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Management By Wandering Around (MBWA)

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Is the idea of management by wandering around (MBWA), first presented in 1982 by Tom Peters and Bob Waterman in their book, In Search of Excellence, still a valid concept?  Today we have so much more data and information at our fingertips through internal and external sources.  Can we find everything we need right at our desks?  Yes, you can find the baseline information.  But no, you cannot make the best decisions for the organization. Without real world experiential data you lack the information necessary to get the real texture of what is going on in the business.

Without texture or context you have only half the answer.  It is like trying to make a decision on buying a car without seeing it. You know it will take you down the highway, but will you be comfortable with the trip.

Really see what is going on in your organization

MBWA gives you the opportunity to really see what is going on in the organization.  It gives you the opportunity to meet with employees on a very personal level.  However, remember this is not just about you getting what you need.  It is also about connecting with the employee so both parties get something out of the exchange.  You will find out very quickly if employees do not get something out of the exchange, the information you need to better understand the organization will dry up.

Wander by yourself

Your wanderings around the organization need to be by yourself.  Groups are intimidating.  It is much easier for employees to relate to you and trust you one-on-one.  Don’t expect to get an outpouring of information on the first visit.  It takes a while to build the trust needed. You need to get out there often.

Visit and talk to  all levels

Make sure to talk to all levels of employees, not just the upper echelon. Your upper level people generally are going to be more polished and better communicators.  They are better at “spin.” They will make a good impression.  When you talk to the lower level employee you may get a completely different answer. 

For example, I was doing an organizational study and one manager made a very positive impression.  He made it seem like he was on top of everything and his piece of the organization was a well oiled machine.  However in talking with the lower level employees a very different answer was found. In this case I was an outside consultant working within an organization.  If the boss had been “wandering” around I might not have been needed.

Learn to read between the lines

Also remember regardless of how good a rapport you develop with your employees you will not always get a straight answer.  Sometimes you will need to read between the lines to get to the root of the issue.  What the employee is reporting may be just a surface problem, not the base cause.  What can be really helpful is make sure you spend more time really listening and watching.  I was working on an organizational study and was asking a store manager a series of questions about the organization and she was very positive and made a good impression. However, by paying close attention to her body language I knew I was not getting the whole story.  If I had not paid attention, I might not have worked as deeply into this organization to find the answer.

Develop your “spidy” sense

Sometimes when you are talking to an employee it may just be a feeling there is something going on.  As with Spiderman you need to develop your “spidy sense,” as well.  Sometimes it will be very transparent.  I had one employee that her very demeanor would change so, it would be very easy for me recognize something was going on.  In other situations it may be a combination of things you see and hear from one employee or from a number of employees.

Don’t userp your supervisors

In your wanderings some employees may take the opportunity to complain about their boss.  Make sure they have discussed the problem with their supervisor.  If not let them know that they must talk to the supervisor first.  If they do not get satisfaction, then tell them to feel free to come back to you. If you try to solve the problem without the supervisors impute you will destroy your supervisors authority.

Try your employees job

Sometimes the easiest way to find out what is going on in the organization is to try out the job of the individual you are talking to. Set in their chair, work the computer screens they work, answer the phone, or review with them the project they are currently assigned. This gives you a real world connection with the employee.

Give MBWA a try

MBWA can be a great tool to use in your organization.  Computers and studies cannot give you all the answers. Properly executed, it will get you closer to your employees and business.  Spend the time. Get out of your office. It will pay.

Written by John Marrinan

September 16th, 2009 at 10:27 pm

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