Wearing Out The Carpet – “managing by wandering around”

A lot of management consultants and modern business gurus promise strategies and formulas for success in today’s business. All you need to do is put the pieces in place, and start the right processes, and things will work like a well-oiled machine. Or, all you need is the data, and the best decisions are almost made themselves. The people of an organization, thus, aren’t the key part; the over-arching strategy, process, technology and information are. People are inter-changeable.

But that’s not even close to the truth. No matter how good these strategic aspects of your business are, it’s your people, and they way the work together, that make the difference. Which means that, as a leader, your number one job has to be making those people better. So, if that’s the case, wouldn’t it make sense then that you should spend time with them, talking with them, on their turf and on their terms?

I think so. And so does my favorite management guru, Tom Peters. He uses the phrase “managing by wandering around”, saying it’s one of the most important drivers of excellence in an organization. Peters got the concept from Hewlett-Packard, who described the technique as “marked by personal involvement, good listening skills and the recognition that everyone in an organization wants to do a good job.” It’s also related to the Japanese idea of the Gemba walk, which means “go and see for yourself”.

So here are some ways to activate MBWA and do your own personal Gemba:

1) Wear out the carpet
A lot of leaders talk about having an “open door” policy – as if it’s some evolved habit that invites the rest of the team and organization into your office and your world. But that’s not nearly enough – in fact, expecting others to come to you is probably a retrograde concept that reinforces a leader’s distance and isolation from his team.

Instead, get out there and walk the halls. It does so many good things.

  • First, you do a much better job of staying in direct, intimate touch with your team and the organization.  You feel the pulse and see your team in their environment, you have more casual interactions, you hear conversations you might not see otherwise.  You’ll get to hear their issues, answer questions, and just talk. And maybe catch some small problems before they become big ones.
  • It demonstrates your willingness to go to others’ offices and spaces, instead of having them come to you. This shows respect and appreciation.
  • It fosters a positive perception of you, by allowing you to be seen out from behind your desk, making you seem more available and approachable.
  • The haphazard, “drive-by” conversations you have along the way, with your team members as well as those not on your team, can be incredibly productive, as well.
  • And don’t think that the office is the only place to “wander around”. Live this approach in your day-to-day life, too. Wandering around can open you up to the world around you and let you see things differently.

2) Stop the email craziness
Email is a major part of our lives and our businesses. And it’s, in general, a great productivity driver. However, we all get caught up in it more than we should – and we need to get back to having conversations.

First of all, email sometimes actually creates issues and conflict, due to it’s lacks of tone, shades of gray and humanity. People read into things, perceive confrontation and controversy, and overreact. And reply, and reply, and reply – email often draws out and prolongs issues beyond helpfulness. We need the dynamics of one-to-one conversations.

And, while email is very effective in quickly dealing with black and white issues and situations, it’s quite rare that issues are so black and white that they can be solved in writing. Take a walk and discuss it in person!

And finally, email causes an incredible reactive-ness. Someone writes something, asks a questions, poses a problem – and we need to REACT immediately. The problem is, we are pausing to think less and less, and we’re not giving ourselves time to consider the bigger picture. The truth is, it’s ok to delay responding for a few minutes, in order to reflect and think… and it’s even better to follow up with a conversation.

3) Check your devices at the door
One other thing we need to do is to make time for uninterrupted conversations. We are all now texting, checking emails, or fact-checking during meetings and discussions. Shouldn’t we allow ourselves some uninterrupted time? Put down the cell phones, iMacs and iPads, and just listen and talk.

What do you think? Do you agree with MBWA? What are some of your examples? I’d love to hear them.


  1. I try to never walk by an employee that I don’t know. We have a couple hundred people that work in my building, and I know 99% of them. I think it helps to make me approachable and greatly increases the chances that they will stop by my office if they have a great idea. I think walking around and just tlaking to people is one of the best management tools we have.

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