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The following article was written by Coleman Patterson and appeared in the Business section of the Abilene Reporter-News.

Walking around to manage effectively, April 27, 2007, 2D.

The popularity of Master of Business Administration programs speaks to the value of MBAs for success in businesses and management.  Tom Peters, in his book “In Search of Excellence,” identified that MBWA can also have tremendous benefits for all types of organizations and managers.  MBWA is not a type of advanced business degree.  Rather, it is a management concept that stands for “Management By Wandering Around.”

The idea behind the MBWA philosophy is quite simple.  Effective managers know what is happening in their organizations and they are perceived by their people as being “in touch” with the workers and the workplace.  Rather than isolating themselves from workers in offices separate from the workplace, MBWA managers purposefully and consciously make time to wander through their organizations to talk with others and to discover things that might help improve its functioning.  The benefits of such a philosophy are widespread. 

As organizational decision makers, it is critical that managers understand the strengths and weaknesses of their companies and the opportunities and threats that exist in their business environments before making important decisions.  It is also important to know the effects and repercussions of decisions on the firm.  A solution that seems clear-cut on paper might have disastrous consequences in practice.  Being familiar with the true workings of the firm and its people could help avoid such costly mistakes. 

Trust and communication are two of the biggest hurdles that many managers face when trying to establish positive relationships with their workers.  MBWA helps resolve those issues by breaking down barriers between managers and workers.  When managers are perceived as being truly interested in the needs, ideas, and input of the workers, rather than being perceived as spies and out to interfere with the work, trust and respect can emerge.  Wanderings must be regular and perceived as genuine in order for their benefits to arise.

Another benefit of MBWA is that it allows workers to identify with managers and promotes attributions of leadership.  When workers see that managers are genuinely concerned about their well being and that they are respected and appreciated by management, they usually return those feelings to the managers.  Teamwork, cooperation, open communication, trust, and mutual respect can all emerge from effective MBWA practices.

MBWA is not a philosophy for low- and mid-level managers only.  In fact, it may be most important for top-level managers.  In large organizations, top-level managers are frequently far removed from the actual day-to-day operations of their companies.  It is critically important that they truly understand the needs and desires of their people and organizations.  MWBA allows open and informal communication to occur between executives and workers and helps break down the crippling effects of organizational bureaucracy.  Organizations that desire “leaders” (as opposed to mere executives) in their top organizational positions must encourage and engage in MBWA-like interactions between their top managers and workers. 

Like healthy exercise, managers must make MBWA a priority in their work schedules and practice it regularly.  Only then will the benefits of MBWA arise.

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© 2006, 2007, 2008  Coleman Patterson, All Rights Reserved