Is this the beginning of the end for Management by Walking Around?
Is the pandemic the beginning of the end for Management by Walking Around (MBWA)? The changes that the pandemic has brought including greater acceptance and efficiency in remote working, increased reliance on robotics, more automation in supply chains and, as we are now seeing, fewer people at the workplace for managers to walk around to see.
But before you say this is the end of MBWA and throw the boss out with the bathwater, it is worth considering what MBWA is designed to accomplish. It is an opportunity to see first-hand what is happening at the workplace; and this leads to opportunities for process improvement and for a different and hopefully stronger connection between the manager and line employees.
Despite technology advances, there is still no substitute for walking through a manufacturing area, hospital unit, showroom floor, market or warehouse to see, hear and smell the atmosphere. Video tours are only an approximation. Even if video tours were as vivid as a personal presence, they can never be unannounced (at least so far).
But MBWA is more than just playing gotcha. We regulate our emotions through interpersonal relationships. Just as contact with another person can get us riled up, it can also calm us in ways that we cannot be calmed otherwise. The more often a manager can walk around and meet with line staff, the more familiar the manager becomes to employees. In this way the manager can better connect to and influence employees.
MBWA is also a way for a manager to demonstrate their presence, which is closely associated with influence. It is not a coincidence that we use the term “vibe” to describe the subliminal or less apparent aspects of a person’s presence. In the past 18 months, we have learned how to manage our presence on a video meeting. But that is only a shadow of the presence that one can transmit in an interpersonal encounter.
Therefore, don’t give up on MBWA. But consider the following:
- Get the COVID-19 vaccine or at least a well-fitting mask (n95 mask if you are going to a COVID-19 positive environment). The better protected you are, the better able you will be to safely conduct regular MBWA.
- Use the opportunity to make connections:
- Ask and listen more than talk
- Praise good work when you see it
- Seek out all employees – some will come forward more readily, but what about those who are hanging back? What do they have to say?
- Make it a regular event: MBWA should be part of every manager’s routine. It should not be a special occasion with a lot of fanfare. If it is, MBWA will lose its value.
- Be yourself: If you have not done MBWA often or at all during the pandemic, you may be tense about the encounter. This is a reason to do it more often. Relax. Sharing a personal or humorous anecdote with employees can reduce tension for you and for them. And if the joke falls flat, well, laughing at oneself is one of the best ways to be seen as genuine, and that is how every effective boss wants to be seen.