Management by Walking Around
Skill level: Basic
Management by walking around (MBWA) is the simplest form of managing people: a manager literally walks around the shop floor or the working and social areas (offices, corridors, cafeteria, etc.) of an organization.
Made famous by business management guru Tom Peters, MBWA is based on the concept that a manager can strengthen relationships and learn more about what is happening in a department or business through repeated, casual, personal interaction with employees. A manager should spend about one hour per day during random, various times walking around the department and interacting with employees.
- Strengthens relationships and creates an environment of trust
- Creates an awareness of the operation
- Increases manager’s knowledge of the department and area of responsibility
- Stimulates and enhances the level and quality of communication between employees and the manager
How to Use
Step 1. Set a time of the day to walk around the department.
Step 2. Talk with people with an emphasis on listening. Take time to understand people – who they are, what they do, the issues they face—and listen to their ideas for improvements. Reiterate what you have heard to verify that you have absorbed the meaning and understand the situation.
Step 3. Reflect on what you have learned, and make note of opportunities your employees point out that can be developed into solutions that will help in improving efficiency, making work easier, making expectations clearer, and increasing engagement.
Gemba walk: Similar to MBWA, except that MBWA is about people and relationships and Gemba is about being part of the work and observing for opportunities to reduce waste or make improvements.
A manager at a call center uses MBWA in his day-to-day management. Twice a day he walks through the call center, chatting with employees along the way. While sometimes the conversations don’t feel very productive (Sally showed him a picture of her new grandchild last week), they have helped him to form strong relationships with the team, and, over time, he learned a number of useful things:
- He learned which employees are excited by change and which are not. When the call center decided to implement a new system, he knew exactly which employees he wanted to engage as change agents.
- He noticed that Sarah always seemed to be more organized than the other representatives and managed to get a faster start to her day. He asked her about it, and she was happy to share with him her personal “to do” list and process for starting her day. He quickly realized that she was using some best practices that could be adopted throughout the call center and asked her to share them with the entire team.
- He realized that he was starting to hear a trend of complaints from employees related to system performance and its impact on customers. Since the employees were comfortable talking with him, they freely shared concerns about the system that he might otherwise not have heard. He took the complaints seriously and implemented the Gemba walk process to gather data on what was actually happening. This substantiated the complaints and led to a project to fix the system, which resulted in improved productivity and a 10 percent decrease in customer complaints.