Optimal use of the available human resources is the goal of every organization. Several management theories have been put forward to help people manage their organization in the best possible way. One of such theories is Management By Walking Around (MBWA), also known as Management By Wandering Around.
This management theory was conceived around the 1940s, but it was popularized by management consultants Tom Peters and Robert H. Waterman, in their best-selling book In Search of Excellence, published in 1982. Although the theory was practiced in a number of companies, William Hewlett and Dave Packard of HP used it extensively in their organization.
According to MBWA, a CEO or a manager should make it a point to 'walk' or 'wander' purposefully in the organization to interact with his subordinates. The idea is to create an atmosphere of trust and equality, and make the manager appear approachable to the employees.
The reason why this theory gained prominence was the fact that employees often complained that their managers were always busy in their own work, and had no time to listen to their ideas or complaints.
Although there are team meetings in every company, individuals aren't really themselves in front of others. They find it difficult to voice their opinions freely, which can lead to suppression of crucial information.
When the manager takes it upon himself to meet his employees individually, he sends out a strong signal that every opinion is important. Also, it creates a sense of optimism among the employees that they are being valued for what they do, rather than few people calling the shots in the organization.
MBWA also empowers the manager to get a first-hand account of what the employees are working on, breaking the complex hierarchical structure that is seen in most companies.
Although MBWA comes across as a theory, tailor-mode for today's stressed-out workplace, not everyone gets it right. Taking a stroll around the office, just because you are obliged to do it, won't bring about any positive change.
Also, the whole idea behind MBWA is to interact with employees on a one-to-one basis, not to conduct surprise 'raids' on your unassuming workforce. Although MBWA is good in theory, its success depends upon the method of its implementation. Here are some ways in which you can really make MBWA work for your organization.
Making MBWA Work for Your Organization
Meet Your Employees Routinely
If you have decided to implement MBWA, you need to ensure that you do it on a regular basis. Though as the manager of the company, you might have important tasks that need your time and attention, you need to remember that your employees are the most crucial assets of the organization.
Many managers implement MBWA after knowing its enormous benefits, but what they fail to understand is the fact that its implementation needs to be consistent and systematic. Meeting your employees intermittently sends out a wrong signal that you are meeting them just for the heck of it, and that your plan lacks purpose.
Don't conduct your meetings at a fixed time; that will take away the surprise factor and make MBWA monotonous. Instead, do it at those times when your employees are least expecting you to visit them. This will ensure that MBWA doesn't become one of those formal meetings in which employees parrot things that their bosses want to hear.
MBWA can easily turn into a game of one-upmanship between your employees if you spend a long time with Mr. X and have a cursory chat with Ms. Y.
Also, if you miss out on meeting each and every employee, you will inadvertently be sending out a signal to a few employees that they don't matter too much for you, or for the organization. This will lead to an atmosphere of negativity, defeating the whole purpose of MBWA.
But out of lethargy, or sheer lack of time, if you nominate your subordinate to meet your employees, your intention of instilling trust and confidence in your team will not work out.
The premise of MBWA is to make managers seem approachable, but delegating the meetings to a subordinate might signify to your employees that you are really not interested in knowing the intricacies of the work they are doing. Meeting the employees and exchanging ideas with them has innumerable benefits.
Therefore, it is important that you take active participation in this process. If you want some inspiration, take a leaf out of the book of late Steve Jobs. During the years he served as the CEO of Apple Inc., he made it a point to speak, not only to his employees, but also to customers who were not satisfied with the company.
Also, many employees may find it difficult to have a open and honest talk with you when you are surrounded with your acolytes.
You have to keep in mind that MBWA is an opportunity for you to connect with the workers of the organization, and it should be used for this purpose only. An attempt to use it as a surveillance mechanism may lead to polarization and insecurity.
As a manager, you often get a subservient audience to put your point across, but a lot of employees never get a platform to express themselves. When you meet the employees, try to inculcate a feeling of straightforwardness in them, so that you get to know about the real issues rather than hollow rhetoric.
Allowing your employees to speak their mind will go a long way in ensuring that minor glitches don't become irreparable blunders. Although you may find a lot of hesitant employees during the initial phases of MBWA, with constant support and encouragement, you can get them to open up and share their ideas with you.
But as MBWA lays emphasis on connecting with the employees on an individual level, it is important that you put in an effort to know the job description of your employees.
An exchange of ideas between you and the employees is always a great sign, but the prerequisite for it is that you are aware about what role an employee exactly plays in the organizations.
Awareness about the nature of the job of your employees will introduce you to the challenges they face with their work, which in turn, will help you in devising strategies for their betterment.
However, meetings with employees shouldn't be used for having a go at them, as it will make people nervous and apprehensive about the whole process.
You have to make an atmosphere wherein your employees look forward to meeting you. If you feel that an employee's performance is not up to the mark, have a talk with him privately later, and create an improvement plan for him.
Try to talk to them about their kids, the movies they watch, their favorite watering holes, how they spend their vacations - basically, trivial talk that will get them going. Once you are successful in establishing a good rapport with your employees, managing them becomes a lot easier.
Although on paper, MBWA looks Utopian, it is its implementation that determines its effectiveness, and eventually, its success. If you have implemented MBWA in your company, or hope to do it in the future, do remember the tips mentioned earlier. These can help you a bit in making MBWA work for you and your organization.