Management by Walking Around
Business Dictionary defines Management by Walking Around (MBWA) as:
Unstructured approach to hands-on, direct participation by the managers in the work-related affairs of their subordinates, in contrast to rigid and distant management. In MBWA practice, managers spend a significant amount of their time making informal visits to work area and listening to the employees. The purpose of this exercise is to collect qualitative information, listen to suggestions and complaints, and keep a finger on the pulse of the organization. Also called management by wandering around."
 How it Works
Management by Walking Around (MBWA) occurs when leaders and managers leave their office and daily responsibilities and “walk around” the organization observing and talking to members of the organization with no specific purpose. The purpose of walk around management is to gather information in a raw, unfiltered and unvarnished, to listen and observe openly. In larger organizations this includes traveling to the different locations beyond the boundaries of the headquarters for a first hand view and conversations.
Conversations are most effective when you engage employees in questions where they talk about their work and how it is going on the spot versus in a meeting. Every employee has observations and ideas. The idea is to draw these out. Employees feel the most comfortable on their own turf carrying out their job.
Observations are most effective if you just take the time in an unstructured way to truly observe. Let your eyes see without an agenda or mission.
 Growing from Small to Bigger
It's natural for a small and new organization to be very tight by its nature. Leaders know what is going on and have their fingers on the pulse because the group is so small and in one place. As an organization grows and adds more people and locations it is natural for management to get more distant and more separation to grow. Management by Walking Around is something management can learn and do to get back to that tightness that was an advantage in the small and startup days.
One important benefit of “walk around management” is the feeling and culture it generates in the organization. Employees believe rightly so that top-level management cares and knows what is going on in the organization. This is the opposite of an unhealthy culture where employees and middle and lower levels of the organization feel that top management is clueless as to what is “really going on” in the organization and they are not listened to.
Walking around your organization unscripted is also an opportunity for leaders to teach and pass on important information to employees direct. These types of conversations are very memorable for employees and may range from the vision, goals and strategic plan to culture.
MBWA creates opportunities to build relationship in the organization that otherwise might not occur.
W. Edwards Deming, the legendary quality control guru stated a very important benefit from MBWA:
If you wait for people to come to you, you'll only get small problems. You must go and find them. The big problems are where people don't realize they have one in the first place."
- It is “important” but not “urgent” which is where an manager ought to be spending a big chunk of his time. It is all too easy to put this type of activity off in favor of more pressing matters and issues.
- It can be awkward, particularly if you are just getting started doing this. You and other employees may wonder what you are doing wandering around. Each person will have to develop a style that fits their personality and organization. Over time it will get easier, smoother and people will see it as a beneficial activity in the organization.
- The challenge is to do it enough to show people you care and are genuinely interested in what is going on in their work world, while not doing it so often as to be annoying.
 Related Best Practices
- Lessons to Build Effective Leaders
- Effective CEO
- Effective Leaders Listen
- Sharing the Glory and Getting Things Done
Management by walking around at Wikipedia.
MBWA review at Mind Tools discusses benefits and implementation.
Tools: Management by Walking Around, American Society for Quality.
Management by Walking About, Economist article discusses history and application of MBWA.
The author of this page is Terry Gardiner
Terry Gardiner is the founder and President of Silver Lining Seafoods and NorQuest Seafoods - a medium size Alaska seafood processing companies; and currently Board member of the Anvil Corporation, an employee owned company specializing in oil and gas engineering.
His co-operative experiences include member director of the Commercial Fishermen Co-operative association; creation of legislation for the Alaska Commercial Fishing and Agriculture Bank; and advisor to the US Dept of Health and Social Services for the state Health CO-OPs.
Terry served ten years as a member of the Alaska House of Representatives -several legislative committee chairmanships, Speaker of the House, Chairman of the Alaska Criminal Code Commission and board member on various state and federal boards and commissions.
Terry authored the leadership book, "Six-Word Lessons to Build Effective Leaders: 100 Lessons to Equip Your People to Create Winning Organizations".