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The Latest in Management Methodology

Updated on October 19, 2012

Travel’n Person is always on the lookout for new trends in business management. Having followed the lifespan of fads like Total Quality, Management by Objectives, One Minute Management, Peak Performance, Chaos, Vision Statements, Benchmarking, Balance Scorecard, Matrix Management, Team Based, Ninja Management, Process Re-Engineering, Rightsizing, and The Learning Organization – I have found it quite an amusing sport to watch just how long each of these fads lasts.

One that I have run across is called Manage By Walking Around. I know what you’re thinking “Sounds pretty stupid”. But if you look at the details it actually makes real sense.

The premise of Manage By Walking Around (MBWA) method is that the manager has face to face contact with his or her employees on a regular basis. In an age where most of the fad techniques rely on processing numbers, charts, graphs, dashboards, and complex analysis to tell the manager what’s going on – it is refreshing to see one that asks the manager to actually talk to their staff and ask what’s going on or better still, see what’s going on. You don’t need status reports or time wasting meetings – you speak directly to your people one-on-one and get more than bullet points on a page can ever give you. It’s also a two-way conversation so you’re not limited to information on a memo or report.

For any of us who have taken college-level business courses, you are probably familiar with the Herzberg research into how environmental conditions affect worker productivity.

To refresh your memory: Herzberg did a study at a manufacturing plant where they improved the lighting to make the plant brighter. When they increased the wattage, productivity went up. Then they made it brighter still and productivity went up again. As good researchers do, they tried reversing the effect by reduced the lighting to make it darker and guess what? Productivity went up. The lesson learned is that productivity goes up when someone is paying attention. Duh!

While Management By Walking Around is now an accepted and mature management fad (which doesn’t take much – white paper and a two week trial is about right) - it didn’t start out that way. Several failed variations were tried both before and after MBWA:

Manage By Creeping Around: Designed to catch employees off-guard doing non-productive things instead of work. This one failed when an employee had a restraining order issued against a manager for stalking.

Manage by Running Around: Designed for speed but conversations were too short and Doppler Effect distorted some of the words being said which led to inappropriate actions on the part of staffers. After several pulled hamstrings and sponsorship from Nike was lost, the approach sort of ran its course.

Manage By Using Acronyms: This technique featured extensive use of acronyms to speed communications between managers and staff. It also seemed like a perfect fit for Texting and Instant Messaging but failed because some business terms were conflicting with standard texting abbreviations. Problems: “OMG Meeting” was used for Objectives and Management Goals but veteran texters interpreted it as Oh My Gosh and panic set in. Then there was the employee who interpreted BFF, which the manager meant as Bring Financial Forms, for the manager wanting to be his Best Friend Forever. Litigation followed.

Manage By Paper Airplanes: Managers would combine a relaxing hobby with interoffice memos. A memo is printed and then carefully folded into an airplane which would then be floated over cubicle walls and hopefully land in the lap of the intended staffer. This required that the manager actually be able to make something with their own hands – unfortunately the inability to do such tasks is often the reason people made their way into management.

Manage By Taking Vacation: It was felt that employees would respond to the absence of management and encourage them to be self-motivated. Unfortunately in some cases workers turned out not to be self-motivated and in other cases nothing changed leaving executives to think middle management was useless.

Manage By Donuts: Involved bribing employees to be more productive by bringing treats to work. Excessive sugar caused health problems and made employees yearn for afternoon naps.

Manage By Just Doing Your Job: A radical idea that is thought to be crazy enough that it might actually work. Naaahh…

Unlike most management fads, Travel’n Person approves of MBWA. You can’t go very wrong if you actually talk to employees – plus you get a little exercise. Of course MBWA does not mean you don’t have to do other management tasks – too often management expects that with a dashboard you don’t need to drive the car and they may limit themselves to just walking around and ignoring everything else.

Overall, it will be good for managers to get out of their offices where they sit with charts and graphs steering a sinking ship without even knowing there’s a leak. As my college professor of operations management used to say “Murphy lives on the shop floor”. So get out there and walk.

“There’s plenty of room at the top, but there’s no room to sit down.” ~Helen Downey


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