Early in my career with the Denver Police Department (in the early 1970′s), I worked for a short time in an assignment that reported to Chief of Police George Seaton. He had a meeting with all of us and told us that for a few months he wanted us to be out and about during each shift, observing officers and their work and letting him know of any glaring problems related to procedures.
Among his directions were: We should be obvious, not giving the appearance of sneaking around; we should assist with arrests and reports when we could; we should never appear to approve of something that we knew to be a violation of a rule or policy. Above all, he wanted us to write commendatory notes every time we could justify it.
He said, “I learned that when I was a sergeant”, (which would have been in about the early 1950′s) “You have to give people a reason to want you observing them. If you always correct something they’ll dread seeing you. If they know you’ll usually say ‘well done’, they’ll look forward to having you come by and before long they’ll connect the idea of you observing them with them doing good work.”
Someone in the group said, “But Chief, no matter what we do or say they’ll think we’re spying on them and trying to get them in trouble. What can we do about that?”
Chief Seaton said (probably using a lot of profanity, since that was something he was noted for), “Not a damned thing! But, some of them will understand and the others will at least know the truth, even if they don’t say it.”
All of Chief Seaton’s advice, then and at other times, has been useful many times in my professional life. I have mentioned his advice from that day in many classes for supervisors and managers. It still holds true: If you are going to do MBWA, management by walking around, to use a Tom Peters term, make those you visit look forward to seeing you.
*Make it separate from times you are required to go to an employee’s work area to ask about something. Be purposeful about what you’re doing.
*Don’t waste your time or their time with unnecessary small talk.
*See how things are going and ask a sincere question or two, if appropriate.
*Ask the reason behind something that seems to be wrong.
*Ask for correction of anything serious enough that to continue it would be harmful in some way.
*Make a mental note to consider small-scale concerns later.
*Say or do something that means, “well done”.
*Move on and let everyone get back to work.