Archive for the ‘Management by Walking About’ Category

MBWA: A New Twist on an Old Habit

Monday, January 7th, 2013

I don’t know about you, but as a manager in hotels, resorts, and private clubs, I could only stand so much time in my office reviewing the daily numbers, working on various initiatives, talking to vendors, making and returning phone calls.  To me these were the tedious part of the job.  So every few hours I was up and out the door, announcing over my shoulder to my secretary (yes, we had secretaries in those days) that I was going “out and about.”

At some point in my career I came across the term “Management by Walking About” and was surprised and pleased to know that my 5 or 6 times a day habit was an approved discipline to stay close to the operation and staff.  Thus validated, I continued this habit throughout my career and saw it as a key part of my leadership style.

Recently I have been reading a book – Hardwiring Excellence by Quint Studer – that details proven principles, leadership habits, and management disciplines that have transformed the field of hospital administration.  Many of Studer’s ideas and practices have application to the club industry, but one that particularly caught my eye was his practice of “rounding for outcomes.

When I first came across the term “rounding” I couldn’t imagine what he meant, but soon realized that rounding comes from the traditional hospital practice of doctors making their rounds of patients.  In that context, he was advocating the practice of MBWA to hospital administrators at all levels of the organization.

But in addition to the typical benefits of MBWA – getting to know employees, being open and approachable, answering questions, monitoring work practices, checking and double checking important procedures and requirements, spreading the “gospel” of organizational culture, etc., he established the discipline of asking specific questions in every department and setting.

1.      Tell me what is working well today?

2.      Are there any employees or co-workers whom I should be recognizing?

3.      Is there anything we can do better?

4.      Do you have the tools and equipment to do your job?

But before we consider these seemingly prosaic questions and how they can have a transformational effect on any organization, let’s lay out some basic context.  First among these is – “What does any person want for their work effort?”  Studer proposes the following:

  • They want their work and the organization they work for to have a purpose.  This sense of purpose is fostered by a carefully crafted set of values defining how and why they do what they do and a consistently reinforced culture of service.  For most people, and certainly for those who work in a service industry, providing service to others is the necessary purpose.
  • They want to know that their job is worthwhile and contributes in a meaningful way to the organization’s purpose.
  • They want to know that their efforts make a difference.

Second, a major element in letting employees know that their job is important and that they make a difference is to change the normal organizational dynamic from focusing on problems and issues to focusing on the positives.  Studer advocates doing this by:

  • “Harvesting wins” – managers seeking out and acknowledging what’s working well in the organization and making the recognition of these “wins” a top focus at all levels.
  • “Rounding for positives” – managers on their walkabouts (MBWA) seeking out those who are going above and beyond or demonstrating consistent performance in the face of challenges.
  • “Harvest and share examples” – managers recognizing and sharing stories of employees who make a difference on a daily basis.  Not only should individual employees receive the face-to-face recognition and appreciation, but their supervisors should be told so they can also acknowledge the employee’s efforts.  Ideally, the shared success stories would be widely disseminated throughout the organization so that all employees hear of it and by constant reminder understand that what they do well makes a difference.  As anybody who regularly does this knows, positive reinforcement of desired behaviors is a far greater motivator than constant harping and criticism.

Lastly, Studer asks, “What are employees looking for from their leaders?” and provides the following seven basic requirements:

  • A good relationship
  • Approachability
  • Willingness to work side by side
  • Efficient systems
  • Training and development
  • Tools and equipment to do the job
  • Appreciation

So with the stage now set, let’s revisit Studer’s “rounding” questions and why they have such impact.

1.   Tell me what is working well today? Asking and getting answers to this question puts the emphasis on the positive and invites countless opportunities to seek out and recognize employees, even whole departments, for doing well.  Given that every day many more things are done right than are problematic, wouldn’t it be nice, even helpful, if everyone in the organization was more aware of all the good things that are happening routinely and gave credit where it was due.

2.   Are there any employees or co-workers whom I should be recognizing? Again, this question opens the door for recognition for those that give the extra measure or go out of their way to be helpful.  Like the proverbial ripples on a pond when a stone is thrown in, these swells of recognition and appreciation spread throughout the organization lifting not only individuals but the organization as a whole.

3.   Is there anything we can do better? This question emphasizes a focus on solving problems and continual improvement, but does so in a way that is neither demeaning nor disparaging to employees.  The focus is on solutions, not criticism.  It also demonstrates unequivocally that management wants to improve the operation.  With this example employees will willingly join the effort.

4.   Do you have the tools and equipment to do your job? As we have often stated, service-based leadership is focused on serving the needs of employees by providing them with the proper tools, training, resources, motivation, and empowerment to serve their constituencies.  What better way to emphasize this focus than by constantly asking them if they have everything they need to do their jobs better or more efficiently.  Further, your willingness to ensure they have everything within reason to complete their tasks demonstrates your recognition of the importance of their job.

Some employees may find the constant asking of the same four questions off-putting, but managers can vary the process by using a little humor or a different phraseology in asking the questions – for instance:

  • Who are your heroes today?
  • You seem to spend a lot of time doing that.  Any ideas to make it easier?
  • What obstacles do you face in doing your job?

When you and your fellow managers follow up on the responses you get, when you routinely commend and recognize employees for their contributions, when you act on suggestions for improvement and remove obstacles, your engagement and example will transform the attitudes, motivation, morale, performance, and job satisfaction of your staff.

You will also find your employees to be a wellspring of ideas to improve your operation.  They just have to be encouraged to come forward and be appreciated for doing so.  Lastly, they will see you and your management team as a group of caring individuals who want high levels of performance, but also as leaders who value and recognize their essential contribution to the effort involved.

Thanks and have a great day!

Ed Rehkopf

This weekly blog comments on and discusses the club industry and its challenges. From time to time, we will feature guest bloggers — those managers and industry experts who have something of interest to say to all of us. We also welcome feedback and comment upon the blog, hoping that it will become a useful sounding board for what’s on the minds of hardworking club managers throughout the country and around the world.

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