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Managing by Walking Around—it Works!

One way to promote a positive workplace environment is by making certain that you, as an owner or manager, are accessible to the people who are employed in your place of business. One technique to do that is through a concept called Managing by Walking Around.

What is the concept of Managing by Walking Around?

Management by Walking (sometimes called Wandering) Around has been present in businesses since the first time a manager left the security of his office and took the time to observe and talk with employees in a non-formal setting. Like many “management techniques,” it has been written about, praised, packaged and now even has an acronym (MBWA) to its credit.

In my research on the topic, I found the credit for coining the phrase has been attributed to David Packard, co-founder, along with William Hewlett, of Hewlett-Packard and equally attributed to Tom Peters, co-author with Bob Waterman, of the 1982 best-seller, In Search of Excellence. Both are credible people, but I like to use Packard as the author because his way of managing illustrates the concept best, and because he was around for many years before Peters came on the scene. 

While he served as president during the late 1940’s through the mid 1960’s, David Packard didn’t have a formal office. Instead, he liked residing in a cubicle with the engineers — some of the creative people who helped HP become famous for the design of electronic testing equipment and measuring devices and later computers, calculators, printers, etc. By being easily accessible and “hanging around” with the employees who were doing the work of HP, Packard not only learned far more than he ever would have being located in a formal office, but he also sent a strong message that he was a member of the team, approachable and interested in what others had to say and offer.

We are now living in the age of email, voice mail, the Internet, Facebook, Twitter, Skype and other types of “gee whiz” technology that allows us to communicate electronically quickly and easily without the “distractions” and active listening requirements of face-to-face communication. Interestingly, managers who go against the trend and use the MBWA approach are able to better communicate than their less accessible counterparts in other organizations, where electronic communication techniques are preferred and promoted.

In my research on the topic, I found the credit for coining the phrase has been attributed to David Packard, co-founder, along with William Hewlett, of Hewlett-Packard and equally attributed to Tom Peters, co-author with Bob Waterman, of the 1982 best-seller, In Search of Excellence. Both are credible people, but I like to use Packard as the author because his way of managing illustrates the concept best, and because he was around for many years before Peters came on the scene. 

While he served as president during the late 1940’s through the mid 1960’s, David Packard didn’t have a formal office. Instead, he liked residing in a cubicle with the engineers — some of the creative people who helped HP become famous for the design of electronic testing equipment and measuring devices and later computers, calculators, printers, etc. By being easily accessible and “hanging around” with the employees who were doing the work of HP, Packard not only learned far more than he ever would have being located in a formal office, but he also sent a strong message that he was a member of the team, approachable and interested in what others had to say and offer.

We are now living in the age of email, voice mail, the Internet, Facebook, Twitter, Skype and other types of “gee whiz” technology that allows us to communicate electronically quickly and easily without the “distractions” and active listening requirements of face-to-face communication. Interestingly, managers who go against the trend and use the MBWA approach are able to better communicate than their less accessible counterparts in other organizations, where electronic communication techniques are preferred and promoted.


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