What Executives Should Know about MBWA — Management by Walking About?

Nov 21, 2018

As a manager, you need to manage your team effectively in order to contribute to positive company results. Successful managers know how to create a harmonious work environment that allows the team to work productively. In this context, management by walking about (MBWA) is one management style that can prove highly effective.

What is MBWA? What are the benefits of this management style? How can you implement it to obtain results for your company? These are some of the questions that will be addressed in this blog post.

Origins of MBWA: An Introspective Look

Management by Walking About, or MBWA, is a management style that refers to executives spending time interacting with the staff while wandering about the office.

The history of MBWA can be traced back to 1982 when two management consultants Robert H. Waterman and Tom Peters had introduced the idea in their book called In Search of Excellence.

The management consultants had meticulously examined traits of managers during the era. It was found that successful managers and C-level executives didn’t spend time confined to their offices. Instead much of their time was spent 'walking about' among employees. They were found to have a better ability to address issues and solve problems.

Peters wrote another book in 1984 titled A Passion for Excellence in which he asserted that the management style is a key element of effective leadership. He noticed that successful leaders don't just interact with employees through the formal meetings in their boardrooms. Effective leaders like hanging around the office and interacting with employees.

MBWA is an approach to management in which the managers keep their ears to the ground to learn about new ideas and address issues. This management style encourages executives to walk around the office listening to what's going around.

MBWA share similarity with the 'Gemba walks' of Toyota Production systems. Managers perform 'Gemba walks' by going to the location of the work site, observing employees and processes, and talk with them to identify issues and discuss solutions.

However, there are subtle differences between the two approaches. Understanding the differences will help you to gain a deeper understanding of the MBWA approach.

Different Goals

MBWA has different goals than Gemba walks. Unlike Gemba walks’ limited focus on observing employees in action, MBWA involves a more board approach to monitoring employees. The approach aims at building rapport and gaining the trust of employees. It involves observing employees at the site of work, offering suggestions, and getting feedback.

Different Destination

In Gemba walks, the manager goes to a specific location. The destination is decided in advance. This is not the case with MBWA where the manager walks about at will with no definite direction. The aim is to interact with a maximum number of employees within a specific time period.

Different Approach

MBWA also involves a different approach in monitoring the work site as compared to Gemba walks.
The aim of MBWA is to detect issues through informal talk. It is also carried out to motivate employees and give them recognition. In this context, it is a more broad approach with varying outcomes.

MBWA has well-defined objectives. The questions asked from employees are not planned in advance. In contrasts, the questions are made in advance for Gemba walk. The questions also relate to the process that is observed.

The fact that questions are prepared in advance to show that Gemba walk is a more formal approach.

What are the Benefits of MBWA?

The MBWA management theory is simple yet profound in its impact. The purpose of walking around the office is to gather qualitative information and keep a pulse on the organisation's activities. Here are some of the benefits of implementing the approach in managing the team.

1. Gain Trust

Implementing MBWA style can result in increased trust between the management and the employees. Employees will be naturally inclined to share company sensitive information with the management. It will break communication barriers, resulting in a free flow of process critical information.

With MBWA, the staff will see the manager as a person, and not just as a boss. They will be more likely to tell the issues and problems they face when performing tasks. In this way, the executive can learn about performance issues and implement solutions to increase team productivity.

2. Gain Critical Business Information

By interacting with employees, managers can gain critical information about the business process. They will know what areas require attention to improve the productivity and profitability of the company. This information helps to better understand important business functions and processes.

The information about the business gathered through employee interaction will help to devise effective solutions. The creative ideas, generated through casual interaction, can help you to come up with innovative solutions.

3. Establish Goals and Accountability

Interacting with employees will allow managers to learn about the issues faced by employees when performing their work. This will help them to set goals that are realistic and achievable.

Employees are more likely to work towards a goal that they think is achievable. It will lead to improved accountability and everyone would be motivated to follow through and work towards achieving the assigned goals.

4. Become More Accessible

Having to track down a busy executive for addressing complex problems may feel frustrating to employees.

When the manager goes to each employees' desk to address issues, it makes them feel valued and more comfortable to share issues.

Managers can identify issues earlier before they get out of hand. By simply asking how the project is going, they can learn about problems that otherwise could have gone undetected. This proactive approach will help in implementing a timely approach to problems.

