MT Masterclass: MBWA (Management By Walking Around)

Management by walking around passes the Ronseal test - rare in the world of business jargon.

Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

What is it?
Management by walking around passes the Ronseal test ('... does exactly what it says on the tin'), rare in the world of business jargon. But it's not as simple as it sounds. Aimless wandering it is not. The purpose of getting out of the corner office is to keep colleagues better informed, to speed up the flow of information through the business. While 'knowledge management' later became a popular fad (albeit ultimately disappointing), it has never matched MBWA as an effective management theory. And as the psychologist Kurt Lewin said, there's nothing as practical as a good theory.

Where did it come from?
When technologists Dave Hewlett and Bill Packard formed their new company, they resolved to keep all their high-powered colleagues in the loop and collaborating effectively. This meant getting out of the office (or lab) and spending time with each other. In 1982, Tom Peters and Robert Waterman brought the idea to a worldwide audience with their book In Search of Excellence. MBWA is pure Peters: get out there, talk, listen, act. And keep doing it until it has become a habit.

Where is it going?
The time-squeezed executive might not seem to have much opportunity to loiter around the building chatting to people, apparently at random. But there's a lot more to MBWA than that. In fact, smart executives today are building more 'face time' into their diary. Paradoxically, as technology and on-line communication grow in importance, so too does the need to see people up close and personal. Cisco (and HP) have tried to square the circle with high-quality real-time video-conferencing - good, but still not quite as good as pressing the flesh.

Fad quotient (out of 10): Six, but staging a comeback.

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