"Getting management out of the office is another contributor to informal exchanges." (Peters & Waterman, 1982)  "At American Airlines, Ed Carlson labeled it "Visible Management" and "MBWA - Management by Walking About." and HP treats MBWA (Management by Wandering Around) as an all important tenet of the HP Way." (Peters & Waterman, 1982)

Many successful organizations have put into practice the Management by Walking Around approach for driving efficiency, important key business aspects, and interpersonal communication.  

Here are some of the basic benefits from using the Management by Walking Around Techniques: 
(In no particular order of significance).
  • Informal communication with staff can allow staff members an opportunity to mention smaller issues they are encountering in completing their tasks.  In turn, this can allow Management an opportunity to implement minor changes that addresses the issue being reported, which normally improves overall job performance and satisfaction.

  • Some staff members are not comfortable in formal meeting environments, especially staff with a technical skill set.  Given these personality types, they are not comfortable contributing in formal staff meetings. Informal communications with Management is more suited to these personality types.

  • By maintaining informal one-on-one communication with staff, the Staff members normally feel Management has a greater interest in their tasks and they are actively involved to ensure they are successful in their jobs.

  • Maintaining informal communication with staff allows Management an opportunity to clarify any misunderstandings regarding corporate goals and/or to reinforce the importance of successfully achieving the goals of the company.

  • Business environments are constantly changing.  Maintaining informal communications with staff allows Management an opportunity to communicate new information in a near real-time manner, to ensure the employee is kept apprised of all relevant information.

By Beverly Jordon

Reference List:

Peters, T.J., & Waterman, R. H., (1982). In Search of Excellence: Lessons from America's Best-Run Companies. New York, NY: Harper & Row, Publishers, Inc.

Some very successful leaders who used Management by Walking Around include, Jack Welch, CEO of General Electric between 1981 and 2001, Sam Walton, founder of Walmart, and Herb Kelleher of Southwest Airlines. (Bossidy & Charan, 2002)  These success leaders had good communication skills and the ability to listen as well as talk, and they were intensively involved with their people and operation.  (Bossidy & Charan, 2002) They were powerful in presence in their organizations, “just about everybody knew them, knew what they stood for and knew what they expected of their people. (Bossidy & Charan, 2002) 

 “Sam Walton believed in catching people doing things right,” and when he visited his stores and distribution centers, he walked around spending one-on-one time with this employees and letting them know how much he appreciated them.  (Bergdahl & Walton, 2010). 

By Beverly Jordon

Reference List:

Bergdahl, M., & Walton, R.,. (2010). The 10 Rules of Sam Walton: Success Secrets for Remarkable Results.Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons. 

Bossidy, L., Charan, R., & Burck. (2002). Execution: The Discipline of Getting Things Done. New York, NY: Crown Business.
As our team searched for good examples of MBWA we found that many of the famous business people of our time are big proponents of MBWA. Below you will see what Warren Buffett had to say on the matter.

In his letter to Berkshire Hathaway shareholders (March 1, 1996) for Year 1995, Warren Buffett said: “A few years back, management consultants popularized a technique called “management by walking around” (MBWA).  At Berkshire, we’ve instituted ABWA (acquisitions by walking around).”

What is this ABWA that Mr Buffett was talking about?

“In May 1994, a week or so after the Annual Meeting, I was crossing the street at 58th and Fifth Avenue in New York, when a woman called out my name.  I listened as she told me she’d been to, and had enjoyed, the Annual Meeting.  A few seconds later, a man who’d heard the woman stop me did so as well.  He turned out to be Barnett Helzberg, Jr., who owned four shares of Berkshire and had also been at our meeting,” said Mr Buffett.

The interesting thing was not about the four Berkshire shares that Mr Helzberg  owned.   The interesting thing was that this chance meeting led to Berkshire Hathaway buying
Helzberg’s Diamond Shops in 1995. That was one example of Mr Buffett’s ABWA: acquisitions by walking around.

Besides finding that  “Helzberg’s was the kind of business that we
wanted to own”, Mr Buffett also liked it for its good management. “Buying a retailer without good management is like buying the Eiffel Tower without an elevator,” he said.

Additional information can be found here: http://buffettpedia.com/abwa-acquisitions-by-walking-around/
Anita Tucker and Sara Singer of Harvard Business School conducted a fascinating new study about how leaders interact with workers on the front lines.  They examined efforts to improve quality, efficiency, and customer satisfaction in hospitals.   The scholars conducted a field study of 56 work areas from 19 randomly selected hospitals and compared the results to 138 work areas in 48 randomly selected control hospitals. They examined an approach called Leadership WalkRoundsTMwhich they describe as "a program of [senior managers] visiting the organization's front-lines to observe and talk with employees while they do their work."  They found that employee perceptions of performance improvement dropped after implementation of the WalkRoundsTM-based program. The scholars argue that,

"The study provides a cautionary tale that visits by senior managers to the front-lines of the organization will not necessarily increase staff perceptions of performance improvement.  Failure to meet expectations, once raised, can negatively impact organizational climate. Unless such programs are implemented with authentic motivation to identify and resolve issues, they may yield a negative return on the money invested."

Should we be surprised by the findings?   I'm not so sure.  While I've written about leaders who effectively engage the front line workers in their organizations, I've also seen many cases where such efforts are counterproductive.  What can leaders do to get positive results from their visits with front-line workers? Here are five tips:

1. Be open minded.
2. Listen.
3. Save criticism.
4. Don't be a stranger.
5. Follow up. 

For more details on this article, check out: http://www.philanthropyjournal.org/resources/managementleadership/how-avoid-tripping-when-you-manage-walking-around
Reports have surfaced that Apple Chairman Steve Jobs often engaged in customer service on a personal basis. The point wasn’t to fill in for an understaffed contact center; his time would be considered too valuable. Nor was it just about injecting himself into escalated situations to patch up customer relations; which, by the way, is a good strategy in and of itself.

Jobs had mastered the art of MBWA, or Management By Walking Around.  It’s a relatively simple — but way underused — best practice that keeps managers in touch with the people paying the bills or making things happen around the company. CNN’s Mark Milian calls Jobs an “outlier” in this regard, noting that few top managers bother to get their hands dirty with the day-to-day doings of companies and customers. Jobs would personally respond to an inordinate amount of customer emails, which often dealt with hardware issues or pricing questions. He also would pick up the phone and call customers about their problems.

If anyone needs proof that CEOs and other business leaders can really change their own perspective, as well as transform the business by relatively simple best practices such as MBWA, just look at Apple’s performance over the past decade.

Steve Jobs never got an MBA (he would have majored in something else anyway), but he attained his MBWA with honors.

To read more about this article on Steve Jobs and MBWA, check out: http://www.smartplanet.com/blog/business-brains/how-steve-jobs-earned-his-mbwa-degree-management-by-walking-around/20157
Management by walking around, popularized back in the '80s, may be making a comeback. One reason: For building rapport among team members, it beats emailing from behind closed doors. Here are 6 tips to make MBWA work:

1. Make MBWA part of your routine.
2. Don't bring an entourage.
3. Visit everybody.
4. Ask for suggestions, and recognize good ideas.
5. Follow up with answers.
6. Don't criticize. 

For more details, check out this article on CNN Money with 6 tips to make MBWA work:


    We are Beverly Jordan, Hannah Kawamoto and Jessica McKean, graduate students at San Diego State University in the Department of Learning Design & Technology. 


    November 2013