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Management By Walking Around October 10, 2007

Posted by rickbron in Bronder On People, MBWA.
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p5130012.jpg  Want to know what is going on? The Big Dogz use a technique called MBWA — Management By Walking Around. This technique was made famous by Tom Peters in his book “In Search of Excellence”. MBWA is quite simple and can yield amazing intelligence. Here’s how you do it.  First, you must get out of your space and get out where the people are doing the work. You walk around or observe them doing their work and you ask two questions:

  1. How’s it going?
  2. Is there anything I can do to help you?

 Let’s look at what answers you might get. To the first question you might get something like “great” or “super”. They know from past experience that telling a manager that things are anything but great results in a lot more attention than they want! So you will hear this answer for awhile.  

The second question will generally result in “Nothing” or “No, not really”. What they are really thinking is “Yes, you can get out of my work area.” Most workers do not believe that managers can help them; at least they do not have experiences with manager that can help. Get used to hearing this response for a while also. But be persistent, keep asking the same questions. Eventually you will hear something besides the stock answers. 

Your workers will get together over coffee or lunch and remark about how weird you are, coming around asking these questions. Finally one of them will figure out something for you to do. It will be simple and you will be able to do it. It may not be in your job description or something you would actually want to do. Maybe it will be something that they should do. But, you will be able to do it! As an example, during a problem solving session where you walk in you ask how it is going, they will respond everything is going OK. When you ask if you can do anything for them, they might respond “Yes, you can go get us some donuts.” 

Now alarms should be going off in your head! This is a test. They are checking to see if you really mean it when you ask if you can help. In this case, immediately find out what kind of donuts they want and go get them. Do not press for anymore information. Wish them success and let them know you are available to help. Then leave. 

If you passed the test (you went to get the donuts), you will now be given more responsibility when you ask if you can help. They will give you successively more important tasks to do for them. And, when you ask “how is it going?”, you will get much more information than you thought possible. One caveat on how you respond to this information. Always acknowledge the information and thank them for sharing. Do not take any action until you get a response from the “Is there anything I can do to help you?” question. Don’t offer to take action or even make a suggestion on how you can help. If you act without permission, you will get to start over! 

Be alert to the timing of your MBWA tours. Stay away from start, lunch and quitting time boundaries. You do not want people to think you are checking up on them. It is effective to schedule your MBWA tours mid morning or mid afternoon. Tuesdays and Thursdays are effective times. Your people will get used to you doing MBWA and some of them may actually look forward to seeing you. 

Experiment with MBWA. Try it at least six times before you give up on it. If you are not currently using MBWA, your people will wonder what is going on. It will take a while to start working. Once they know you are sincere, you will start to get access to important information like the Big Dogz. Start your MBWA experiment today!