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Management by Walking Around

The Management by Walking Around (MBWA) method is a management concept that has gotten a lot of “buzz” in the last decade or so. The concept was created by David Packard during the early days of the Hewlett Packard organization, a Silicon Valley company that was well known for its loyal and highly creative employees – employees that seemed to achieve levels of productivity far beyond the norm.


“The HP Way,” which included the MBWA method, was based on the concept that employees, particularly subject matter experts, are capable of being part of the problem solving process. The company promoted a team approach to creating new business ideas and innovate ways to solve problems rather than relying on the “top down” approach where management comes up with all the answers and dictates them to a mindless but obedient staff.

Packard was a believer in open spaces, no walls and easy access to management – all core concepts of the MBWA method. MBWA also promotes frequent and unscheduled interactions between employees, and between management and staff to stimulate innovation as well as the flexibility to adapt as the company grows and changes.

In order to implement MBWA, the manager must embrace the concept of a flexible and relaxed relationship with staff. MBWA promotes open communication and impromptu meetings, rather than set staff meetings in formal settings. When the supervisor or manager walks freely amongst the employees throughout their work day, the opportunity to ask questions and discuss new ideas are boundless. From those unscheduled and frequent visits, great concepts can arise, which can then be nurtured into new product ideas or novel solutions to problems.

MBWA concepts cannot thrive in a corporate culture that includes management by intimidation practices, or overly formal relationships between management and employees. In these cases, the MBWA system will go from a powerful method of collaborative problem solving to a tremendous nightmare for everybody. You don’t want your employees dreading your “drop in” visits because they are so concerned with impressing management. Employees in this type of setting are incredibly clever, and can easily set up an early warning system to alert others to “get ready” for what they perceive will be an unpleasant sudden visit by management.

To begin implementing the MBWA concept in your office, you must first stress to supervisors that their main priority is to foster a relaxed relationship with staff. Employees must feel free to express their concerns and ideas without the fear of being belittled, ignored or punished. Many a company has unsuccessfully attempted to emulate the “HP Way” by simply putting up color posters on the wall and a suggestion box, but not surprisingly, nothing changes in the corporate culture or how management interacts with the staff. Employees are quick to notice the hypocrisy of such a program and the result is management becomes an object of ridicule instead of inspiration.

As a manager, you may ask yourself how you can recognize if the corporate culture at your office has truly changed after implementing MBWA concepts. If your employees start “dropping in” on you unexpectedly, if for nothing more than to share a joke with you, then you’ve achieved your goal! That is the ideal setting for team work and proactive problem solving.

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