MBWA — managing by walking around — is a practice promulgated by many bosses and pundits as the way to be a more effective leader. The MBWA-er informally walks through the workplace (more like wandering), and makes themselves visible to employees.
To this end, MBWA is often cited as a way to improve employee’s perception of the leader by getting them out of their office and away from managing their email and office matters.
It is often suggested by bosses as a leadership performance development tool that aspiring leaders should practice.
The purpose of MBWA is for the leader to engage employees with a listening intent.
The process is relatively undisciplined; the leader is primarily looking for unstructured input from employees on whatever’s on their minds. Usually, people like to talk to the leader about such things as new product ideas, existing product deficiencies, how sales should improve and what’s wrong with the customer service currently provided.
My MBWA experiences early in my executive career were mixed. I found my walkabouts tended to be opportunities for people to table their biggest complaint; what wasn’t working to their satisfaction.
I decided that the benefits of MBWA didn’t warrant the time I had been investing in it. Yes, l learned what was wrong in the organization, and I was seen as a leader who was brave enough to venture forth among employee groups with no entourage.
But MBWA didn’t go far enough. It fell short of discovering the nuggets that would propel the strategic game plan of the organization forward and create teams of focused, passionate and turned-on people necessary to ensure that we were able to thrive and survive in the highly unpredictable and volatile markets in which we competed.
I decided to change MBWA for me. I kept what was working — having a regular schedule of a visible presence in the workplace — but I added elements to create more value for the organization.
I created my practise which I called LBSA — Leadership By Serving Around.
The principle of LBSA is to, first, learn what must change to execute the strategic game plan of the organization better and, second, to build a culture based on serving others. The context for the leader is strategy implementation and what needs to change to have people working more effectively together to do it.
Here’s how this works: the leader walks through the workplace with a purpose. It’s not an open-ended “What’s going on?” experience. It rather focuses on the question “What can I do to help you execute your role in delivering our strategic game plan?”, looking for “serving moments” or opportunities to help someone.
The MBWA agenda is organizational performance. The LBSA agenda is to offer personal help, recognizing that if someone’s problems are solved, performance enhancement follows. If you take care of the person, performance takes care of itself.
Serving leaders are the icons of tomorrow. They earn followers through an undying display of caring for people and their well being.
We don’t need another MBWA-er. We need serving leaders who care about people and who treat serving them as their reason d’être because they know it is the critical ingredient to achieving their strategic purpose.
How can you be a LBSA master?
1. Do your homework. Determine what and where the strategy implementation issues are in the organization and “serve around” according to what you learn. For example, visit your customer service operations if your strategy is to create memorable experiences for customers, and their feedback suggests improvements are needed in that area; if sales needs a boost, serve there.
2. Lose your groupies. You are on your own when you serve around. Leave your entourage at home. LBSA is a personal act of leadership.
3. Allocate time on your calendar every week to serve around. You can’t spot a serving moment if you are in your office. And don’t make excuses for not making this a weekly ritual. There are no more pressing priorities than this; there is nothing more important than making it easier for people to deliver the organization’s strategic intent.
4. LBSA is not about giving stump speeches, monologues or presentations to an audience. Minimize your talking; do a ton of listening. It is difficult to resist the temptation to share your words of wisdom or pronounce something that you think is thoughtful and wise, but zip it.
Give people time to tell their story. At an appropriate moment, ask questions to clarify what they are saying. It is critical that you understand the individual’s issues so that any action you take will have the right outcome.
5. Critical to LBSA is note-taking. Take lots of notes. This shows you believe what your employees say is important — because it is — and that you will take their words seriously and support them.
As a side note, pay attention to people’s names and something interesting or unique about them. Remember what you notice. This will be useful in follow up, and it shows you care.
6. LBSA is typically considered to be a one-on-one activity, but it can efficiently be done in a group setting as well; something I call “bear pit sessions.” Assemble a group of your employees in a room and go through your “How can I help?” process.
7. Continually hone your LBSA skills. Follow up with the employees you have engaged with and ask them for feedback on how you are addressing the help they have asked for. As an LBSA-er, you must continually strive to be more efficient at making operational improvements that yield better strategic performance.
It’s time we changed the conversation from walking around to serving around; from managing output and controlling productivity to helping people and enabling them to express themselves in delivering the strategic goals of the organization.
Roy Osing is a former president, executive vice-president and CMO with over 33 years of leadership experience. He is a content marketer, blogger, educator, coach, adviser and the author of the book series Be Different or Be Dead.