Management Without Walking Around

You can accomplish your management by walking around goals without actually walking around.

The walking (or wandering) around was never the point. As I said in my initial 2006 post,

For Hewlett and Packard, managing by walking around (MBWA) was a way to get everyone on the same page; what they believed was the secret to their success. As Packard wrote in The HP Way, “It is necessary that people work together in unison toward common objectives and avoid working at cross purposes at all levels if the ultimate in efficiency and achievement is to be obtained.”

I’m a firm believer in wandering around as a way of talking about strategy, objectives, and KPIs. It increases alignment. I also believe technology can help individual contributors better understand strategy and provide real-word feedback to executives. While technology is not a substitute for managing by walking around, it can amplify the affects. It’s management without walking around.

Given this, I was intrigued by an article called “Revisiting Management By Walking Around” which appeared in Furniture World. (Don’t ask.) Despite the rise of Internet shopping, the author points out that management by walking around is still relevant for retail furniture stores. As an example, management can choose to mimic the shopping experience of a prospective customer by visiting the Web site and trying to find/buy a product.

A similar notion applies to virtually all parts of an enterprise. Every executive should call their own customer support line a couple times per year to understand what their customers are experiencing. This can serve as a vivid reminder that the customer perspective is just as important as the internal process perspective.

Personally, I like to call the main switchboard of companies and ask for sales. I get forwarded to a voice mail box more than 50% of the time. This is a customer experience failure: a person who specifically asks for sales isn’t able to talk to anyone and has to be called back. Truly, an opportunity for performance improvement.

All of these examples of ‘walking around’ can be done in just a few minutes from the comfort of the executive office. If you want to improve performance, walk a mile in your customers’ shoes – even if that walking actually doesn’t require you to leave your desk. The busy executive has no excuse for ignoring management without walking around.

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5 Responses to Management Without Walking Around

  1. Robert E September 17, 2007 at 9:58 pm #

    Busy executives of today have the same lack-of-time to manage by walking around as the founders of HP did. It is a matter of importance. They made it a priority. It has to be a priority to engage, in a meaningful way, either physically or electronically, with your people and your business.
    Larry Mullins writes that when managers become predictable, the troops learn how to loaf without risk. The point is not catching people doing something wrong, it’s understanding what is actually happening: on the floor, at the counter, on the docks. The higher the position, the harder it is to get unvarnished truths. Being able to make crucial decisions about a business neccesitate having good information, even if that information may appear to be ‘bad news’.

  2. crossderry January 10, 2008 at 11:42 pm #

    The post is spot on. My experience is that the driver is the character of the executive. Specifically, whether he/she is willing to see the “world as it is, not as he/she would like it to be.”

    It is simple enough to go “outside in,” but not easy. It is easier to let the bad news get buffered and muffled through middle management (then blame them for not having the courage to speak up).

    BTW, we’ve met when you first came to SAP (you met w/ me and Scott Bolick in Palo Alto). It was a kick to stumble upon your blog.


    • Jonathan Becher January 14, 2008 at 8:16 pm #

      Paul, thanks for the nice words. When I worked for small companies, I used to say one of the biggest issues that we struggled with is that we believed our own bull. The reality distortion field can get too strong.

      I remember meeting you and I manage to catch up with Sott from time to time. Let me know the next time you’re in Palo Alto and we can chat live.

  3. Peter Micciche November 9, 2015 at 10:06 am #

    Investing time your exhibition booth at trade shows and other events is a another chance to not only engage with customers and prospects but also your own people. It has a leveling effect that gets people talking with each other in ways that don’t happen at the office.

    • Jonathan Becher November 9, 2015 at 7:49 pm #

      I like that suggestion Peter. More evidence that managing by walking around doesn’t require you to change your “normal” plans.

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