Take a Walk

I was once on a compound with staff spread throughout six or seven buildings. Every week, it seemed there was an entire building I never got to, so those people had no chance to tell me something good (more on that very soon.) They were out of sight and out of mind, and I didn’t like it. I had only two options to reach everyone so they knew what was on my mind. The first, the easiest and most convenient, was to send emails. The second option was to get off my butt and walk around.

Luckily for me, I had some circumstances that made that decision easier. Through various remodeling and construction projects, I had no real office for a year and a half. I had no chance to nest and put down roots. Everything I needed fit into a box that I’d carry around from one place to the next every few weeks when the renovations caught up with me. As long as I had a computer and a connection to the network, I was fine. And yes, if you have an image in your head of a sad Jamie roaming the halls with a box, looking for a stapler, it felt a lot like that some days. And then, the network went down.

Alas, I finally got up and started walking around. After a week, I got a pedometer. I wanted to give myself some credit for all that walking. I had a chance to talk to people and go in search of the ones I hadn’t seen in a while, or familiarize myself with the new spaces since the entire facility was playing musical chairs, or in this case, musical buildings.

Another week later, and my pedometer served an entirely different purpose. It wasn’t about giving me credit, but making sure I’d walked enough. My rule was that I should walk a mile and a half every day to make sure I saw enough of the people I was responsible for. The pedometer reminded me to walk a little more the next day if the number was too low.

And what did I do with all that walking? I asked for good things. I talked about ideas with those influential junior personnel who were well connected in the organization. I had coffee with senior managers to socialize ideas so they weren’t huge surprises at the next director’s meeting, and I just had a downright good time.

Another great thing about this whole process was that I was in a tropical climate at the time, so I had to get out and walk around before the sun got too high in the sky. I liked walking around, but being all sweaty and red-faced doesn’t encourage good discussions, so I had a routine. I’d walk around in the mornings and search for a desk with a computer in the afternoon. I recommend you make a routine if you’re going to start walking, so people know consistently when you’re making your rounds.

After a while, when typing an email to someone, I would stop and wonder whether or not I could just walk over and talk to that person instead. Could it wait until my next set of rounds through the compound? More often than not, the answer was yes, I could wait, walk and talk first, then follow it up with an email.

When you’re in a situation where you want to bring about change, which was all I wanted to do there, email is not your friend. Personal interactions with your people, the influencers, and decision makers, will get you moving faster and with a better view than the best-worded email you could ever craft. And yes, I understand that email is faster and so much easier to task people. That’s called leadership or management by email. If you do it, please stop. Can the email wait long enough for you to walk around?

And yes, I understand that personal interaction can bring conflict. There will be conflict regardless, and dealing with it in person is better than sending politely nasty emails to each other. So get up, get away from your desk, and take your agenda for a walk. You can task more people to do more stuff by email, but you can get people to do more actual work when you walk around and interact.

You have a to-do list for the day. If not, you should. Take that list and find the items that require something from someone else in your organization. Then, go for a walk. Talk about what you need with the person you need it from. Ask questions about a process you rely on but don’t understand. Have coffee and chat with someone whose opinion on your next big idea matters.

– What on your list can be accomplished by seeing someone face-to-face?

– What process would you be well served to understand better, and who knows it better?

– What emails are you about to send, and can you precede some of them by walking around?

James Tinker

About James Tinker

James was born and raised in Bangor, and left home at 18 for the Navy. Twenty-five years later, he retired as highest enlisted rank on a warship in San Diego. His popular blog series, The Day Job, shares personal and professional lessons learned through his career.