8 Ways for CEOs to Tap Their Insiders

The concept of MBWA still has legs. Here’s how to capitalize on it.

How much time should a CEO spend interacting with company employees versus external partners? More than you might think, according to research conducted by the Harvard Business School faculty.  There is evidence interacting with “insiders” (employees and their board of directors) is more productive than interacting with people from outside the CEO’s company. The researchers noted that “for every 1 percent gain in time [that a CEO spent] with at least one insider, productivity advanced 1.23 percent.” There was no such correlation when CEOs spent time with only outsiders.

Most senior leaders would agree that staying in touch with their employee base is important. This leader-employee connection typically takes on the structured forms of town hall meetings, video broadcasts and planning sessions. But there are informal ways to stay in touch as well, often called “Management By Walking Around” (MBWA), a phrase coined in the 1980’s in the book In Search of Excellence. MBWA, the theory goes, helps senior leadership breaks down barriers that can often stymie effective communication across an organization.

A time-stressed CEO may be tempted to skip the Walking Around part and only focus on the Management part of the MBWA equation, but that would be a mistake. Wise organizational leaders make use of both formal and informal communications channels.

Here are eight ways executives can Walk Around and capitalize on timewith their “insiders”:

  1. Go for a walk. Literally. Does your company have a fitness room? Hop on the treadmill once a week and strike up a conversation with the person next to you.
  2. Don’t skip lunch. Wander on down to the company cafeteria, grab a sandwich and ask to sit with a group of employees. Ask questions and listen. You might be surprised at what you learn. (After they get over the shock of having an impromptu lunch with the CEO.)
  3. Play cards with employees at lunch time.
  4. Wander virtually. Learn to use, and become comfortable with, social media. It’s the new water cooler. See marketing advisor Pam Moore’s great essay on 21 Things Every CEO Must Know About Twitter.
  5. Make an effort to attend as many employee celebrations as humanly possible. It’s at those service anniversaries and retirement parties that the walls really come down.
  6. Learn to count. As you walk around, you’re bound to run into someone who asks a question that makes your blood boil. Practice silently counting to ten before you answer.
  7. Revisit the structured ways that you interact with employees. Has attendance dipped, or conversation been stale at the last few meetings? Maybe it’s time to change things up a bit.
  8. Ask a trusted advisor how you can be more approachable. Oftentimes, executives are unaware of how imposing they are.

By the nature of the role they play in their organization, CEOs must be results-driven and numbers-focused. “Walking around” may seem like a waste of time. It’s not. The research bears it out: if the ambling is focused on building rapport with “insiders”, the organization gains productivity and the leader gains goodwill. That’s a winning combination worth a few hours of a CEO’s time.


This post originally appeared on The People Equation.


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