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Monday, February 13, 2017

Management by Walking About

The concept of MBWA became high profile as good management in the 1985 book, A Passion for Excellence: The Leadership Difference by Tom Peters and Nancy Austin. Don’t recognize it? The letters represent the phrase “Management by Walking About” or “wandering around.” You get the picture.

A simple concept, really. But one not practiced very much from my experience. In my business life, the man who came closest was a former vice president of broadcasting at Moody Radio, Wayne Pederson. He would later head up a ministry in Colorado.

Many leaders with offices make them home away from home. It’s like they are on a lock-in. Attached to the desk, if you will.

MBWA is somewhat akin to an “open door policy,” except that the open door policy requires a gently bold assumption that whenever you drop by is a good time for the boss to talk. Frequently, that is not the case. It also means the employee is the “initiator.”

MBWA is different because the manager or business leader makes a point of connecting. The conversations can be simple, such as: “How are things going in your department today?” “Any particular challenges with which I could help?” “Any thoughts on how to make our company better or work more smoothly?”

Most likely, employees will be brief with those answers. Or seem to give only positive responses, perhaps out of fear. Over time, however, repeated efforts at checking in can yield some pretty powerful results.

A good, short article on MBWA was published by the Economist a few years ago. It contained a quote from W. Edwards Deming, the gifted engineer and management consultant. He observed, “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.”

Another benefit of MBWA is the possibility of “on the spot” creative solutions discussions. Say a manager walks back into the sales or production area where there are cubicles. An employee raises an issue that needs attention. The manager/leader grabs two or three others in the area and has a short session discussing the situation and how to best deal with it. Imagine if the manager/leader now promises to solve it! Without MBWA, neither the problem nor the solution may have surfaced.

As the article illustrated, “MBWA has been found to be particularly helpful when an organization is under exceptional stress; for instance, after a significant corporate reorganization has been announced or when a takeover is about to take place.” But don’t start MBWA then. Do this as a practice first to build trust.

The origination of MBWA is often credited to The HP Way by Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard, founders of the famed computer company. They “pioneered” this open style of management. The HP Way became widely copied by major firms throughout the US in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

The greatest Master of MBWA was Jesus of Nazareth. He traveled with His disciples on foot everywhere, teaching as He went. He answered His followers’ questions, showed them the right way to live as well as serve others, and build a Kingdom understanding. Many of His followers today use the same approach.

So consider the call to more MBWA. It’s remarkable how the state of things improves wth a personal touch and a show of interest.

It might even help win a few “Best Boss” awards.

That’s The Way WE Work. Click on the link to the right to connect via Facebook.

Let’s Talk with Mark Elfstrand can be heard weekdays from 4-6 PM Central. To listen outside the Chicago area, tune to for live streaming or podcasts, or download the AM1160 app.  

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