Management by Walking Around
Management by Walking Around (MBWA) is a management technique where managers walk around their workplace in an unstructured manner to check in with employees, monitor on-the-ground operations, and collect qualitative data. It is a type of participative management style that emphasizes informal interactions between management and the workforce.
The concept originated at Hewlett-Packard in the 1970s and was popularized by Tom Peters and Robert Waterman in their book “In Search of Excellence.”
MBWA enables managers to:
- Engage with employees: By directly interacting with staff, managers can create an open and friendly environment that encourages communication and feedback.
- Understand operations: Walking around and observing helps managers gain a real-world perspective of daily operations, understand processes, identify inefficiencies, and notice if there’s anything that’s not functioning as it should be.
- Gather feedback and ideas: Direct conversations with employees can provide insights into potential issues, ideas for improvements, and employees’ sentiments about their work and the workplace. This feedback can often be more honest and immediate than what comes through formal channels.
- Demonstrate visibility and approachability: When managers actively engage with their teams, they become more than just a name on an email. It shows employees that their managers are approachable and interested in their work.
While MBWA can have significant benefits, it must be executed properly. Managers need to ensure that their presence is not seen as micromanagement or a lack of trust in their employees. It’s also crucial that any issues identified or suggestions made are followed up on, to demonstrate that these walks are not just for show, but a genuine effort to improve the workplace.
Example of Management by Walking Around
Let’s consider an example of a factory manager who employs the Management by Walking Around (MBWA) technique.
Every day, the factory manager takes some time to walk around the factory floor. During these walks, the manager intentionally engages with the workers, asking them about their tasks, any challenges they’re facing, and any suggestions they might have.
One day, while walking around, the manager chats with a worker who mentions that a particular machine seems to be running slower than usual. The worker thinks it might need maintenance. This was not reported officially yet, but because the manager was on the floor and engaged directly, the issue was discovered.
On another occasion, while talking to a group of workers during her walk, the manager learns that there’s a minor bottleneck in the assembly line process, which causes slight delays. The workers suggest a small rearrangement of tasks that they believe would resolve the issue.
In both these cases, thanks to MBWA, the manager was able to spot a potential issue before it escalated and gather valuable feedback directly from the workers. Moreover, the manager’s regular presence on the floor and her direct interest in the workers’ experiences and ideas helps to foster a more open and communicative work environment.
Keep in mind that for MBWA to be successful, it’s crucial that managers act on the information they collect. If the manager in this example takes steps to maintain the slow-running machine and consider the proposed assembly line changes, it would reinforce the workers’ perception that the manager values their input and is committed to improving their work conditions.