Why You Should “Manage” Less and Wander More

What do Abraham Lincoln and the Japanese business philosophy Kaizen have in common? (No, I am sorry to say, Pokémon Go had no early beginnings in the Civil War)…

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Both placed an importance on a practice of Management by Wandering (Walking) Around, also known as MBWA.

Historian Stephen B. Oates has said that Abraham Lincoln invented this management style by performing informal inspections of Union Army troops, or “wandering around,” in the beginnings of the American Civil War.

The concept of Kaizen, first implemented by Japanese businesses just after World War II, also employs this idea under the idea and term gemba. A gemba refers to a site where value is created, such as a construction site, manufacturing floor, sales floor, etc. The idea is that the problems are visible, and the best improvement ideas will come from going to the gemba. The gemba walk, much like MBWA is an activity that takes management to the front lines to look for waste and opportunities to practice gemba kaizen, or practical shop floor improvement.

MBWA as a term, was coined by William Hewlett and David Packard, the founders of HP, who famously used this approach in their company. It was popularized across offices in the U.S. in the 1980’s and recently, is making a come back.

As technology has overtaken the workplace, many managers have retreated behind office doors and computer screens opting for emails to relay important project details or ask for updates, but MBWA says quality management can see exponential gains from managers getting off their chairs and onto the gemba.

Management Consultant, W. Edwards Deming said it best:

“If you wait for people to come to you, you’ll only get small problems. You must go and find them. The big problems are where people don’t realise they have one in the first place.” — W. Edwards Deming, Management Consultant

Here are the benefits and what implementing MBWA in your management style can achieve according to the business training experts at Mindtools.com:

Benefits of MBWA

  • Approachability — When your staff sees you as a person and not just a boss, they’ll be more likely to tell you what’s going on. You’ll get the chance to learn about issues before they become problems.
  • Trust — As your team gets to know you better, they’ll trust you more. You’ll be naturally inclined to share more information, and that will break down barriers to communication.
  • Business knowledge — Getting out and learning what’s happening on a daily basis can give you a better understanding of the functions and processes around you.
  • Accountability — When you interact daily with your team, agreements you make with each other are much more likely to be completed. Everyone is more motivated to follow through, because you’re seeing each other on a regular basis.
  • Morale & Sense of Purpose — People often feel better about their jobs and their organization when they have opportunities to be heard. MBWA makes those opportunities available.
  • Productivity — Many creative ideas come from casual exchanges. MBWA promotes casual discussions, so people will more likely feel free to come to you with their ideas.

Despite its obvious benefits, the use of MBWA has been hit-and-miss. To be successful, it takes more than simply strolling through your office, warehouse, or production facility. MBWA isn’t a “walk in the park”: It’s a determined and genuine effort to understand your staff, what they do, and what you can do to make their work more effective.

How to Implement MBWA

These “wandering around” tips can help you get started:

  • Relax — People will sense your genuineness and casualness, and they’ll respond accordingly. Stiff, formal conversation will probably lead to equally rigid responses.
  • Listen and observe more than you talk — Use active listening with your staff. When people feel you’re hearing them, you’ll probably seem more sincere. Read some pointers on active listening
  • Ask for feedback and ideas — Let everyone know that you want ideas to make things better. As the boss, people may think that your opinions and ideas are “right.” So hold back from saying what you think — the goal is to see what others have to say.
  • Wander around equally — Don’t spend more time in one department or section than another. And don’t always talk to the same people, or to people with certain ranks. You want to be approachable to everyone, regardless of job title or position.
  • Use the time for spontaneous recognition — If you see something good, compliment the person. This is a perfect way to show your gratitude.
  • Hold meetings “out and about” — Instead of having all your meetings in the boardroom or your office, meet with people in their work areas and “on their turf.” This can put them more at ease. Communicate your expectations and needs so that everyone knows what you value.
  • Don’t use this time to judge or critique — This can make people nervous when you’re around. If you see something that concerns you, talk to the person later, in private.
  • Answer questions openly and honestly — If you don’t know an answer, find out and then follow up. If you can’t share something, say so. Telling half-truths can break down trust.
  • Communicate — Share company goals, philosophy, values, and vision. Your “walk-arounds” are opportunities to mutually share information that helps everyone understand and do their jobs better.
  • Chat — Effective organizations aren’t all about work, work, work. Build relationships. Learn the names of your staff’s kids. Find out what they love to do or where they’re going on vacation. Joke, laugh, and have fun. You may be surprised at how great it feels to relate on a personal level with the people in your office.
  • Don’t overdo it — Don’t leave people feeling that you’re always looking over their shoulders! Wander around often enough to get a good feel for what’s going on, but not so often that your presence feels like a mundane distraction.

Management By Wandering Around can add incredible value to your organization, keep morale high and helps your team feel you have a genuine interest in them and their work. So, stop managing from your chair and get out there and wander! After all…


About the author

Jessica Zartler is a digital nomad and Multimedia Marketing Consultant & Content Strategist for Taskworld. Before working in Public Relations and Marketing, she was an award-winning television reporter and multimedia journalist for eight years in Florida and Colorado. When she is not hunting for the best content on the web to share with TW users, blogging or producing videos, she is teaching yoga, cooking, playing drums and travelling.