Management by Wandering Around (MBWA)

Management by Wandering Around (MBWA) - toolshero

This article provides a practical explanation of Management by Wandering Around. After reading, you’ll understand the basics of this powerful management tool.

What is Management by Wandering Around (MBWA)?

In a time with so many communication methods available to us and with work environments that tend to be more and more informal, it shouldn’t be so difficult to talk to people face to face. Nevertheless, many people are uncomfortable to approach their immediate superior verbally or to ask a colleague a question. One reason may be that the boss is unapproachable or even intimidating. But in order for management to be successful, the manager has to be aware what is going on around the company.

Management by Wandering Around (MBWA) is a management style that uses an unstructured approach and direct manager participation by managers in the work of their subordinates. In MBWA, managers spend a considerable part of their day making informal visits and listening to employees. The goal of this management style is to collect information, deal with suggestions or complaints, and generally keeping track of the organisation and increasing productivity.

The term Management by Wandering Around (MBWA) was popularised in the 1980s when management consultants Tom Peters and Robert Waterman introduced the concept in their 1983 book ‘In Search of Excellence’. It garnered further attention when William Hewlett and David Packard, founder of computer company HP, made MBWA part of the ‘HP Way’.

MBWA in practice

The essence of the MBWA method is active management. MBWA is also about monitoring and building relationships. The most important practical aspects of this leadership style are explained below. These are the most important objectives for this style of management.

Wandering around

In the bustle of the working day, managers often forget doing rounds among subordinates or even postpone this activity until everyone is about to go home. That’s not the case in Management by Wandering Around (MBWA). Managers must create an environment for themselves in which they are forced to interact with employees, and in which wandering around is an important part of their list of tasks.

Talking

Wandering around should not be done silently and aimlessly, which is a pitfall many managers fall into. The most important aspect of this leadership style is having active conversations. These conversations can be about matters relevant to the organisation, but people’s private lives as well. The emphasis in these informal talks is on learning. Managers have to collect information in the workplace that will help them with later decision making and problem solving.

Networking

Managers who use the MBWA style are looking to create relationships and stimulate open communication. The rule is that the more communication takes place, the more effective the learning will be. Even if a conversation doesn’t produce new information, the communication bond between the employee and employer will be strengthened.

According to the author of this method, Peters, there are three components that are part of a successful Management by Wandering Around (MBWA) style:

  1. Managers listen actively
  2. Managers use conversations and discussions to create value
  3. Managers are always willing to help with assistance or feedback

The value of MBWA

Tom Peters’ book shows that there are a number of advantages that come from using MBWA correctly.

Management by Wandering Around Advantages - toolshero

1. Improved communication channels

Management by Wandering Around (MBWA) ensures that the way in which people communicate within the organisation improves. Communication is the focus of the method, which is clear from managers who listen to and talk to employees in effective ways. The open style of communication helps with creating an environment based on openness.

Discussions that are held as part of this method are based on the exchange of ideas and feedback. Communication is not avoided. In fact, it’s made a central aspect of how the business is run. An improved communication style will ensure that employees feel more engaged and are more motivated in their jobs.

2. Improved employee relationships

The described open style of communication will also lead to understanding, peace of mind, and a pleasant work environment. This is something that becomes clear from the mutual relationships that employees form. For instance, they might organise a dinner every quarter, or a company outing, or just create a positive atmosphere in general. And there is no resentment; frustrations are expressed. These positive environmental factors strengthen loyalty. A good, productive, and effective employee is someone who an organisation always wants to hold onto.

3. Improved focus on the core

Because the manager spends so much time among his employees, he knows exactly what’s going on. This gives him a good and realistic picture of how things are going, as well as the strengths and weaknesses of the organisation. As mentioned earlier, MBWA stimulates feedback. Managers actually use this feedback in the form of ideas, tips, and suggestion.

4. Improved effectiveness

The improved relations and focus make the organisation as a whole more effective and efficient. The positive work environment stimulates motivation and managers are better able to make decisions because the decision making is supported by feedback. This allows management to solve problems in ways that are faster, more efficient, and cost less. People don’t just rely on emails and documents, but more on face-to-face interaction. It’s faster, which means action can also be taken faster.

Downsides of Management by Wandering Around (MBWA)

As it turns out, MBWA has some downsides too. Tom Peters’ book discusses the following areas of concern.

1. Time consuming

The Management by Wandering Around (MBWA) style can take a lot of time. This is because it involves lots of actual walking and having conversations. This might cause difficulty with the calendar. Another possibly frustrating aspect is that many of the conversations won’t necessary yield anything of value.

2. It emphasises and strengthens the voice of employees

The entire MBWA strategy is about listening to employees, but that doesn’t mean other stakeholders aren’t involved with decision making. Because of the focus on employees, there is a risk that external parties – such as customers and producers – lose their say.

3. Implementation is complex

Management by Wandering Around (MBWA) is not an easy method to implement in practice. The main danger lies in only having useless and superficial conversations and only spending time on the shop floor. The focus should always be on getting new information. Because the core principles are time-consuming, it might be necessary to hire an assistant manager for the practical tasks. As there is always a manager who spends his time among the employees, it’s important to make sure that other essential tasks are not forgotten.

Now it’s your turn

What do you think? Are you familiar with this explanation of Management by Wandering Around (MBWA)? Have you ever used this management tool in practice? Do you have any tips or additional comments?

Share your experience and knowledge in the comments box below.

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More information

  1. Peters, T. J. (1985). Managing by walking around. California Management Review (pre-1986), 28(000001), 9.
  2. Behn, R. D. (1988). Management by groping along. Journal of policy analysis and management, 7(4), 643-663.
  3. Robinson, L., Hutchings, D., Corner, L., Finch, T., Hughes, J., Brittain, K., & Bond, J. (2007). Balancing rights and risks: Conflicting perspectives in the management of wandering in dementia. Health, Risk & Society, 9(4), 389-406.
  4. Streshly, W. A., Gray, S. P., & Frase, L. E. (2012). The new school management by wandering around. Corwin Press.

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Ben Janse
About the Author

Ben Janse is a young professional working at ToolsHero as Content Manager. He is also an International Business student at Rotterdam Business School where he focusses on analyzing and developing management models. Thanks to his theoretical and practical knowledge, he knows how to distinguish main- and side issues and to make the essence of each article clearly visible.

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