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.