Adding an"I" for Interaction to "MBWA": My Experience in Teaching This Brilliant Management Technique

By Mark Hamister

MBWA, "Management By Walking Around," has been my favorite business acronym since the early 80’s, when Tom Peters and Robert Waterman made this Hewlett-Packard hallmark famous in their book In Search Of Excellence: Lessons from America’s Best-Run Companies. I eagerly began teaching it to all of my management staff as soon as I read the book. Just as I had requested, my managers started spending less time in their offices and more time out and about in our properties. I was seriously disappointed, however, when I saw little improvement in their effectiveness as managers. How could they be employing this brilliant technique and still failing to address operational problems and understand customer desires? Further examination showed me not only the reasons behind this failure, but also the solution.

The concept of MBWA is that managers cannot be effective if they spend most of their time in their offices. They need to get out into their co-workers workspaces and offices and to every nook and cranny of their departments. They need to have informal discussions with their co-workers about problems, ask questions, and provide positive reinforcement for a job well done. Praise and correction are always more effective when they are given immediately, not in a monthly review of a co-worker’s progress.

We drilled this concept into our managers’ heads, but to no avail. So I engaged in some MBWA myself by accompanying my managers on their wanderings. What I found was that our management staff was indeed wandering, but they were forgetting that the other half of the practice was interaction. They weren’t asking the questions they should have, and therefore they weren’t able to identify areas which needed improvement. Their legs weren’t their only body parts that were wandering: their minds were wandering, too.

So I decided to adapt the acronym for use within Hamister Group, LLC: we now practice MBIWA, or "Management By Interacting and Walking Around." Since acronyms are very powerful reminders of practices and theories, I believe that the "I" is necessary to remind our people that they must interact while walking through their departments. For us, this was the only way to convince our managers to stay true to every aspect of the concept of MBWA, as described in In Search Of Excellence.

The result of the new teaching acronym, MBIWA, was amazing. Managers immediately began obtaining better information and therefore making better decisions. Staff and managers began working as teams and our performance began to improve significantly.

One great example of how MBIWA helped us was when we talked to the nurses and dietary staff of our Adult Living Residences about our hiring practices. We were having trouble (or thought we were having trouble) selecting the best candidates for these positions. When our managers asked our staff for their suggestions about how we should change our interviewing process, they told us that the problem wasn’t so much our hiring practices as a need for better training. We decided to respond to their input by hiring a corporate Director of Training, whose first project was to establish orientation programs for all new staff. These programs greatly improved the performance of new staff members, showing that the staff for better training was valid. We would never have realized this without the practice of MBIWA.

A simple example of how MBIWA helped us as a hotel management company was the discovery of the fact that we were wasting an excessive amount of money and time under-loading our washing machines. One of our managers, on his daily rounds, realized that the machines were not loaded to capacity and had a discussion with the housekeeping staff about the issue. He discovered that they had never been trained on how to determine if a front loading commercial washer is full (such machines are at capacity when laundry starts to fall when rotating the drum manually to 45 degrees). This interaction with staff showed us that we needed to improve our training. The result was reduced operational costs.

Adding an "I" for Interaction to MBWA made all the difference at Hamister Group, LLC. It enabled us to finally enforce the original concept of this clever acronym, which is to encourage teamwork between management and staff, increase the number of informal problem-solving opportunities on a daily basis, and thereby produce immediate and creative solutions.

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