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Management by Wandering Around (MBWA): The Complete Guide

This guide teaches you why MBWA is important; its transformative components and benefits to employees, managers, and business owners; and high-value tips and best practices to optimize your career or company’s bottom line.

What Is MBWA?

Popularized by management guru Tom Peters, Management by Walking Around or MBWA is a more personal management style that allows a manager to interact with employees and get real-time feedback on how the business is doing. Using MBWA in workplace checklists is also a great way for managers to make sure that their employees are compliant, motivated, productive, and fulfilled in all areas, suggest the experts from Harvard Business Review.

THE PURPOSE: How Does MBWA Benefit Me?

At its core, an MBWA benefits company owners, managers, and employees because it’s created:

For Employees

  • To encourage communication between management and employees —a key element of any healthy workplace culture. MBWA helps gather more accurate information from employees, and the manager can also answer questions for the employee, giving them feedback on how they are doing.
  • To feel more included in the workplace and develop more trust in their managers, who will be seen as more approachable and less intimidating. Employees will feel like they’re more valued when their manager takes time out of his or her day to talk with them one-on-one.

For Managers

  • To improve productivity by addressing issues before they become problems that cause employee turnover (and cost managers’ reputation). This way, managers can get valuable insight into how they can improve processes and workflow within each department.
  • To understand what’s happening in the trenches on a day-to-day basis and how they can best support their teams’ efforts for them to succeed. Employees can then get a better idea of how things are working and improve morale by making sure everyone has a voice in the process and feels heard.

For Employers/Business Owners

  • To collect feedback from employees and managers about how they feel about their current position. This is to know if there are any changes that need to be made within the organization—and then act accordingly. This assessment can then help you track progress towards goals and objectives.

In this guide, you will learn:

1. How to manage by walking around: A step by step guide

2. The best use cases for an MBWA

3. The difference between MBWA vs. Gemba Walk

4. The pros and cons of an MBWA

5. The 7 clever tips and best practices to optimize your MBWA strategy

Company Director thinks how to manage company in a blue office

STEP BY STEP: How Do I Manage By Walking Around?

Management by walking around is an established method of management that focuses on face-to-face interaction with employees. It has been around for decades, but its popularity has increased in recent years because it helps managers learn about their employees’ needs in a more effective and closer way. But how do you actually develop MWBA strategies for improving productivity?

Step 1: Start by identifying your priorities

The first step in doing MBWA is to make sure you know what’s important to you and your business. This could include increasing sales or improving customer service scores — whatever the objective, make sure it aligns with your overall goals as a company or department head. The idea behind this vital step is to give managers an urgent view of how to build relationships with their employees—something that isn’t always possible when you’re sitting at your desk all day.

Once you have identified what you want to focus on, make sure these goals are clearly defined, articulated, and sequenced in written form. This is for everyone to know in concrete terms what they are working toward every day. If someone does not know what they are supposed to be doing, they probably won’t do anything at all. Then you will have wasted valuable time and resources on the walk that could have been better spent elsewhere.

To do this, start with the end in mind. Ask yourself, “What do I want to accomplish? What is the best way to accomplish it? Where am I going? Where are my employees going? And how do we get there together, step by step?”

Step 2: Know your audience and share your vision with them

Make sure everyone knows your vision and mission, especially the human resources managers. You need to know who you are talking to and what they care about so you can tailor the message. Find out what your employees think about the company and their work environment. This way, you can identify potential issues with team members before they become big problems since they already know the vision that the employers have set for their work.

Step 3: Start the walk

This is the time to start walking around and observing what is going on in your business or department. Make notes about what you see and hear as well as any ideas that come up during your walkabout that can be used to improve things for everyone involved.

During the walk, ask questions both about their work and things that are important to them – like compensation, career growth, day-to-day responsibilities, and more. Be sure to ask about things that you can improve upon as a manager. It’s also important to aim to build relationships with the employees by asking them about things outside of work (i.e., hobbies, interests, etc.) to connect with them as people.

Step 4: Listen to what people say, even if it’s not directly related to their job description

When listening, don’t forget to take notes as you go along so you can follow up with your employees on any concerns they have raised during your MBWA session. If possible, schedule one on one meetings with each of your employees at least once a month. Doing so can help employees see the big picture of the organization and increase their engagement, which helps them feel more motivated and invested in their jobs.

Step 5: Ask questions about what you’ve heard

Make adjustments based on what you learned during step 3 above and repeat steps 1-3 until you have completed all of your objectives for this round of MBWA (or until someone tells you that they don’t need the audit anymore). Ask questions about what they are working on and how it is going in order to learn more about their roles within your organization.

