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MBWA: What It Is, Why It Works and the One Thing to Keep in Mind

In today’s increasingly digital world where nearly four million Americans work remotely, it’s understandable that managers may overlook the importance of being present and engaging onsite to ensure employee satisfaction and improvement. Sophisticated technologies and progressive workplace cultures have led to a new way of thinking, working and collaborating.

There’s of course nothing wrong with this; however, there are a few industries where remote work isn’t feasible and onsite engagement is a must. Hospitality is without question one such industry. It’s widely understood that hospitality is one of if not the most customer-facing vertical today. Hospitality leaders must ensure guest service staff (i.e. front desk, concierges, housekeeping, room service) are not only present physically, mentally and emotionally, but optimally performing on a day-to-day basis to ensure an ultimate guest experience. This is where MBWA (manage by walking/wandering around) can become extremely useful for managers.

MBWA is a strategy in which a leader—not necessarily always someone in management—walks the talk (literally) by wandering the grounds in order to learn firsthand what is happening each day. Doing so enables these leaders to effectively engage with guests and be more connected with the facility, property or hotel on a day-to-day basis.

MBWA allows management to show associates that they care not just about high-level initiatives and profits, but the daily struggles they may be facing. This strategy shows that management is able and willing to get in the weeds to support staff from the ground up. It is the ultimate grassroots approach, driven by the understanding that your front line is your bottom line and you need to lead by example.

One reason why I particularly love MBWA is because it demonstrates best practices right on the front lines of operations—not from behind a desk or closed door. MBWA goes beyond simply asking your team, “How am I doing as a leader?” Rather, it challenges managers to learn how they can actually improve and support their team by working side-by-side with them. Best of all, this approach will help you gain your employees’ respect and loyalty. Just consider that employee disengagement affects more than 80 percent of employees globally, according to recent findings from Virgin Pulse.

Hands down, MBWA is one of the most proactive leadership strategies that hospitality leaders can implement today. Unfortunately, however, not enough leaders are focused on employee engagement. According to the above-mentioned findings, the majority of hospitality decision makers polled in 2015 said they are focused on advancing technology and lowering administrative burdens, verses changing organizational culture or increasing employee engagement. This is a serious problem that needs to be addressed in the industry.

It’s clear that MBWA has its perks, but how can leaders begin taking action? MBWA may seem self-explanatory, but let me assure you it isn’t as simple as it seems. I’ve learned plenty of lessons about MBWA in my 30-plus years of hospitality management, but perhaps the greatest takeaway is this: adapt to your environment and treat everyone with respect by valuing what they bring to the table. Taking care of people first is a critical component of your recipe for success. The more connected you are, the better you can understand what motivates members of your team, analyze what’s really going on, and find solutions that meet the needs of your people and your company.

At the end of the day, you need to decide what type of leader you want to be. If you really want to know what is happening out in the trenches, then you need to be present and approachable to everyone.

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