Management by wandering around or MBWA is by no means a new technique in business as it’s been popular since it first hit the spotlight in the 1980’s. The principle is simple, as a manager use your time to break down walls and effectively keep a finger on the pulse of the business by randomly engaging with workers and learning more about their role and the status of ongoing work.
But, how does this factor into visual management and Lean? Read more to find out…
The principle of management by wandering around is a particular business management style which involves walking through a workplace, at random, in order to check with employees, equipment or the current state of ongoing work. Management by wandering around is an effective technique as it’s basically using random sampling as a tool in order to keep a finger on the pulse of events and, by doing so in a random way as opposed to pre-determined times, means you get a truer picture of events and are much more likely to make the required improvements based on the feedback from the workforce.
A manager can often be seen as a distant entity and in far too many businesses managers who have themselves bundled away in an office are perceived as distant, unapproachable and even intimidating to the general workforce. This, coupled with the fact that typically time with management is often limited to short, rushed meetings once a week, month or even less means there can be a huge, insurmountable wall between leadership and everyday operations. What’s more, the team don’t benefit from your knowledge and experience if you’re not making an effort to share it with them.
But how can this be resolved? How can you break down these physical and emotional barriers?
The answer is by getting up and engaging with your workforce!
Connecting with your team is a huge factor in success and allows both you and the team to share and gain hugely from even the simplest communication.
Management by wandering around may seem strange at first but the benefits are clear to see, the feedback we often receive is “what about time” – our advice? It’s about MAKING the time! Each of us is challenged with a huge workload, full inbox, phone ringing constantly and meetings up to our eyeballs – the key thing here is to focus your time on the things that matter, that add the most value.
Our advice to clients is to get out as much as you can to get to grips with what’s going on but a more structured system would be a Walk Out Wednesday.
It’s easy, simply block out time in your schedule every Wednesday to allow you step out of the day-to-day whirlwind and speak with your teams – try it for a couple of weeks and see the immediate difference in your knowledge, the morale of the team and how you’re perceived within the organisation.
The key to success with Walk Out Wednesday lies in the wandering of MBWA itself. Keep it random, don’t get too predictable as you’ll get the best results when you catch processes as they happen and are able to get under the skin of exactly what’s going on. This isn’t simply going out for a walk, there is a very specific strategy at play here and it involves keeping abreast of the team’s work, interests and ideas as well as being open to challenges, feedback and conversation.
As a leader, it will require you to use a range of important skills as you’ll be expected to actively listen, observe, recognise and contribute when engaging with the team – you’ll often catch people in the middle of something when they’re rushed off their feet and that’s OK, you’ve blocked out time for this task but other’s haven’t. Be patient and understand that for the first couple of times it might be strange for the team to have you meandering around!
The very best and most effective visual management conveys its information instantly; “at a glance“! Visual management means that everyone entering a work area can see exactly that state of work, what’s good, what’s bad and where improvement needs to be focused. During a walkout, you can use visual management to immediately understand the state of work, which is the ideal jumping-off point for a discussion with the team. Remember, this task is not about chastising or an excuse to criticise, but as a communication tool for genuine feedback to improve the business.
Visual management may not be appropriate at the start of your walkout journey but as you become more accustomed to engaging with the workforce in this way visual management can hugely help you to instantly see the process and be more effective at asking the right questions and probing into where needs the most improvement.
A Walk Out Wednesday is first and foremost about communication and making yourself more open as a business leader. Aside from the clear benefits of expanding your knowledge and understanding of your processes, pain points and ways to improve there is also a huge range of results which manifest themselves within the team.
People are all too often reluctant to engage with management within an organisation, getting out and about with the team puts you right at the heart of operations and breaks down the walls of a confined office. Teams are often conflicted in that they have suggestions for improvement and issues with processes but they feel intimated by management or think that they don’t have an open forum to discuss what’s bothering them. However, when team members see that you’re making an active choice to engage it gives them confidence that you do want their feedback and are invested in making changes.
Through taking the conscious step in engaging with the team at a leadership level you’re setting the groundwork for an open discussion about improvement. Frequent, natural and trusting communication can be incredibly infectious and before long you’ll be well on the way to making a real impact on organisational culture. The stress here is on trusting, these discussions are about being open with the team encourages teamwork as it secures buy-in at every level, especially when ideas generated by shop floor teams are actually implemented.
There isn’t a business around that has got communication absolutely perfect, there’s always room for improvement and through starting your Walk Out Wednesday journey you’re much more likely to get a sense of what’s happening, spot big problems before they happen and be in a much better position with the team to coach and advise them on how to avoid them in the future.
Engaging the team might seem like a small initiative but it’s sure to leave a large, lasting impact on the team particularly if it’s something you can be sure to keep up with long-term. Even the smallest, casual exchange with team members can leave them feeling more motivated, inspired and connected to the bigger picture. A team that’s involved in the feedback process feels more accountable which, in turn, means that they’re more productive as they feel they make an impact.
