Key Learning Outcomes

  • Implement management by walking around (MBWA) in your business to lift morale and productivity.
  • Recognise the value in engaging in MBWA on a regular basis and adopting an informal and relaxed manner.
  • Acknowledge the need to include all employees in your “walks” over a reasonable time frame, on a one-on-one basis.
  • Adopt an open and honest approach so your employees are willing to share their ideas without fear of criticism, and always follow up on issues as required.


Management by walking (or wandering) around (MBWA) is not a new concept. It is the practice of stopping and talking to people around the office or workplace informally. It allows for managers to gain an insight into how things are going and what the general feeling is around the business. It is most commonly thought of as originating at Hewlett-Packard in the 1970s where executives used spontaneous visits to employees as a management tool. Later, management consultants Tom Peters and Robert H Waterman used the term in their book In Search of Excellence: Lessons from America’s Best-Run Companies.

MBWA provides many benefits, especially in this day and age where technology has removed the need to be face to face for real-time communication. It allows for business owners and managers to engage with their employees. This style of management has been proven to boost morale and productivity. Managers that use MBWA are generally seen to be more approachable allowing them to deal with smaller issues before they become larger problems. Additionally, managers who use this technique are often better decision-makers, as they tend to have more up-to-date and real-time information about what is happening in the business on a day-to-day basis.

Below are a few key things to remember when adopting this style of management to ensure it is as effective as possible.[wlm_ismember]

Be consistent – By its nature MBWA should not be pre-planned as you will gain more when your employees are not expecting you. However, it is important that you do it regularly and once started you should ensure that you make MBWA part of your routine or your ideal week, setting aside some time daily even if it is just 30 to 45 minutes.

It needs to be informal – To get the best from MBWA you want your employees to see it as an informal discussion. You might find if this is not something you have done before, it might take a little time for both you and your team to get used to it. Remember to relax, do the rounds with your jacket off and don’t forget to greet everyone with a smile!

Don’t forget anyone – Depending on the size and nature of your business you might not get around to everyone every time you walk around. Try to keep a mental note to ensure that you do not leave anyone out over the period of a week or so, and beware of always talking to those employees that give you the most positive reception.

MBWA is not a group activity – This management technique is best done alone. Conversations should be one-on-one and it works best when done informally. You do not need an assistant to take notes, but you should carry a small notebook with you to jot down anything you need to follow up or employees’ comments that you think are valid and worthwhile.

Ask more than you say – You will learn more from your employees if you ask high-quality open-ended questions. It is important to practise active listening to encourage employees to expand and clarify their thoughts. MBWA is not designed for long-winded discussions; you want to make conversations short, sharp and effective. If something is brought up that needs some further discussion or thought, organise for a follow-up meeting.

Be open to new ideas – This style of management is all about gaining an insight from those that are dealing face to face with customers. Often some great ideas never see the light of day because the employee has not been given the forum to contribute. React positively to new ideas and make sure you give credit to the person as this builds a positive culture and encourages others to come forward with ideas.

Don’t criticise – MBWA is designed to allow you to gain insight and to build trust and rapport with your team. It is important not to judge or criticise during your one-on-one conversations. If you find something that concerns you or if you feel that the employee is not doing their job properly, it should be addressed at a later time and in a more appropriate setting.

Be open – For this style of management to be effective it is important that you are open and honest in your communication. Encourage questions and answer them as openly as you can. This will help to build trust in your relationships with employees and will encourage them to be equally open and honest with you.

Always follow up – If you find that someone has asked you something that you do not have an immediate answer for, it is essential that you follow up. This is why having a small notebook with you is handy so that you do not inadvertently forget something that was requested or that you need to follow up on.

MBWA has been proven as a very effective tool for building engagement within businesses, which in turn has been proven to lead to higher levels of productivity and profitability. We find MBWA is an excellent opportunity to catch people in the act of doing something right. Be observant and use the time to say thank you or to congratulate someone on a job well done. This is also an opportunity to get to know your employees better, take the time to ask about a new photo on their desk or how the family is. MBWA does take some time and effort on your part as a leader, but the insights and benefits you will gain will prove invaluable.[/wlm_ismember]

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