubes with helium balloons all representing something they had accomplished:  yellow was perfect attendance, red meant they had attained a degree or certification that year, white symbolized they were exceeding goals, etc. We even threw in a few personal ones, like having a baby. That way as she wandered around she had instant conversation starters. Her congratulatory remarks flowed easily into how they were accomplishing their work and where they needed the most help. Plus, the visit felt like an uplifting celebration of the team, not of making things just right for her.

Management by walking around is powerful and important. Done well, it makes all the difference in the world. Take the time to do it right.

When MBWA Becomes Oh Crap Here They Come

Nothing could be easier than getting out amongst the troops, wandering around and listening, right? MBWA,or management by wandering around, is one of the truly great management techniques. So why do so many executives royally screw it up, leaving a path of fear and intimidation that takes local management months to recover? Most execs I know who fumble this easy move, start with good intentions: they want to be visible, to demonstrate commitment, to reinforce priorities, to inspect what they expect, and to be helpful. But their poor execution causes their noble  goals to backfire.

Why MBWA Becomes Oh Crap Here They Come (OCHTC)

1. The “Gotcha” Game

With the wrong tone and an imbalanced lens, all those “helpful pointers” feel more like “gotcha.” It’s great to point out what can be done better, along with stories and sharing of best practices, but be sure you’re also looking for the good news. I’ve seen many execs come through sweating all the small stuff that was “wrong” and completely overlooking the huge accomplishments of the team. Sure, they MAY remember to throw away the pizza box in the break room next time, but they’ll CERTAINLY remember that you didn’t even mention their significant sales wins. In some cultures the word on the street is that you “can’t ever have a good executive visit, the best you can do is not have a bad visit.” Trust me, if that’s the case, you’ll get better long-term results by staying in your office.

2. The Drive By

You come in long enough to make an appearance, but don’t spend time making any real connection. Such drive-bys feel like you’re checking off a to-do. Equally destructive is showing up, and heading to a nearby office to close the door and take calls. Wandering around takes time.

3. The High-Maintenance Prep

In anticipation the team runs around making everything just right. Even if you think you’re low maintenance, watch what your local team is doing to prepare. It sends a terrible message to the frontline when local management starts scurrying to “clean up the place” or order special food in advance of your visit. A clean work environment is important for the employees every day, not for the execs. I once had a Director apologize to me that he had not “had the rugs replaced in advance of my visit.” They were filthy and needed replacing, but not for me.

4. The Talking Tour

MBWA is about listening and learning. Sure it’s great to reinforce priorities, but be sure you’re really taking time to listen to ideas and concerns, and to ask what you can do to be most helpful. Listen well, take great notes, follow-up with the person who shared their idea.

A MBWA Secret Weapon

When I was a call center Director, I worked for a Senior VP who was strong, tough and introverted. Wandering around did not come naturally for her. But, she was a good leader who deeply understood the value and made it a point to spend quality time in the centers. So the morning before her visit, we went to each reps desk and color coded their cubes with helium balloons all representing something they had accomplished:  yellow was perfect attendance, red meant they had attained a degree or certification that year, white symbolized they were exceeding goals, etc. We even threw in a few personal ones, like having a baby. That way as she wandered around she had instant conversation starters. Her congratulatory remarks flowed easily into how they were accomplishing their work and where they needed the most help. Plus, the visit felt like an uplifting celebration of the team, not of making things just right for her.

MBWA is powerful and important. Done well, it makes all the difference in the world. Take the time to do it right.