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59. Management by Walking Around for small business

Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard are not just famous for their computer company – they named the concept of Management by Walking Around, which had a period of popularity and prominence some decades ago – and perhaps its a bit of a shame that it has been somewhat forgotten these days. In large corporates its easy for management to get out of touch with the workforce, and with suppliers and customers. But surely this is irrelevant to small companies?

Well, not in my experience. Although it should NOT be the case, those running small companies can also disappear. And the tougher times are, the more likley this is to happen. There are business owners who do not like being asked for discounts, so they stop talking to customers, or do not like to be asked about how well the company is doing, so they stop talking to their own people, and who do not want to be chased for payment, so they stop talking to suppliers.

Will any of these behaviours help solve any issue? No. What behaviour is most likley to identify solutions? Discussing problems and facing issues constructively. Interchanging possibilities with other parties is more likley to lead to 1) identifying what options there in fact are and 2) better understanding the implications of the options. This in turn leads to better decisions, and ones with a better chance of being successfully implemented.

So first lesson of challenging times: get out there with customers and suppliers and staff; be seen and be heard – and even more importantly, be seen to listen. The majority of world leaders have understood that in economic turmoil they have to act in some degree in unison if solutions are to be found and to be effective. The same is true at the micro level: solutions will be found when staff pull together, when suppliers and their customers identify that they have common aims, and when customers see their suppliers have a genuine interest in them.

There is much doubt and uncertainty; business is first and foremost about people and ideas – the numbers support and explain but they are a result not a cause; getting out there where business happens can change things. Difficult or changing times are also times of opportunity, when people will alter their patterns of bahaviour more readily. So more than ever it is time to be visible in your market at all levels.