November 23

Managing by Walking Around: Why It’s More than Just a Stroll

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How often do you get a chance to speak to your manager? If you’re a leader, how often do you talk to your employees? Weekly? Monthly? Less than that? This guide will show you managing by walking around and how to empower and use a transformational leadership style, all from just a bit of walking around…

Managing by walking around (Or MBWA) was coined by Mark McCormack and Tom Peters to define a management style that involves managing the workplace by walking (or wandering) About. The idea is to walk the workplace and engage in discussions, to define what’s working, what’s not, and what can be improved. Doing this regularly, allows the manager and employee to share ideas, develop good practice and eradicated sub-standard behaviours and processes.

As a manager, if you build a wall around yourself, your employees won’t be able to discuss challenges and problems they face. You’ll miss the opportunity to talk about ideas and challenges. Your team won’t be able to learn from you and see things from another angle…

What do I mean by a wall?

Well, it’s one whereby the manager sits in their office, rarely engaging in discussions and updates. And one who never coaches and mentors its employees.

A good leader coaches. They interact. They inspire and help others overcome challenges. And they give autonomy in their teams roles, to come up with ideas and make improvements happen.

A good leader also ensures actions get completed on time and that their team are motivated and engaged.

The majority of the time, this can’t be achieved by shutting the door on the world and engaging in active seat sitting, stuck behind a screen most of the day.


An Effective Leader

To be an effective leader, you’ll have to engage your team regularly.

And If you do it once a week, it’s not enough. Once a day may well be too little, too.

Managing by walking about is an important tool to develop your leadership skills and implement one of the most critical elements of any leader – and that’s to coach.

If you don’t make it a routine to ‘get about’, regularly, then you won’t be able to identify problems.

And you’ll miss the more tacit signals to help develop individuals, and to build genuine relationships.


3 Key Components of Managing by Walking Around

According to Peters and McCormack, there are three essential ingredients to conducting MBWA effectively:

  1. The manager must take time to walk around their teams / the organisation.
  2. The manager must strike up conversations
  3. They must build networks across the business

Take Time to Walk

Your time is of a premium. There are many distractions. Emails need to be answered; your team’s needs met; problems overcome. It’s easy to put that good old walkabout off until you have the time.

But time may never really come. There’s always a reason to not mange by walking around – unless of course, you’re disciplined and structured in your approach.

The reality is that communicating with your employees is one…if not, the most, important thing you can do in your business.

A study by Gartner, highlights that more informed employees outperform their colleagues by 77%.

Forbes identify that employees who are listened to, are 4.6 times more likely to feel empowered to perform their best at work.

Get out and about and conduct your managing by walking around, and your employees will quickly appreciate the effort.

You need to set aside time throughout your day to do this. This means being disciplined in your approach. Be regular, too, so you can build a habit of getting up and working with your teams, rather than remotely from your office or desk.

Strike Up Conversations

Managing by walking around doesn’t consist of aimlessly walking around and just saying “hello” to team members. Walks should be purpose driven.

Conversations should have an end result. Here are some examples:

  • Conversations relating to work or the process being worked on
  • Projects being worked on
  • Development
  • Ideas for improvement / current challenges
  • Occasionally touch on private issues, too

The focus should always be on learning. They don’t have to be big learning points, but nevertheless, some form of reflection really helps the individual, team and the business in the long run.

These conversations can be small breakouts, coffee breaks, lunch discussions, on the job, at the coffee machine, or even in the corridor.

The key is for you and your team member to learn more about the current situation, and get an insight as to their views and ideas.

A great way to use Managing by walking around to coach and solicit deep rooted, improvement-based conversations can be taken from The Coaching Habit. Use the 7 questions that we define in our summary, to start coaching your employees and make your walks meaningful and effective.

Building Networks

By making this walkabout the norm, you build a habit. And the more you use it to coach and discuss things that are pertinent to each person, the more you build deeper relationships and trust.

And it deepens further as you continue conducting your managing by walking about sessions.


Quick Tips to Get Stuck in With Managing by Walking Around

  • It’s not a time to tell, but a time to listen – Don’t stand there and direct or dictate. Listen. Ask their thoughts. What are their ideas? What are they going to try next time?
  • Use the walk to identify and promote the company’s values – lead by example and frame your questions around how to work within the company’s culture and processes
  • Help and support them – be active in supporting your team. If they need help fixing a problem or are upset over something, help them. Take action if you need to. Ensure you don’t take endless actions, though – only those that cannot be completed by your team.
  • Don’t play the rescuer. Reflect on the problem at hand and ask the employee to generate ideas. Use the coaching habit 7 questions to help you.

Your goal is to coach ideas and actions out of your team members, not to aimlessly walk around, collecting more actions to add to your little black book!


Steps For a Good MBWA Session

Step 1: Pick a topic to discuss with an individual. This could be one of the following examples:

  • Process improvement – look to coach an employee to make a small improvement in what they’re currently working on
  • Challenges they face or any ideas they have
  • Workplace standards – Are agreed standards working? Can they be improved? Is the person following the agreed methods?
  • Personal development – Discuss ways to help the individual grow and develop in their roles

Step 2: Walk your teams and work areas. Remember, when you conduct management by walking around, don’t jump into director mode. This means, don’t come up with solutions. Just observe and ask questions. Encourage them to identify issues and highlight the next thing to focus on and improve.

For instance, if something’s not working as it should, don’t jump in and say, “That’s not right…” This only leads to a one-sided dictatorial conversation. MBWA is about coaching and helping. This means to step back, ask questions and seek ideas.

Instead, ask, “What’s happening here?” Or, “Is this working as planned?”

Step 3: Agree improvement ideas. Follow the discussion on, with questions like the following:

  • What could be done different?
  • What’s the next thing and how will you achieve it?
  • What help do you need from me?
  • When can we see your idea completed and working?

Notice that they are all ways to canvass feedback and empower your employee…

Use the Coaching Habit book as well, to help define the right coaching questions.

Keep repeating the above steps to gain better relationships, and more empowered and a capable team – all by using the simple process of Managing by walking around.


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