Great Business Ideas: Managing by Wandering about (MBWA)

Great Small Business Ideas to Start: Managing by wandering about (MBWA)

It sounds immensely trivial, but participating with employees and observing their day-to-day activities in a friendly manner can help you to discover and solve problems, gather knowledge, and form valuable relationships.

The idea

A personable and hands-on style of management, MBWA advocates walking around departments, talking with employees, and casually observing the process of work. In this way, valuable relationships can be formed with employees and knowledge can be shared. While it normally accompanies an “open door” management approach, MBWA involves many more proactive elements, such as seeking problems through casual observation and discussion rather than waiting for employees to report them. An organization where the manager is fully integrated with their team, and aware of their attitudes and the challenges they face, will become more robust and adept at spotting potential problems ahead of competitors.

MBWA revolutionized the “ivory tower” approach of many managers and was soon adopted as part of the Hewlett-Packard (HP) Way—the open management style of successful technology business Hewlett- Packard. The HP Way soon became widely respected and mimicked by global corporations.

Care should be taken to ensure that employees do not view efforts at increased socialization and observation as an attempt to “spy on” or pick fault with their work. If they do, this will increase barriers and stress levels rather than reduce them. The solution is simple: be genuine in your interest and involvement. When done in a friendly, non-threatening manner, MBWA can carry an organization through difficult times and help managers to develop a business plan with an intimate knowledge of the people and resources that will be enacting it.

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Blindingly obvious common sense? Yes. Important? Yes. Frequently overlooked and neglected? Yes.

In practice

  • Be prepared to learn from employees—they are one of the most valuable sources of insight and ideas in your organization.
  • Take advantage of natural opportunities to socialize, such as in communal office spaces and over drinks.
  • Talk to, and build relationships with, a range of individuals with different responsibilities within your department.
  • Provide practical support and be dependable, fulfilling any promises. Listen to what people say, and consider how and why they are saying it.
  • Use MBWA as an opportunity to communicate, explain, encourage, discuss, and decide.
  • Understand the personal requirements of team members. They are responsible for enacting company policy and it is important to be aware of their strengths and weaknesses when deciding on company strategy.