Perhaps the most important factor to consider is that despite its name this is not simply wandering around aimlessly – there is a deliberate strategy at work in order to get the most out of techniques like this. It’s been proven through research that simply walking around the workplace and being present is by no means enough. When thinking about using Walk Out Wednesday’s as a tactic in your workplace you need to already consider how you will implement change based on the feedback you receive. The initial success and buy-in of your MBWA strategy is wholly linked to the problems that you solve – get this wrong and you will almost certainly do more harm than good.
Remember – Walk Out Wednesday’s are not a box ticking exercise and it’s better to not bother at all than to do it halfheartedly, or not give it the care and attention it needs.
Walk Out Wednesday will not work for everyone. In order to get the benefit from this strategy, you need to be open to being open and have a genuine passion for wanting to change your business for the better. If you feel obligated to do it, it’s probably never going to be effective or get off the ground in the first place. Walk Out Wednesday’s are all about committing to follow up people’s concerns and seeking continuous improvement.
We cannot stress this point enough, you WILL here criticism and negativity and part of what makes this strategy so effective is that fundamentally this is a safe space to offer this feedback to you without reprisal. If you’re the sort of manager that shuts down when you encounter this kind of negative feedback then this is not going to work very well. It’s also important not to fluff or blow smoke when discussing with team members – be honest with them and if something isn’t possible then explain why and look for suggestions or alternatives as a team.
A huge, and common failing of Walk Out Wednesday’s is that leaders over promise and under deliver. Committing to keeping your word and keeping communication open is the key to success!
It’s important that you ease in to Walk Out Wednesday’s for the sake of your staff – if you’re someone who has historically been quite distant then it takes time to build trust with the team. It can sometimes be perceived that asking for feedback, pain points or issues is spying or interfering and it takes a while to get everyone comfortable – there are some who are more at ease offering challenges to management in front of others may not be so open, keep at it and you’ll get there eventually!
Fundamentally, an effective Walk Out Wednesday strategy is about making the time to get out in front of employees and getting over being “too busy” – everyone is busy and if you weren’t then you probably wouldn’t have a job! Here are some helpful tips and techniques to help make your Walk Out Wednesday a success:
It’s no secret that people will be able to instantly tell if you’re not comfortable or relaxed when you’re speaking to them. Have a positive attitude and relax, the team will respond accordingly and remember to be mindful of your tone, body language and the way you’re dressed. It might be tricky to overcome but nothing will separate you from a production line team like wearing your best suit and this can be hugely off-putting which could even create a distance which is hard to bridge.
This is perhaps the most important point in this whole article – you’re there to listen to the feedback from your team and yes, at the start it may take some hard work to get going, but once the feedback is flowing let them speak! Hold back when you feel the urge to step in with your opinion and avoid shutting the conversation down at all costs, let the team make their points and actively listen by responding, making eye contact and building on the points that are made. Switch your phone onto silent and devote your undivided attention to listening to feedback and suggestions – seemingly small things like this help to build a real rapport and a mutual respect.
When it is your time to speak remember to be open and honest, you don’t need to know everything so be truthful about that – an effective manager is usually a generalist who won’t know the intricate details of everything, and that’s OK! Remember that honesty is better then false hope – if there are real actions that can be taken away then discuss this, if not then it’s important to make this clear too; trust is built on honesty and nothing shatters morale and will be the downfall of your MBWA like not keeping your promises.
Keep your Walk Out Wednesday’s random and don’t let personal bias imprint on the strategy – don’t favour one department more than another and don’t leave anyone out, this includes people who might not be as open to engaging with you – earn their trust and put the effort in, you never know what ideas are in someone’s head. Spead your attention evenly and ignore position and hierarchy, if your business encompasses shift work which is outside of your working hours then stay late simply to talk to them – these little gestures go a long way!
Sometimes your Walk Out Wednesday experience will be negative, it’s a fact. However, make sure you always remain positive and recognise their suggestions as genuine feedback coming from people passionate about improving the business and their role. If you see someone going the extra mile then recognise and praise this – compliments from leadership are always welcomed; your simple gratitude is perhaps one of the most powerful ways to impact morale.
We’re all guilty of working our fingers to the bone with our head down trying to ignore everything around us, but, as a leader, you need to embrace conversation and “the chat”. The most effective organisations in the world are not all about work and by building a genuine rapport with the team through a heartfelt conversation you can be well on the way to big things.
Research shows that the one key success factor which makes the biggest difference to the success or failure of MBWA is the actions you take away and the changes you make. Remember that the whole reason you’re doing this is to improve your business, build trust with the team and break down walls – the key to achieving this is by actually implementing change and nothing secures trust and buy-in from teams like actioning their ideas and giving them credit for it.
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