This is my final piece (for now) on Management By Walking Around – MBWA and in this article I’m sharing three more techniques of MBWA with you.
A reminder of the background to the theory:
Management consultants Tom Peters and Robert H Waterman used the term Management By Walking Around (MBWA) in their 1982 book In Search of Excellence: lessons from America’s best-run companies.
The concept is of an informal management style, where the managers wander around the workplace to check with employees how the work is going, connect with customers, watch how the equipment is working or perform general checks.
The purpose of MBWA is to listen, question, observe and keep your finger on the pulse of the organisation.
I love visiting the United States of America and I am often inspired by the sincere customer services I experience. When I was last there, in March, a member of staff in a Walmart chirped a “Good day” to me as I was browsing the aisles and their energy was infectious. I felt good about myself.
During that same visit to the States, I ate at a Cracker Barrel restaurant. If you don’t know the chain, Cracker Barrel specialise in home style country cooking and each restaurants has a stunning store that stocks products ranging from rocking chairs, food (a lot is their own – like spiced apple butter! Yummy!), clothes and gifts.
Myself and my husband were at the Daytona Cracker Barrel having breakfast. A chap came over, introduced himself as the manager and asked us in a soft and friendly way ‘What has been your experience with us today?’. We talked about how wonderful our server had been and he (of course!) wanted to know if we were English, and what part of England we were from.
Once he had asked us specific questions, he then moved to the next table to continue his discussions with his guests. So here are two further MBWA techniques for you:
Do their work
If you have never watched the TV programme ‘Undercover Boss’, then put it on your ‘To Do’ list now. The format is a top person in a company – the MD or CEO – goes undercover in their own company for a week to find out what is really happening. The learning for every leader during the week undercover is always huge.
In my last company we had senior managers who rarely ventured into the factory, warehouse or other offices. How my fellow managers were in touch with what their people faced every day is your guess.
MBWA is about having your finger on the pulse of the business and I watched the Cracker Barrel manager speak with four guests who clearly asked him for a take away (‘take out’ in America) box to take their unfinished food away for later. He immediately went to the kitchen, got a box and loaded their food into it. He didn’t just pass on orders – he experienced the system himself.
This was breakfast on a Saturday and it was BUSY! He cleared tables as he went, topped up coffee (‘Can I refresh that for you?’) and printed the bills when asked (‘check’ in American).
The key MBWA technique here is to do what your staff do. Think of the information he gained during his 45 minutes on walk about to help him understand exactly what his staff deal with every minute of the day. This will help him make operational decisions, manage and review his staff and understand customer needs.
Be the bearer of good news
“These folks say you have really impressed them, Linda.”, the manager beamed at our server as she passed our table. Later on we heard him say how well they were doing, on such a busy day.
Behaviour breeds behaviour, so make sure that when you speak with your staff you have successes, good news and positivity to share with them. Be especially careful to always be positive in public – I can remember the sheer embarrassment of my first manager dressing me down in a coffee shop full of customers. It was a Saturday job and I was a shy and under confident 16 year old. I think it took me a while to build my confidence up following that incident.
Surely we want our people to feel positive and good about themselves? Because if that is how they feel, the chances are that is how they will behave with their colleagues and their clients.
Focus on corrective action
Because MBWA is about here and now observations, some things you experience may not be as they should be. Expect that and take a breath before reacting.
Learn from the coffee shop experience I’ve just mentioned. The manager in question saw the wrong glasses had been used for coffees, some tables were dirty and the washing up area was a mess. When my Manager bawled me out that day, what he didn’t know was that I’d been on my own for an hour as a colleague had gone home ill, the dishwasher had broken and also I had been at the coffee shop for 6 weeks and had experience very little training!
He was horrified when he found out my story, however by then the damage had been done to my confidence. I nearly cried when I was at the till and a customer said “We think you’re lovely. Don’t worry about it.”.
If we use the techniques of MBWA we will ask questions and listen to get a story; we will take a wider view of what is happening and we will look to correct any issues.
My Manager got another member of staff to help me, put a date in the diary for training and called the maintenance person to attend to the dishwasher. These were all things outside my remit.
I’ve had some lovely feedback on my thoughts about MBWA I hope the case studies have given you ideas on how to apply the simple yet effective techniques of MBWA.
I often work with managers who are remote and distant from what their staff do on a daily basis. It can make developing staff a challenge for both parties and it makes the performance review false and empty. Adopting the MBWA approach means you will gain qualitative information on your business and your staff. It enables effective communication to happen throughout grassroot, operational and strategic levels because the manager who uses MBWA will have their finger on the pulse of the business. Good luck and keep up the discussion!
Thank you once again to Lee Bosley, Lettings Director of Underwoods Town & County and to Cracker Barrel restaurant chain in the USA. May I wish you continued success using MBWA.
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