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MBWA Revisited.
Management By Walking Around

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MBWA Revisited

         Yesterday, Matt, the CEO of the company visited the job-site to which I am assigned "just see how things were going". In the course of our conversation, I mentioned a large charcoal filter assembly which would need to be suspended from the roof joists. "Do you know how much that thing weighs?", Matt asked. I guessed 400 pounds but then admitted I didn't know its exact weight because, when it arrived , we off-loaded it with a forklift.

          "What do you mean? I just ordered that filter yesterday!" "Maybe you did, but a filter that matches specifications has been on the site for two weeks and it is scheduled to be installed on Wednesday" Mat shook his head, "But I just ordered that filter yesterday !" So, after double-checking specifications and confirming with the engineer, Matt quickly called the vendor to cancel his order. A visit "just see how things were going" unearthed a $4000 duplicate order error!

          A buzzword from the late 80’s was the term MBWA: Management By Walking Around. The best in the practitioner of MBWA was a gentleman I met in Southern California. Jeff was the head of the acquisitions department for a major hotel chain. His company was interested in purchasing the hotel where I was Chief Engineer and sent Jeff to investigate. I believe Jeff talked to every employee during his investigation. Jeff would wander the property with a yellow notepad asking the questions of everyone the encountered. "What works well?" "What doesn't work?" "What would YOU change if you could?"

          One day, Jeff invited me to join him for lunch. We took a shortcut through the kitchen. Jeff paused at the dishwasher station. LeRoy was loading the dish racks. "Leroy, what comes back?" Leroy started to curse, " I hate Stuffed Peppers ! When the Special is Stuffed Peppers, I can count on every single one of them coming back to me. Folks pick at’em. . . maybe take one bite. . .and I have to cut them up to get’em down the disposal! Nobody eats those darn Stuffed Peppers"

          As we left for the dining room, LeRoy grabbed my elbow and whispered., "I sure hope he buys this place, I like him. Nobody else has ever asked me what I thought…" For lunch, Jeff ordered the Stuffed Pepper. It was so salty he couldn't eat it. Before we left, he cut the Stuffed Pepper up into sections small enough to fit down the disposal.

          At the end of Jeff’s investigation, he called a meeting of all department managers. Jeff dominated the meeting. In two weeks of walking around, he had gained more insight into the operation of our hotel than most of the management. There were many embarrassing moments. (By the way, the chef was livid when Jeff mentioned he was using too much salt in the Stuffed Peppers).

          In the end, Jeff recommended that his company purchase our property. His report totaled nearly 300 pages. 94 percent of the rank and file employees chose to stay with the new company. Most of the management left. And I went to work for Jeff as Construction Superintendent remodeling his new acquisition.

          I am convinced Management By Walking Around is a very effective tool. Perhaps it is time you quit staring at a computer screen and took a little walk. Some exercise couldn't hurt, your employees will appreciate being heard and you might accidentally learn something valuable.


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