In Search of #CustServ Excellence: Management by Walking Around
Adam Toporek Keynote Speaker of Customers That Stick®

In Search of #CustServ Excellence: Management by Walking Around


Management by wandering around is a concept that supposedly derives from the management culture at Hewlett-Packard back in the Seventies. It was later popularized by business authors Tom Peters and Robert Waterman in their bestselling book, In Search of Excellence.*

The concept is also known as management by walking around, the term I prefer.

Management by walking around (MBWA) is based on the concept that unscheduled “walks” around a business allows managers to see operations as they truly are and to communicate with employees on a more informal and, often, more open level.

Coming from retail, I believe heavily in MBWA and encourage managers to practice it often. I do the same when I am onsite.

The details you will see as you walk around your business can be illuminating. From a light bulb being out to a team member sprinting around the cash wrap to open the door for an elderly client, you will see your business in its semi-raw form (it’s only truly raw when management is out of the building) and notice details that you would not be exposed to any other way.

Management by walking around works.

Management by Walking Around: Customer Service Style

Management by Walking Around | Black ShoesI also believe that management by walking around is a key component of visualizing the customer experience and optimizing service delivery — call it customer service by walking around if you will.

When you incorporate a customer service focus into MBWA, you will see aspects of your customer experience that you would never have seen otherwise.

Focusing on customer service and the customer experience while walking around can enable you to see strengths and weaknesses that are not necessarily reflected in your customers’ surveys.

Let’s take a hypothetical example to see how MBWA can produce results.

Management by Walking Around Is Like a Fresh Lens

Let’s say you own or manage a mid-sized advertising agency. You decide to walk the floor about 3-5 times a day. Sometimes you are purposeful in your walking; you want to see if Mike from the art department is still at his desk at 4pm.

Other times, you walk with half-purpose, focusing on a general area of the business such as the customer experience or the physical plant.

And sometimes, you walk with no purpose at all, just to see what you can see.

A week of MBWA could produce results like this:

  • After overhearing a call with a client, you realize that there is more friction between the account managers and the creative team than you had been led to believe, and it is hurting clients.
  • You notice that the sign in the lobby has probably not been dusted since the Carter administration. It’s funny how you never notice it as you rush to your desk every morning.
  • You were able to connect in the break room with the new hire in the accounting department, and it turns out she worked for your primary competitor prior to coming to your shop. You get some good nuggets of information, establish a relationship, and start to question why the team leader that hired her did not share that intel with you.
  • You see one of your designers showing a project manager why they have missed deadline, again. You jump into the conversation and discover that the costly software upgrade you were avoiding is not the luxury you thought it was. Time to make a decision.
  • And unfortunately, you discover that Mike is never at his desk at 4pm. And that will be a discussion for next week.

Management by walking around is not about policing. Sure, on occasion, you will have specific items you are looking to prove or disprove. In fact, I use the term walking instead of wandering because I believe it is important to walk with purpose sometimes.

However, wandering about without a purpose is just as important. At the heart of the MBWA concept is walking with an open mind. You are not asking The Business questions and hoping it provides you answers. You are opening yourself up and letting The Business tell you what it thinks is important.

So, if you have not practiced MBWA before, give it a try for a few weeks.

On a few of your walks, try to focus your lens just on the customer experience. You will be amazed at what you see.

Have you ever tried management by walking around? Or worked for someone who used it?

* Note: In Search of Excellence has its share of controversy surrounding it. If you are interested in the debate, start here and here.

About the Author Adam Toporek

By Adam Toporek. Adam Toporek is an internationally recognized customer service expert, keynote speaker, and workshop leader. He is the author of Be Your Customer's Hero: Real-World Tips & Techniques for the Service Front Lines (2015), as well as the founder of the popular Customers That Stick® blog and co-host of the Crack the Customer Code podcast.

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