I finalised a contract to lease an office unit to a new tenant in February 2022. I obliged to give the tenant two (2) free months of rent or up to the end of March 2022 to allow him to make improvements and buy & move in his furniture & equipment. I didn’t see the need to check the office periodically as I didn’t want to go out from home as the coronavirus pandemic wasn’t over yet.
That was a mistake. I should have made the effort to inspect.
At the end of March, the tenant hardly finished his improvements and wasn’t ready to move in. His contractor was going too slow.
The tenant also wanted to buy additional air-conditioning equipment as the building’s existing centralised air-conditioning operated only from 8am to 5pm Mondays to Fridays. The tenant’s business was a back-room operation for a North American firm and had to operate afternoons to evenings. The tenant needed air-conditioning after 5pm.
I had entrusted the oversight of the improvements to the building’s engineer. But when I asked how come he didn’t update me on the tenant’s slow progress and the need for additional air-conditioning, the engineer said it wasn’t his job. The tenant wasn’t doing any major renovation so citing building policy, the engineer said he didn’t have to oversee what was going on in the office unit. In other words, the responsibility of oversight was mine.
Even as I was frustrated with the engineer’s apathy and failure to communicate, I knew I made the mistake of not being on top of what was happening at the office unit.
And because I made that mistake, I had to grant another month of free rent to the tenant and had to rush assisting the tenant in regard to the air-conditioning. Any new air-conditioning would fall under my ownership so even though there was a re-negotiation on the lease contract with the tenant, I was responsible for the purchase and installation.
This is what happens when I don’t take time to walk around and see for myself what’s happening at what I’m managing. It is a simple core of the idea of Management by Walking Around, or MBWA, in which managers should habitually get out of their desk chairs and visit the operations they oversee.
By seeing with one’s own senses what’s happening on the ground and what people are doing, managers keep themselves in touch with the operations and personnel they manage. They don’t rely solely on status reports and staff meeting agenda.
Because of a raging coronavirus pandemic that forced restrictions on movement, managers have resorted to overseeing their operations remotely from 2020 to 2022. Most of what managers have done in the pandemic period had been via online meetings (e.g. Zoom), email, text messaging, phone calls, and project management software (e.g. Trello, Basecamp).
Many managers have not been to the sites they were assigned to for months, if not for more than a year. Many lost touch with their workplaces.
It didn’t seem to matter at the height of the pandemic. Many businesses were shut or scaled down due to government-mandated restrictions. But as the pandemic eased in mid-2022, enterprises have emerged and asked workers to slowly but surely return to their offices and factories.
Because managers mix their schedules with work at the office and work from home and because they want to be cautious in meeting people face-to-face, they didn’t see MBWA as a viable exercise, and it seems that many managers would no longer take MBWA as seriously as before.
Which is too bad. Numerous challenges have faced enterprises as they resumed their businesses in 2022. Customers were clamouring for deliveries and supply chains were gridlocked due to higher demand for merchandise coupled with daily disruptions arising from festering coronavirus surges in some nations and from conflicts between nations (e.g. Russia’s war with Ukraine).
Managers need to know what’s going on with what they’re managing. They need to see things first-hand to empathise what their people are experiencing. Veteran managers may claim that they can know what’s happening just by reading the reports as they may say they’ve been in the business long enough to know. But they won’t.
Wise managers who have been in the business for a long time know not walking around on the pretext of experience is more an excuse than a truth. Wise managers know that every next day is always different. Challenges never come back identical to those from the past. The numbers on a report may be similar to one some time ago but the circumstances would not really be the same. It’s one thing for a report to say something; it’s another to see it for oneself.
The problem with MBWA is there isn’t much statistics to back up its effectiveness. What we can only rely on is what managers have said about it. And from my experience, it is effective.
MBWA has become an idea shelved by the urgency of a plague in 2020. But as enterprises re-emerge and face many issues, it may be a good time to consider MBWA as a basic tactic in the exercise of management.