Managing Your Parking By Wandering Around
Historians generally agree his poor leadership skills and the resulting economic turmoil contributed to the genesis of the French Revolution. Eventually, the out-of-touch Louis XVI would be tried for treason, condemned to death, and executed by guillotine.
How does this relate to parking? Louis XVI lost sight of what was important. He neglected the people and, more or less, had no idea what was going on outside the palace. As parking managers, we also occasionally neglect what should be important to us: being in touch with our facilities, employees and customers.
With today’s email-driven, PC-centric management lifestyle, it is not difficult to find ourselves like Louis XVI, having no idea what is going on outside our office. Tom Peters and Robert H. Waterman, authors of the ground-breaking management book “In Search of Excellence,” prescribe the remedy for this: management by wandering around (MBWA).
The concept is simple: It refers to a style of business management that involves managers wandering around the workplace, in an unstructured manner, at random to check on employees or equipment or about the status of ongoing work.
Take a look at any successful leader, they said, and you are sure to find some sort of variation of this practice. Even Abraham Lincoln was said to have used this practice successfully by informally and sporadically inspecting the Union Army soldiers during the Civil War.
Parking managers must manage their facilities just as they manage their employees or customer relationships.
I began my parking career just weeks after graduating from management school. I had all the book knowledge on dealing with employees and could even draw a graph of the Hersey-Blanchard Situational Leadership Theory from memory.
What I lacked was the knowledge of how to, in a hands-on manner, manage my parking facilities. Several weeks into my job, I remember sitting in my office when a boss asked me to take a drive with him. We went from facility to facility while he pointed out some of the unkempt areas in the facilities. He ran his hand along a staircase railing and displayed the dirty hand to me. I understood his point immediately, and still remember that filthy hand being shoved in my face. I now find myself taking similar drives with my managers.
Chuck Cullen, CAPP, CPP, a recently retired Senior Associate with The Integrity Group, has an interesting analogy of managing facilities that also fits with our Louis XVI analogy. Cullen explains: “The automobile is king. The parking garage is its castle. The garage manager is the castle’s guard, and the guard should always be on watch.”
Are you as a parking manager protecting your castle?
While patrolling your castle, one good practice is never walking by a piece of trash in your facilities without picking it up to throw away. It doesn’t matter what your position is with the company; no parking professional should be too important to pick up a piece of trash in their facility. Employees, customers and even clients may see you pick up a piece of trash, and many times they will be inspired to start this practice themselves. It sets a good example for those around you, and it helps keep your facilities clean.
Some like to refer to this practice as the Disney cleaning concept. There is a legend that a journalist warned Walt Disney that Disneyland would become filthy and unsafe as attendance continued to skyrocket at the beloved theme park.
Disney replied: “We're going to make it so clean that people are going to be embarrassed to throw anything on the ground." And they do.
Employees at Disneyland and Disney World are trained on two important principles: “We create happiness” and “Everyone picks up trash.” Of course, they have dedicated maintenance employees for cleaning the facilities, but they train that no one, whether it is a part-time Snow White impersonator or an Executive Vice President, should walk by a piece of trash without picking it up.
Getting out of your office to tour facilities will also help increase employee morale. JC Porter, CAPP, Assistant Director of Commuter Services with Arizona State University says it’s important to meet with the employees in their work areas at times. “Not necessarily to just check up on them, but to show that you appreciate what they are doing and to be able to give them a job-well-done pat on the back or some tips on what they can do to provide better service. It’s also a good idea to roll up your sleeves every once and a while and work with your employees to show them that you are not afraid to work side-by-side with them,” Porter said.
Working side-by-side with employees, facilitating conversation and encouraging employees to share their ideas is often referred to as participative leadership. It’s often recommended in the service industry where situations change often because it offers a good deal of flexibility to improve ways of getting things done.
Some tips on how to be an effective participative leader include keeping communication open, focusing on the discussion, being ready to commit, respecting the ideas and explaining without apologizing.
We can learn a lot by engaging our customers in casual conversation off our turf (the office) and on their turf (the facility). When riding the elevator, for example, introduce yourself and ask what the customer thinks of their overall parking experience or just a specific piece of it, such as elevator cleanliness and operation.
You also can stand by the access card reader during morning or evening rush hour and just say hello. Often customers are much more forthcoming with constructive criticism if they know you are accessible
There are many other benefits to managing by wandering around your facilities, such as exercise. Instead of driving your vehicle through all of your facilities, try walking or riding a bicycle through them. Instead of walking down the stairwells, try walking up them to help burn the calories.
In addition to exercise, wandering your facilities can also be a form of stress relief. “It’s good to get out of your office just as a stress relief of doing something different,” Porter said, “and being able to clear your head so that you are able to focus when you do get back to the stack of paperwork sitting on your desk.”
Another such benefit is the added “eyes and ears” from a safety and security point of view. Being visible and mobile by walking facilities may help deter a would-be criminal from doing crime in a parking garage. We have heard stories about a manager simply walking a stairwell and ending up preventing a thief trying to break into a vehicle.
William Nesbitt, CPP, President of Security Management Services International, recommends having all parking staff trained in this area. “They should receive some minimal training as to how to recognize ‘suspicious behavior; and what to do when they see it. They should also learn to become competent witnesses when law enforcement intervention is required,” he said.
So many times we find ourselves so caught up in sending out emails, filling out paperwork, working with our parking committees and even updating our Twitter statuses that we forget to stay in touch with our facilities, employees and customers. Getting involved with parking committees and using social media are great and highly recommended, but when was the last time you walked your stairwell or walked a beat with an enforcement officer? When was the last time you waved a flag for an event or greeted customers as they entered the garage?
Luckily for us, we will never have to face the guillotine for poor leadership, but wandering our garages is one way to ensure our management success.
Isaiah Mouw, CAPP, CPP, a Vice President for Republic Parking System, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.