Want to Enhance your Leadership? Work on your MBWA!

Women smiling and talking in office setting

I had just been promoted to a role as a regional leader of ergonomics for a regional healthcare system.  My director basically left it up to me how to get things done, even though this was my first experience working at a “corporate systems” level to reduce employee injuries at six hospitals.  I was feeling out of my league!  

One day we happened to cross paths and he asked what I had been up to.  I told him I had been visiting the different hospitals and departments to get a sense of how employees were doing things in areas where we were seeing injuries.

He said to me “Oh, I see you are working on your MBWA!”

I was confused, as I was not enrolled in any master's program. This was the first time I had heard the term “MBWA”.

Little did I know I was using a proven method of leadership. The MBWA or “Management By Walking Around” method of leadership has reportedly been in existence since the 1940s at Hewlett Packard but was best explained in a 1982 book by Tom Peters and Robert H. Waterman called In Search of Excellence: Lessons from America’s Best Run Companies.  Peters and Waterman found that managers who walked around and engaged with their employees were far more effective than those who managed from their office.  

These "walks" are informal visits into the workspaces where your employees are found, to ask them about things they are working on and to see the conditions in which they are working. One of the benefits of MBWA is getting to know employees, and creating a trusting environment so they’re willing to tell you about problems you might not otherwise be aware of.

Here are some tips for an effective MBWA:

  • Let employees know you will be doing this, and that you are genuinely interested in their feedback. Be inquisitive and use active listening.
  • Make it part of your regular routine.
  • Create a trusting environment by making the visits positive; this is not the time for formal inspections or corrective action.
  • Feel free to give recognition and praise if it is warranted.
  • Go alone; bringing other leaders can be intimidating.
  • Visit everyone.
  • Be open to questions and criticism.
  • Stay just long enough to listen, get feedback, and share any company news.

A 2021 article in Ivy Exec discusses ideas for implementing MBWA as a leader of a virtual team. A variant of MBWA, the "Gemba Walk," is used at Toyota and is effective for other companies using Six Sigma and other lean manufacturing systems.

Whatever method you choose, make sure you get out of the management office and into the field for better engagement and results.

Are you interested in learning more about effective leadership techniques? MEMIC policy holders can register for our upcoming free webinar Coaching for Excellence: Effective Leadership Techniques for the Frontline Supervisor - MEMIC on April 26, 2023, at 10 am.

For more information, consider:

After logging into the MEMIC Safety Director, policy holders can access this BLR article outlining MBWA: Can Better Communication Improve Workplace Safety? - BLR