This is an important step because it will help you see where your company needs improvement or change to avoid bottlenecks and non-compliance penalties. This is the only way to know if things aren’t going so well and to help get rid of office politics. This is vital in letting the workforce see what your company looks like from the perspective of an employee, which allows you to make changes that will improve operations and overall job satisfaction.

What Is Meant by Management by Exception?

Management by exception means looking beyond the desired amounts or expectations. This implies taking action when an employee goes above and beyond what is expected of them.

If an employee has an above-normal issue with something, this strategy lets the manager know right away instead of waiting until later in the day when they sit down at their desk. This helps prevent issues from snowballing into bigger problems down the road.

For example, if your manager tells you that you need to hit 10 sales this month and you hit 5 or 15 sales instead, your manager would be conducting a follow-up meeting to see what you did differently this month. Management by exception, therefore, is a management style that focuses on results that are out of the ordinary, bad or good. It involves looking at what’s going right or wrong in a business first and only taking action in that context.

If you want to achieve good results, then you need to differentiate the analysis between the average and the exceptions and design the preventive measures in that context.

Is MBWA Effective?

Management by wandering around (MBWA) is effective as a management style where managers get out into the trenches and work with their team members. This is an effective way to lead because it helps you to understand what your employees are working on and how they feel about their work. It also helps managers to gain insights into what motivates their employees and what doesn’t.

MBWA is an effective way for managers to get feedback from their employees, who may have insights into processes or problems that are hard to see from an executive level. On the other hand, sometimes managers don’t know enough about what goes on at ground level either. MBWA allows them to connect with employees and get this crucial feedback.

USE CASES: Where Can I Best Use an MBWA?

These are the major industries where the use of an MBWA can have excellent results:

  • Cleaning Services
  • Construction
  • Facility Management
  • Food & Hospitality
  • Health Services
  • Horticultural
  • Manufacturing
  • Pharmacy & Chemistry
  • Professional Services
  • Project Management
  • Real Estate
  • Manufacturing
  • Transport & Logistic

Which Tool Loosely Translates to Management by Wandering?

MBWA is a management style in which managers are expected to make unannounced visits to subordinates and observe, remedy, and improve work processes. This means that any manual or automatic tool that does this in the workplace can be the tool that loosely translates to an MBWA, especially if it helps foster an open communication between managers and employees.


The short answer is that they are two different approaches to management and leadership, but they both have their place in any organization.

MBWA (Management By Walking Around) is a more people-oriented approach to management and leadership. It involves a manager or leader talking directly to the employeee that they manage, and having regular conversations with them about how things are going.

The idea behind it is that by talking to your team members face-to-face, you will get a much better understanding of what they’re thinking, feeling, and experiencing. This can help you to solve problems more quickly because you can see them firsthand rather than from afar.

A Gemba Walk is a far more structured approach for optimizing the systems, not the people. This is where you go out on-site with your team members and talk about the work that needs doing, not just what’s gone wrong. You’ll be able to see how processes are working firsthand, rather than assessing the people doing them.

If you are interested in learning more about Gemba Walk, we recommend you visit our guide. It includes an implementation checklist and practical examples.

Employees discuss in an office full of books and bookshelves

Pros and Cons of Management by Walking Around

As elaborated above, there are many benefits to the practice of management by walking around. The major benefit is to help managers build trust and foster relationships with their teams, which in turn makes employees more productive and loyal.

However, there are also some drawbacks. Managers who walk around too often can lose credibility with their team members and can even be seen as micromanaging. Here are more pros and cons that managers, employees, and business owners must not dismiss:

Pros of MBWA

  • It helps reduce employee turnover. When managers are constantly walking around, they have more chances to interact with employees and understand their needs, which makes them feel more appreciated and valued. This can also help prevent burnout among employees who might be feeling stressed or overwhelmed at any given moment during the day.
  • It allows for faster decision-making processes. Managers will be able to see things from their employees’ perspective while managing people by wandering around, so they’ll know exactly how to respond when there’s an issue that needs addressing.
  • It strengthens the vital feedback dynamics. This is one of the advantages of management wandering around that can result in getting better feedback on how your work is doing from your manager while they are visiting you at your job site, which can help improve productivity. By spending more time with employees, you can also build relationships, which will help them trust you and feel comfortable coming to you with problems or issues.
  • It helps you get a better understanding of what’s happening on the ground floor. By talking with employees face-to-face instead of relying on reports or emails, you’ll be able to get a better sense of how things are going in their departments and how your company is performing overall.

    This explains why management by wandering around is considered an effective communication mode to learn from mistakes before they become costly issues. This can help you make better decisions when it comes to scheduling meetings or setting goals for the future.

