The benefits of MBWA – management by walking around

by Caitlin Nobes13 Sep 2012

It’s easy in this day and age to send a quick email or wait to discuss something until a meeting, but managers might find their workers more engaged if they practiced ‘management by walking around’  (MBWA).

"Management by walking around really helps you be more visible, connect with employees and share ideas, and invite suggestions for doing things better," Annie Stevens, managing partner at Boston-based executive coaching firm ClearRock, told Forbes.

MBWA is the habit of stopping by to talk with people face to face, get a sense of how they think things are going, and listen to whatever may be on their minds.

Beyond the obvious advantages of keeping your own finger on the pulse of the organization, employees are likely to be more engaged and productive if they see you and speak with you frequently than if they don't.

"There has been a tendency to manage employees via email, memos, and formal meetings," Stevens said. Some managers feel they don't have time to meet with employees informally, while younger managers might never have learned about MBWA – yet the benefits speak for themselves.

 How to MBWA successfully:


  1. Make MBWA part of your routine, but don’t make it routine. Mix up what time you take your walk each day, but try to schedule at least half an hour to make the most of dropping in on employees when they don’t expect you.

  2. Don't bring an entourage. MBWA works best as a continual stream of one-on-one conversations with individual employees. Bringing aides or assistants with you will probably just inhibit the discussion by making people more self-conscious or, worse, make them feel you're ganging up on them.

  3. Visit everybody. As anyone who’s familiar with how the office rumor mills get spinning might guess, dropping in on some folks more often than others is likely to create the wrong kind of buzz. Try to spend roughly the same amount of time — not necessarily all in the same day or even the same week, but over the long run — with each person who reports to you.

  4. Ask for suggestions, and recognise good ideas. "Ask each employee for his or her thoughts about how to improve products, processes, sales, or service," Stevens says. Then, if someone's idea leads to a positive result, make it known whose suggestion it was and show you're ready to give credit where it's due.

  5. Follow up with answers. If you can't answer an employee's question off the top of your head, don't forget to get back to him or her with an answer later, Stevens suggests. Besides being common courtesy, it builds trust.

  6. Don't criticise. Remember, you're on a fact-finding mission, with the secondary purpose of building rapport. To avoid undermining those aims, Stevens says that if you find that an employee isn't performing his or her job correctly, “don't attempt to change the behavior on the spot. Instead, make a note of it and address the problem at another time and in another setting".

Clearly, MBWA takes some extra time and effort, but apart from any tangible payoff it might yield down the road, you might even find that you enjoy it. Stranger things have happened.

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