‘Management By Walking Around,’ was popular in the 1980’s. I became a manager of a large housekeeping department in the 80’s. The bedrock principle of the theory was that the, ‘best supervision takes place where the work is being done.’
I set my cap to talk with and bond with everyone that was in my department, which had over 400 people at that time!
My staff was a group of nine foreman, who each managed five or more Sub-Foreman and their custodial crews which were made up of Building Service Worker I’s and student custodial staff. We were responsible for the cleaning of almost 200 university buildings which included two satellite areas.
I was amazed at the openess of the people that I spoke with! I did not have the feeling that they were speaking to me with a hidden agenda or that they were misleading me. I had worked alongside of many of them, just a few months before!
During my discussions, that were unhurried and substantive, I discovered a plethora of oversights that management had failed to address! Some were easily fixed and some were major policy change needs!
I had staff tell me that it appeared that I and the Superintendent, I was the assistant superintendent, were hell bent on assuring that the department was contracted out! I had others tell me of illness in their family…and chronic illnesses that they were battling. Others told me that, at times, they became so stressed that they had considered suicide!
Our student staff told me of their experiences at Southern Illinois University @ Carbondale…and how that their custodial crew colleagues were some of the first, or perhaps only, representatives of the university that had shown an interest in them. Our international students, of which we had many, told me of their home and their culture and the loneliness that they felt…so far away from home!
I discovered that some of our Sub-Foreman had been incorrect in the management of their student staff and that some had terminated them…without cause! I discovered that my perspective was, vastly, different than some of my Foreman regarding certain individuals and that bias had clouded their managerial judgement.
As I spoke with my, precious, colleagues…I found that the majority of them lived and died for their SIU job! They loved the students of our campus…they loved the faculty and staff…and they loved and treated the buildings that they were responsible for like their own home!
My friends and colleagues did not want to see me every day…but they appreciated that I was not only available to everyone of them…but that I would hear their concerns and act upon issues that needed to be addressed!
I have come away from many meetings with my tail between my legs and wondering how I could have been so inept as to not have known what was going on with a trusted technician that was being bullied or abused or teated shabbily!
A member of the university community berated me for nearly an hour as to the poor management style that I had and a basket full of concerns that she had regarding the cleanliness of her building. She ended the conversation by extolling me that, ‘I could be better!’
I told the irate customer that I agreed with her and that I was going to hang up the phone and proceed to work on the project that she suggested.
Support of my mangers did not equal, no matter what wrong that they had perpetrated on their staff, was alright with me, but it mean’t unwavering support as long as they were seeking the two goals of my management doctrine…always treat you colleagues with respect and dignity….and produce clean university buildings!
Many managers and administrators and supervisors are in a hurry to ‘lower the boom’ on their transgressing staff. My motto was that if we err let us err on the side of mercy!