Five Ways Managers Screw Up MBWA

No matter what level leader you are, if you want to really make an impact on your team, get out of your office. Walk around. Connect with the human beings you’re supporting, and their customers. Listen to them. Act on what you hear. Explain the “why” behind “what” you’re asking them to do. Ask deeper questions and listen even harder. Thank them for their input. Recognize their efforts.

Do even half of this every single week and your influence and results are bound to improve.

And yet, if you get out of your office, and stir things up, without a sincere “How can I best help?” and “What must I learn?” approach, you’re likely to make things worse for your employees, your business, and your customers.

If you overreact, under-support, or act like you’re above the day-to-day BS that’s driving them crazy, you’ll jeopardize your credibility and influence, not to mention the results you’re looking to achieve.

Five Ways Managers Screw Up MBWA (Management By Walking Around)

Be careful that MBWA doesn’t become OCHTC (Oh Crap, Here They Come)

1. Over-reacting to a Single Incident

One employee in one office is screwing up your new program, or can’t explain your new product, and you conclude that “no one gets it,” and frantically start gathering all your National leaders together to fix this “Big Problem,” which might actually be just one dude with his head in the sand.  And you know what everyone else is thinking, including your National leaders who are scrambling to fix the “Big Problem?”

“Seriously, if s/he wants to work on something BIG, let’s me show him the real fish we have to fry.” But of course, they don’t say that.

That would be defensive, and they’re not stupid. So they diaper drama  the conversation and do exactly what they’re told. And save the real conversation for another time.

If you’re lucky.

2. The “Gotcha” Game

With the wrong tone and an imbalanced lens, all those “helpful pointers” feel more like “gotcha.” It’s great to point out what can be done better, along with stories and sharing of best practices, but be sure you’re also looking for the good news. I’ve seen many execs come through sweating all the small stuff that was “wrong” and completely overlooking the huge accomplishments of the team. Sure, they MAY remember to throw away the pizza box in the break room next time, but they’ll certainly remember that you didn’t even mention their significant sales wins. In some cultures the word on the street is that you “Can’t ever have a good executive visit, the best you can do is not have a bad visit.” Trust me, if that’s the case, you’ll get better long-term results by staying in your office.

3. The Drive-By

You come in long enough to make an appearance, but don’t spend time making any real connection. Such drive-bys feel like you’re checking off a to-do. Equally destructive is showing up, and heading to a nearby office to close the door and take calls. Wandering around takes time.

4. The High-Maintenance Prep

In anticipation, the team runs around making everything just right. Even if you think you’re low maintenance, watch what your local team is doing to prepare. It sends a terrible message to the frontline when local management starts scurrying to “clean up the place” or order special food in advance of your visit. A clean work environment is important for the employees every day, not for the execs. I once had a Director apologize to me that he had not “had the rugs replaced in advance of my visit.” They were filthy and needed replacing, but not for me.

5. The Talking Tour

MBWA is about listening and learning. Sure it’s great to reinforce priorities, but be sure you’re really taking the time to listen to ideas and concerns and to ask what you can do to be most helpful. Listen well, take great notes, follow-up with the person who shared their idea.

A MBWA  (Management By Walking Around) Secret Weapon

When I was a call center Director, I worked for a Senior VP who was strong, tough and introverted. Wandering around did not come naturally for her. But, she was a good leader who deeply understood the value and made it a point to spend quality time in the centers. So the morning before her visit, we went to each rep’s desk and color coded their cubes with helium balloons all representing something they had accomplished:  yellow was perfect attendance, red meant they had attained a degree or certification that year, white symbolized they were exceeding goals, etc. We even threw in a few personal ones, like having a baby. That way as she wandered around she had instant conversation starters. Her congratulatory remarks flowed easily into how they were accomplishing their work and where they needed the most help. Plus, the visit felt like an uplifting celebration of the team, not of making things just right for her.

MBWA is powerful and important. Done well, it makes all the difference in the world. Take the time to do it right.

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Karin Hurt

Karin Hurt, is CEO of Let’s Grow Leaders and a former Verizon Wireless executive. Karin was named on Inc.’s list of 100 Great Leadership Speakers for Your Next Conference, the American Management Association List of 50 Leaders to Watch, and as a Trust Across America Top Thought Leader in Trust. She’s the award-winning author of two books, Winning Well: A Manager’s Guide to Getting Results— Without Losing Your Soul, and Overcoming an Imperfect Boss. She’s regularly featured in business publications including Fast Company, Entrepreneur, and Inc.

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