5. Improve Team Morale and Productivity

The up-close-and-personal leadership style will lead to improved team morale. People will feel valued when their views are heard. As a result, they will feel better about their job and the company. The improved employee morale will translate into improved team efficiency, reduced internal costs, and enhanced profitability for the company.

According to Hawthorne Effect, the simple act by the management of showing interest in employees' work leads to improved job performance. Informal discussion will encourage the staff to work with greater efficiency, resulting in a more positive outcome.

6. Improved Organisation Outcome

MBWA can lead to improved organisational outcome. Companies that have implemented the program such as HP have reported improved organisational outcome.

The management style will make employees feel valued. It will create a culture where employees will feel comfortable in sharing their insights related to work.

Tips to Implement MBWA for Executives

MBWA is a humanistic approach to management. The benefits of the approach make the approach well worth the time. Here are some tips that can help executives implement MBWA within the workplace.

1. Ask Questions

You should ask questions from your employees during the routine interaction. Here are some of the questions that you can ask them to gain insightful work-related information.

  • What do you recommend we should do to improve the condition?
  • What is the one thing that we should not do as it leads to inefficiencies?
  • What employee incentive schemes will motivate staff to improve productivity?
  • Are there are issues surrounding the work tasks?
  • How can we solve them?

The above questions will indicate what's important and will provide you with information that can't be obtained elsewhere.

Make sure that the questions you ask your team are open-ended. Also, you should let the employees know that they are free to give suggestions without any reservations. Tell your staff that their opinions matter to you, and that they should not hesitate from saying what is right.

2. Listen Carefully

You need to carefully listen to the answers that are given by the employees. Consider using active listening technique to encourage staff to speak candidly about an issue.

Active listening involves paying full attention to the speaker. You need to show the speaker that you are listening through verbal and non-verbal messages. This involves nodding your head, making eye contact, and saying words to encourage the speaker to continue. Providing feedback in this manner will make the speaker feel at ease. This will lead to an open and honest communication with the staff.

3. Give Equal Time to Each Department

You need to give equal time to each department. Avoid spending more time in any one section. Also, you should not talk to the same person during the interaction. It's important that you remain accessible to every employee regardless of position.

4. Have Informal Meetings

Consider having some prep talk with employees 'on their own turf'. This will result in effective communication as employees feel more at ease at the work site instead of behind closed doors.

You can hold informal meetings to appreciate staff or share positive news about the company. The informal session will help motivate team members and result in improved team morale.

5. Follow Up Each Question

If you cannot answer a question of an employee, follow up by providing the answer later. This will help gain the trust of employees. It will make them feel that the management treats them with respect instead of a money-making object. This simple act of courtesy will lead to improved staff morale and motivation.

6. Take Action

You should take immediate action whenever required to prevent a problem or address issues. The action should be based on insights gained after discussing issues with employees.

Make sure that you recognise employees who have given input regarding a planned course of action. You should highlight employees in the company memo for their suggestions. The simple act of gratification will reflect positively on employees.

Mistakes to Avoid Regarding MBWA

MBWA does not mean just wandering around the office. You need to critically examine issues when interacting with employees. It's important that you ask the staff the right questions regarding work performance. The goal should be to gain greater awareness relating to the work so that effective actions can be taken.

Another important thing to keep in mind regarding MBWA is that a physical presence is not enough to boost employee morale. The manager needs to engage with employees in a friendly manner. If you remain cold and aloof during workplace inspection, or don't treat them right, it will do more harm than good.

A negative or reactive comment will make your employees fearful of sharing their views with you. They might become defensive and won’t inform you the work-related issues and problems that they’re facing. Keep in mind that your goals are to answer the questions of employees and build a rapport with them.

You should not reprimand an employee on the spot regarding performance. Instead, you should make note of the issue and address it during a one-to-one meeting.

Lastly, you should avoid making MBWA seem like you are interfering with the employee's work. Consider the workload of the team members, and tailor the approach accordingly. Generally, the best time to engage with employees is either during the morning or at the end of the day.


Maintaining a close connection with employees who make changes happen is critical for an organisation's success.

Jefferson Maguire is an experienced UK based executive search and headhunting firm. We help firms connect with ideal executives for vacant leadership positions. By employing persuasive methods including video interviews, we try to convince executives to make the career switch.Talk to us today by dialling 01329 288 688 to find out how we can help you with our executive headhunting services.


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