An Edict for Every Manager: Go See

There is no substitute for being there.

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Michael Wade
The mechanic explained that the revealing pin-up photos of young women were on the inside door of his locker--so what’s the big deal? The investigator pictured a classic high school locker room and thought, “Small lockers. Male-only environment. How could the female coworkers even see the photos?”

And then the investigator went to the site. The locker was a long, horizontal, tool chest in a general work area and when its door–or more accurately, its lid–was opened, the flesh-filled photos became a kind of art gallery for the entire shop.

Lesson learned? Go see.

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The executive had gotten beautifully reasoned and detailed reports on an array of management problems from an attorney at the office in Germany. He decided to fly to the location to thank the attorney and discuss how to proceed. He left the headquarters with the intention of launching disciplinary action if everything checked out. The attorney would be his star witness. After fifteen minutes alone with the lawyer, however, the executive knew that his eloquent informant was a loon.

Lesson learned? Go see.

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There are work areas where the animosity between management and the employees can be sensed within seconds, but you have to be there to catch those vibrations. Conversely, there are offices where the mutual trust and respect are strongly apparent, but you have to be there to appreciate that depth.

E-mail, video conferencing, and speaker phones can convey a feeling of closeness, but they are shadows of what can be noticed when you are alert and on-site. The slight hesitations, winces, raised eyebrows, glances, and team banter that take place when the people aren’t in front of a camera and in fully guarded mode can be valuable signals of what is not being reported, what is not being said, and how the working environment really feels.

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The intangibles don’t tend to get into reports and flow charts and yet they can trump everything else. In order to find them and measure their significance, you have to go see. Let the accountants groan about your travel budget. There is no substitute for being there.

Michael Wade writes, an eclectic combination of management advice, observations, and links. A partner with the Phoenix firm of Sanders Wade Rodarte Consulting Inc., he has advised private and public-sector organizations for more than 30 years.