We all know about berry picking, especially at this time of the year. The raspberries are just about finished. Blueberries are still plentiful – and wild blackberries are showing a huge potential crop on the way. MBWA is a leadership acronym for Managing By Walking Around – a recommended leadership style that help those at the top of a business better understand the world of those operating lower down in the business. Today I want to explore how these two behaviors can be linked and see what lessons we can learn from both the berry patch and MBWA that will help you in your personal and business relationships.
In prime berry picking time, it is quite productive to “graze” the top pf the plants and pick the most visible and accessible fruit. When berries are plentiful, the pickings at the top are often sufficient to fill our containers. Not much time – not much effort – and we are on our way. When business or relationships are in great shape, there is a similar high return on low amounts of leadership effort. So we can get lax and a little lazy, taking things for granted and living the good life.
But prime time seldom lasts long in the berry patch or in the real world of work and relationships. In the berry patch, eventually you need to go deeper into the branches or bushes to get more berries. When you do, you are quickly greeted by a pleasant surprise. The berries lower in the plants are almost always larger and sweeter, although they are harder and slower to pick. But despite the extra time and the inevitable accompanying scratches, going beneath the surface almost always produces an even greater reward for your efforts.
Likewise in the business world, the pickings are not always easy. Staying in the leadership office and enjoying the easy fruits of your labours seldom lasts long. There are customer issues, product or service problems, hic-cups with equipment and the regular challenge of attracting and retaining the engaged employees that come to work to truly make a difference. Keeping your distance from regular business operations is not a good strategy in the short or longer term. Management by Walking Around is all about being visible and interested in what is happening lower down in the business – where the rubber really meets the road in either production or service delivery. The view is not always pretty – and things are not always as neat and tidy as in the front office – but the learnings and rewards can be every bit as sweet and rewarding as those nice juicy berries in the middle of the plant.
Leaders who are visible in their operations gain great insights into how things really are on the ground floor. They see problems first hand being addressed or worked around. Leaders who walk around gain the respect of their employees because of the leadership interest that they are showing in how things really are. Out on the floor, leaders will interact with employees, asking about what they are doing, what problems they might be having, what ideas they might have for making things better on the front line for both employees and end-use customers. Leaders that walk around and seek the input of front line staff are rewarded with a more engaged workforce and a higher performing leadership team that gets to the bottom of issues as they arise, rather than leaving them fester and suddenly appearing at the next Walk Around.
Leaders can carry this process even further by rolling up their sleeves and engaging the front-line workforce to identify where the work processes in place mean they are doing ‘stupid’, where there is time or material wastage, where things are regularly breaking that take time and effort to fix. Taking the time to get deeper inside their own ‘business berry patch’ with their own employees generates great ideas for improvement, a more efficient and satisfying business organization, happier clients, and most importantly, a more engaged workforce.
It seems self-defeating for a consulting firm to suggest that some of the best consultants in any business are the employees that are already on payroll. But it is true in many cases. Fortunately, some consultants do have special tools and techniques to help businesses unleash this special internal process improvement power. You can check out the Delfi offering is this area @ http://thedelfigroup.com/pit-stop/
Going a little bit deeper in the berry patch – and getting out and interacting with front line employees in your organizations (MBWA), are great techniques for reaping greater rewards for your efforts.