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.
I 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.
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:
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?
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