Cons of MBWA

  • It’s time-consuming. The main reason why some employers do not embrace Management By Walking Around systems is that a lot of time and resources need to be put into the process and it can be difficult to make sure that everyone uses the same language and concepts. The idea of MBWA is great but it is not as easy to implement as one might think.

    This only emphasizes and strengthens the voice of employees. This is one of the major disadvantages of management wandering around because if employees are given more power over their work, they will use this power in order to further their own agenda rather than that of the company. Their voices will become louder than those who hold positions of power within an organization, which can lead to chaos and confusion within an organization.

  • It can be complex because it may require a lot of training for managers and employees alike. This training is needed to help employees understand what the strategy means for them personally, as well as how it affects other members of their team or department.

What Are Supervisors’ Primary Goals When They Practice Management by Wandering Around?

Supervisors’ primary goal when they practice MBWA is to increase employee satisfaction and morale while reducing stress. This method helps supervisors develop closer relationships with their employees and creates a better systematic rapport between managers and employees.

For a more comprehensive study on this, read this Harvard Business School analysis.

7 Tips and Best Practices to Optimize Your MBWA Strategy

You’re probably thinking: “How hard can MBWA be when it’s just a manager walking around? After all, if you’re working in any industry, it’s likely that you’re very familiar with the ins and outs of your company’s workflows.

That might be true, but the problem is that it’s easy to get complacent. To avoid the costly mistakes in complacency and faulty execution of an MBWA, here are some dos and don’ts, safety tips, and best practices for quality managers and employees to follow:

  1. Set a clear goal and expectations for your MBWA activities. Before embarking or reading any kind of Management By Wandering Around book, it’s important to set clear goals for yourself and your organization first.

    Make sure everyone knows the rules of engagement and what to achieve from this activity before you start doing it. If you don’t have clear goals, it’s likely that your MBWA activities will be ineffective and may even harm your company’s performance in the long run.

    Doing so also ensures that everyone involved in the process knows exactly what they’re trying to achieve before they even begin the work. For example, if you’re aiming to increase employee engagement or reduce turnover rates among entry-level employees, make sure your goals align with those outcomes before embarking on any type of management activity.

  2. Be open-minded, empathetic, and approachable during audits. Don’t judge behaviors or actions harshly according to what you think they should be doing. It’s best to leave the judgment later based on the company’s values & beliefs. This only builds walls between you and them which in turn limits the flow of information from both ends & creates a negative direction, which then drops productivity levels over time.
  3. Identify problems before they become challenges through proactive listening. This helps users feel heard which in turn helps build trust within the relationship and makes them more likely to work the extra mile. To help you do this, use the right tools and technologies, such as a simple but powerful checklist maker or software that resolves bottlenecks in a snap because it’s accessible anywhere, anytime.
  4. Be consistent in your efforts and show up regularly. If you want employees to know that you mean business, then you need to make sure that you do the MBWA regularly. You should do it at least once a week, but randomize the time so they don’t prepare for it. This will encourage them to show their best but natural behavior; help create an objective list of questions beforehand; and allow you to follow up on them later.
  5. Choose the right time and place. MBWA isn’t just about scheduling time for random chats with employees; it’s about creating an environment where people are comfortable talking about what matters most to them at that moment in time. So choose when and where you’ll be walking around carefully — don’t go into a meeting unannounced or interrupt someone who’s clearly busy with something else. And remember that different industries have different cultures when it comes to MBWA styles.
  6. Focus on success, not failures. When you’re talking with your team members, ask them about their goals and how you can help achieve them. This will help them feel heard, which will make it easier for them to open up about their struggles and successes in the future.
  7. Consider their personal life. It’s a common misconception that the best leaders are the ones who care only about their employees’ professional performance. But according to Harvard Business Review, you might be overlooking something: your employees’ personal lives. It’s true that we sometimes forget to ask about our subordinates’ personal lives, but these topics can have a big impact on how they work and stay on top of their work.

    This means your MBWA shouldn’t just focus on chatting about work, but it should inquire about the occasional questions about non-work-related topics as well.

  8. Each spontaneous interaction should be properly recorded. Ask questions based on what people say rather than what you think they might say. You should also keep track of what you learn through notes, photos, or videos so you can refer back to them during future conversations with employees or clients. Find a robust but simple app to document all these media recordings in a way that everyone in the team can access.

    To do such MBWA inspection better, listen more than you speak and ask more questions instead of giving hinted answers.

In a nutshell

The MBWA approach is not a new one, but it’s still relevant. The reason for this is simple: people are still the most important asset of any company.

The only way to ensure that your company keeps growing and succeeding is to foster an environment where everyone feels like they’re valued and can grow. This means making sure that you have the right people in place at all levels of your company, and that those people are given opportunities to make decisions and take ownership over their work. This will all be done more productively with an MBWA.

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