MBWA–For Managing in Troubled Times

I have always been a strong proponent of “Managing By Walking Around” (MBWA). I have studied the concept, and written about it, but, more importantly, I have practiced it for several decades. I have experienced the benefits…and there is no downside. For me, informally talking with my employees frequently, whether individually or in small groups, is the single best way I found to build cohesive teams that can fulfill a common purpose.

Never has this been more important than it is today. Employees are constantly bombarded by the negativity of mainstream media sources (we all know bad news sells best), and consequently, rumors abound. That is why it is up to each small business owner to spend as much time as possible communicating with the people who make their business run. Sadly, big business has lost site of the power of this simple act. HP was probably the last big corporation to formally practice MBWA, and that was many years ago.

Of course, just walking or wandering around, by itself, won’t do it, you also have to talk to people—everyone—and make sure your message is consistent, or you will quickly be disregarded. Keep your employees informed about the realities of your business, both the good and the bad. Nothing dispels rumors and fear like the unvarnished truth. Nothing builds trust and respect like factual, frequent information—the sharing of everything that is going on.

Just as important, you have to listen to your employees. All employees talk amongst themselves about the business, and usually they know things about your business that you do not…so, ask them what they think. Ask them what the business can do better. Ask them what you can do to help them do their jobs better. Be sure to really listen to what they have to say, and then thank them. Of course, you do regularly thank them for their contributions anyway—don’t you?

The same holds true for people outside your organization…your customers, suppliers, creditors, bankers, investors, board members, etc. Pick up the phone and call them from time to time. Where appropriate, ask how you can help them. Everyone connected with your business needs to hear from you—everyone is anxious about what is happening, and when they are fully informed and connected they also can help you, and your business, in ways you may never have thought of.

Frequent and consistent communication not only makes for an informed organization, but it provides the basis for meaningful communication between everyone. This is what fosters innovation.

Doesn’t all this MBWA stuff take a lot of time? Well, it does take a dedication of time consistently spent out in your workplace, but not as much as you might think. If you make it part of your daily routine, and your overall management style, MBWA will become second nature and a part of your business culture—and it definitely beats the hell out of “meetings.”

Do you MBWA? If not, give it a sincere try—spend more time with the people who make your business successful. You can make everyone in your organization feel they are a real part of your business. This is what can give you a better chance of winning during the recession…and beyond.

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