A few years ago, Mack Trucks made some headlines when its then-CEO, Denny Slagle, put on a disguise and went to work on the OEM’s assembly line for a TV show called “Undercover Boss.”
And, by all accounts, Slagle learned some things – both good and bad – about his company that he was able to act on and make things run a bit smoother for those hard-working men and women on the line who build Mack Trucks in Macungie, Pennsylvania.
My friend, Darry Stuart, has a similar management philosophy that he uses in his fleet consulting business – and he doesn’t have to don a disguise to do it, even though I’d buy him a lot of margaritas to see him with a wig and some goofy glasses on trying to sneak around.
Darry is the founder, CEO and Employee of the Month for something like 255 months in a row now at DWS Fleet Services, based in Wrentham, Massachusetts, where he spends his time visiting fleet clients around the country and helping them work smarter and more efficiently.
As a limited time executive, it can be hard for Stuart to fly in and get a good grasp of what his client’s perceived issues are, versus their real, issues, since he’s not there on a daily basis. And while the fact that he isn’t with a client year round may sound like a problem, Darry notes that often, he’s about as well-informed about a fleet’s real issues as a lot of the execs who are there every day – but rarely leave their offices or meeting rooms to interact with the people who – like those Mack workers on the line in Macungie – actually keep their business humming along.
To get over this initial information deficit, Stuart likes to do what he calls “Managing by Walking Around” – which is exactly what it sounds like.
Once the meetings with his clients are over and the various issues hashed out, problems discussed and goals set, Stuart starts wandering around the facility to find out what’s going on. He talks to people – in the shop and in the front office. He talks to guys working in the yard, washing trucks and taking tire pressure readings. He goes into the parts office and talks with the manager there. He pokes around and sees what’s on the shelves – and what’s not on the shelves. He looks in trash cans. He eyeballs the scrap tire pile. He spends time with the technicians. He looks at the tools they have, how they clean up and store them at night – and the computer system they use to log everything they’re doing.
And, of course, he talks to the drivers about the equipment they're in and any issues they're having. He climbs up into the cabs of trucks and looks around. In short, he talks to anyone and everyone, and he looks into every nook and cranny he can find. He doesn’t just to this during his inaugural visit with a new customer. He makes Managing by Walking Around a key component of his intelligence gathering every time he visits a client – no matter if it’s the first time, or the 100th time he’s been to that particular location.
And, as you might expect, Stuart learns a lot by doing so. He’s told me before that some of the most illuminating conversations he’s ever had about a fleet and its operations have come from simply looking into a trash can in the shop and chatting with the technicians about what he sees in it.
Darry thinks he’s on to something with his Management by Walking Around method of fleet consulting. And I’d have to agree. All the reports and emails and phone conversations in the world will never give you as accurate a picture as to what’s going on in your business as simply getting out of the office every now and then, and simply spending an hour or two wandering around, poking around, and talking to your people.
It’s not only a great way to find out what you need to know to make your fleet operations run better, but it’s also an easy way to show your employees that you’re concerned about what they’re doing and engaging in finding ways to help them do their jobs better and smarter.
So why not clear your calendar one day soon and take a stroll around your operation? You’ll learn a lot. And – let’s be honest – you could probably use the exercise, anyway.