The practise of Management By Wandering About (MBWA)

Management by Wandering About (MBWA), also known as Management by Walking Around is a widely adopted technique by managers where they directly observe employees working. MBWA is generally perceived as an effective method to achieve organisational goals.

This management technique relies on managers making frequent but random unstructured learning-oriented visits to subordinate’s work stations to observe on-going work, equipment, processes, customer interactions and solicit employees’ opinions. It only succeeds if one has good listening skills and promotes employee engagements during these visits. Additionally, an organisation needs to instil a culture and common belief that every job is important and that every employee is trusty worthy. If the above enablers are in place, MBWA as a concept can be a strategic driver.

When used correctly MBWA, is akin to the Toyota “Gemba walks’ where managers go to the location where work is performed, observe processes and talk to the employees there. The whole idea is to see problems in context, which should aid problem solving in the long run. Organisational leadership should note that MBWA makes teams stronger by increasing information sharing. This alone will result in managers and employees being on common ground and therefore more likely to quickly solve challenges faced in achieving departmental goals. These synergies will ultimately improve performance of organisations.

Experience has shown that in some cases what senior managers observe and hear from employees is off on a tangent with what their supervisors would report. Machines could be turned off due to very simple reasons like a fuse blow that was not being purchased on time and such protracted processes could cost an organisation thousands of dollars. This practical example indeed demonstrates that adopting the MBWA technique can expedite problem solving.

In organisations that are going through a lot of change be its structural or technical, MBWA acts as a catalyst of the needed paradigm shift and enhance managers’ capabilities by letting them appreciate how simple problems can cause serious bottlenecks which affect business. MBWA clearly takes the ‘open door policy’ to another level. Here walls are actually brought down and the Manager’s office is taken to the employees. Interestingly, in the services sector this management style also aids Managers in ‘Know Your Client’ principle. Random branch visits also offer an opportunity to engage with clients, understand their expectations and help build mutually beneficial relationships.

These informal unstructured contacts from MBWA yield positive results like early identification of warning signs before disaster strikes. Additionally, there is control of the processes as the leader can communicate what needs to be done as well as verify progress. Strategically MBWA also aids the leadership by broadening their business knowledge which helps them to make informed decisions. While all organisations are working on securing employees’ commitment, engaging their emotional energy and attention is critical. As leaders endeavour to put their company’s whole brain to work, incorporating new learning styles and approaches like MBWA is a critical skill of   the age. Employees need managers who listen and take visible interest in running projects and by so doing they build team enthusiasm and individual job satisfaction.

While MBWA can improve moral, it needs to be managed though. After weekly contacts from managers, the staff moral can wane due to these frequent visits. Also note as leaders that when this technique is applied, it has to be done evenly to the whole organisation. If all staff do not experience this direct contact with the leadership, they will feel they are targets of unjust exclusion and discrimination. Therefore, the leadership needs to be mindful of these possible perceptions when implementing MBWA. Empirically, it has been proven that there is no system to record and measure this process’ effectiveness.

As leaders it is good to always appreciate the adage, ’If you wait for people to come to you, you will only get small problems. You must go and find them as the big problems are where people are yet they do not realise they have them ‘. What dead truth!

Other leaders in organisations are applying it as a means to boost morale, while for others MBWA can be developed as a technique for checking with staff about the status of the work in progress by walking around in an impromptu way. In the words of G.K Chesterton, “One only sees great things from the valley; small things from the peak.”

Nowadays organisations need leaders who make people reflect on their work and behaviour. This requires leaders giving the employees that space to contribute to issues that effect on their work stations. Managers should also reflect and review MBWA observations and discussions and take action accordingly otherwise the management style will indeed just be ‘wandering around!’

Emmanuel Jinda is the Managing Consultant of PROSERVE Consulting Group, a leading supplier of Professional Human Resources and Management services locally, regionally and internationally. He can be contacted at Tel: 263 773004143 or 263 4 772778 or visit our website at