I learned early on as a young manager working at Mattel Toys that a company’s best ideas always came from the bottom rungs on the corporate ladder and became a reality by proactive managers who wandered around, listened, asked questions and then ensured those ideas were persuasively passed along to the powers that be.
I have been a proponent of MBWA for over twenty years and cannot imagine a day going by that I am not out and about observing, listening and asking questions.
The key is to get out of the office and engage employees at all levels of the organization. You will be amazed at what you see, hear and learn from your team members.
I have also found that this management strategy can also be extended to your customer base with great success as well.
History has shown us that executives who spent a great deal of their time with customers and employees and who instilled a culture that encourages MBWA led some of the most successful companies.
With the economy in a tailspin and companies trying to figure out ways to hang on, wouldn’t it be a good idea to wander around, learn what is really going on in your organization, hear new ideas from employees and customers and stay close to the people that will make change happen? Who knows, you might hear about a product idea or a cost savings that could significantly affect your top and/or bottom-line.
Here are some great tips from a website called FutureCents.com for making MBWA successful:
Do it to everyone.You may remain in such close contact with your direct reports that MBWA is redundant with them. The real power of the technique lies in the time you spend with those in lower levels of your area of responsibility. Get around to seeing those who work for your direct reports and any others whose work is important to you.
Do it as often as you can.MBWA sends positive messages to employees. It reveals your interest in them and in their work, and it says you don’t consider yourself "too good" to spend time with them. MBWA also enables you to stay in touch with what is going on in your department, section or unit. Put aside at least thirty minutes a week to spend with all employees. Aim for once a quarter to see those you must travel long distances to visit.
Go by yourself.MBWA is more meaningful when you visit with employees alone, and one-on-one. It encourages more honest dialogue and speaks loudly of your personal commitment to the idea.
Don’t circumvent subordinate managers.Some employees may take advantage of your presence to complain about a supervisor who is your subordinate. Counsel them to discuss the issue fully with their supervisor first. If you have cause to question the supervisor’s judgment, don’t indicate so to the employee, but follow up privately with the supervisor.
Ask questions.MBWA is a great opportunity to observe those "moments of truth" when your employees interact with your clients. Ask them to tell you a little bit about the files, projects or duties they are working on. Take care to sound inquisitive rather than intrusive.
Watch and listen.Take in everything. Listen to the words and tone of employees as they speak to you and to each other. You’ll learn a lot about their motivation and their levels of satisfaction. In the words of Yogi Berra, "You can observe a lot just by watching."
Share your dreams with them.As a Yukon Dog Team handler used to say, "The view only changes for the lead dog." MBWA is a solid opportunity to make sure that when you lead the sled in a new direction, the employees behind you won’t trip over themselves trying to follow. Tell them about the organization’s vision for the future, and where your vision for the department / unit/ section fits in with the "big picture." Reveal the goals and objectives that you want them to help you fulfill together as a team. Ask them for their vision, and hold an open discussion.
Try out their work.Plop down in front of the computer; get behind the wheel; pick up the telephone; review a project file. Experience what they endure. Sample their job just enough to show your interest in it, and to understand how it goes. Think of great ways to reconnect with your front line workers, and gain a current understanding of exactly what they are dealing with during a typical work day.
Bring good news.Walk around armed with information about recent successes or positive initiatives. Give them the good news. Increase their confidence and brighten their outlook. So often employees are fed only gloom and doom. Neutralize pessimism with your own optimism, without being non-credible.
Have fun.This is a chance to lighten up, joke around, and show your softer side without being disrespectful or clowning around. Show employees that work should be fun and that you enjoy it too.
Catch them in the act of doing something right.Look for victories rather than failures. When you find one, applaud it. When you run into one of the many unsung heroes in your job site, thank them on the spot, being careful not to embarrass them in front of peers or to leave out other deserving employees.
Don’t be critical. When you witness a performance gone wrong, don’t criticize the performer. Correct on the spot anything that must be redone, but wait to speak to the wrongdoer’s supervisor to bring about corrective action.