MBWA – a highly effective management hack, or a dud?

July 2 2019

What if there was ONE easy way to be a great manager?


MBWA, or ‘Management-By-Walking-Around’, has been put forward as one such method.

It involves managers being out on the floor, directly engaging with team members, while also observing frontline workers in action. Sounds great huh – get out there with the team, show that you’re one of them, be a part of it…

In support of this idea, there are some studies do suggest that managers who are always locked away get lower ratings from peers and their teams. So maybe being out and about is the opposite?

Well… MBWA is not necessarily the solution. And if done badly, it will make things worse…!

A review reported on by Harvard Business School was carried out of an 18-month improvement program based on MBWA. It was conducted in 19 randomly selected hospitals, running across 56 work areas. Senior managers ‘walked around’, observing frontline employees, soliciting ideas about improvement opportunities, and working with staff to resolve the issues. They didn’t just do this once or twice, it was consistently practiced over the 18 months.

Overall the conclusion was that the program, on average, had a negative impact on performance!

The study found that it’s all about whether the ‘walking Managers’ actually helped their team members address real challenges.

      “MBWA was found to be effective when … managers took responsibility for ensuring that identified problems were resolved”

This doesn’t mean MBWA cannot work at all. But for MBWA to have a positive impact, these two essential conditions have to be met.

What positively impacts the front line staff is the action-taking that results from MBWA, rather than just the physical presence of senior managers being out and about. Disappointing maybe!!

So if you want to use MBWA to engage better with team members, remember – it has to be real and not just for show, and the connection with work activities should be deep and solution-oriented, and not superficial and ineffective.

Of course, there is not one easy way to be a great manager.

Great management, and great leadership in particular, is an outcome of blending your focus on both tasks (strategy, systems and outcomes) and relationships – the latter includes emotional intelligence (understanding and working well with self and others). it also means managing yourself, so that you bring the best you to the equation – a you that is always developing and growing. Add some effective MBWA into that and you’re onto a good thing.