Management by walking around (MBWA) is not a new concept. First popularised way back in 1982 by Tom Peters and Robert Waterman in their book In Search of Excellence, it is a disarmingly simple concept. It requires the executive to randomly walk around their workplace to get a feel for what is really going on. It forces them to see their domain in three dimensions rather than through the prism of management reports and analytics. It allows them to talk to employees and hear from the horses mouth the challenges they're facing.
The concept is a simple one, and in environments where employees are within touching distance it can be amazingly effective. There are a few disadvantages that MBWA has however.
- The limits of geography. Firstly it is kinda limited by geography. It requires managers actually walk around, and there's only so much ground an executive can cover in amongst their other tasks.
- It's limited to employees. When you can only cover so much distance it stands to reason that your reach will be limited. Therefore it's understandable that executives limit their focus to employees and don't walk around customers and other stakeholders that would nevertheless provide valuable insight.
- It relies upon candid insights. A feature of MBWA is that it is random. The thinking goes that if employees expect a visit from you then it will not provide you with a true insight into what's going on. Even so, with an executive stood over your shoulder, even a random visit is only going to provide so much insight. Many employees will refrain from providing honest insights if that means being critical of the boss.
Walking around the social web
Social business tools can assist in all of these areas. Lets explore each in turn.
- Spreading your net far and wide. Your internal social networks will have employees from across your company talking and interacting. You don't even need to actively participate to gain value from this. Simply listen in to the conversations to gain rapid insight into what they are thinking and working on.
- Talk to all stakeholders. Of course you're not limited to your internal social networks. Active use of public social networks or customer communities gives you easy access to a vast number of customers and other stakeholders. No longer are you getting a sugar coated view from your direct reports, you can find out exactly what customers think, straight from the horses mouth.
- Candor is a given. A beautiful thing about social media is that you don't have to shout that you're listening to a conversation. You can easily listen to Twitter mentions of your brand or read posts in your customer discussion forums without anyone knowing you're there. That ensures that you'll be getting honest insights.
These are three basic benefits to using social media to manage by walking around, but these are just the tip of the iceberg. Younger generations of employees expect to work in meritocratic work environments, where ability matters more than status. They expect you to be both visible and accessible. Being active on social media allows you to be both.
I get the impression that the generally dire figures of executives using social media is largely down to not being able to figure out the ROI of it all. With busy lives if they can't understand why they're doing something, why should they do it? Being a better manager might just be the answer they were looking for.