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Comments From a Manager

Make $10,000 by Just 'Wandering Around'

By Robert Milner

Recently a colleague and I were on our way to a business dinner at a local hotel restaurant. We were preparing for one of those infamous "discuss the future" dialogues. As we entered the establishment, the first inanimate object we saw was a beautifully displayed dessert cart (and quite appealing, I might add).
As we admired the scrumptious display, a woman approached us and said, "Certainly look good, doesn't it?" My colleague commented that we might perhaps begin dinner with dessert! To make a long story short, I noticed that her I.D. badge was that of the general manager of the hotel. While my instincts tell me not to divulge the name of the hotel, I must admit that I'm pretty sure the Marriott family had something to do with the establishment.
Being a future Ph.D., my academia background came out and I commented to her that she must have been exercising the old MBWA practice (management by wandering around). The General Manager chuckled and answered affirmatively, with emphasis on the fact that she believed 100 percent in MBWA. She then inquired as to what hotel we were staying. My colleague replied that I worked in the city and he had reservations in a hotel across the street. When asked why he wasn't booked at her hotel, he said that every time he calls for the university's special rate, he is told that there is nothing available; however, rooms were available at a higher rate.
Hard to imagine, but that's the case (in other words, Room A at $100 is not available but Room A at $200 is available). My immediate thought to this statement brought back memories of what I had learned from an old parking guru - - parking spaces and hotel rooms are a lot alike in that once the day is over you can never make up the revenue for the lack of using that space.
The general manager must have had mental telepathy because she asked my colleague how many times per year he required hotel lodging. He responded that he spends approximately 50 stays and is, in fact, a hotel gold member of 'her' hotel, prefers 'her' hotel but, since he is spending his client's money, he must be cost-conscious. Looking a bit perplexed, the general manager made it a point to tell my colleague to personally call her for any future lodging needs (and promised to drop a business card off at our table).
There are some points worth noting here:
* In addition to the fact that the general manager was practicing MBWA, she took it a step farther and asked questions.
* Had my colleague replied that he only required lodging in Baltimore a couple of nights per year, her reaction could have been somewhat different.
* Through her efforts, she added over $10,000 a year to the hotel revenue. (Room, food, etc. for 50 nights)
Executives at Hewlett-Packard developed Management by Wandering Around in the 1970s and a book written in the 1980s by Tom Peters and Robert Waterman popularized it. These two authors discovered that companies having top managers engaged in interaction with employees and customers were far more successful than those with isolated management. They believed that this success was due to leadership "wandering" outside the executive suite. Rather than micro-managing employees, Management by Wandering Around allowed informal communication and a decrease in bureaucratic lines of communication. At a personal level, this allowed managers to communicate the organizational values and management philosophy to the employees and customers.
W. Edwards Deming (my idol) is an American who introduced the idea of quality management to the Japanese. Simply put, Deming said, "If you wait for people to come to you, you'll only get small problems. You must go and find them. The big problems are where people don't realize they have them in the first place." I quote Deming because the parking industry faces similar problems. Managers can have difficulty becoming aware of problems in their areas of responsibility unless other employees and/or customers point out problems to them.
The key to Management by Wandering Around is communication -- specifically, communication between managers and employees. Lavenson (1976) defines this concept as an opportunity for a manager to be "walking around with (his or her) eyes open, asking questions like crazy, and trying to understand what the employees are doing." Further, a vice president at Hewlett-Packard describes Management by Wandering Around as "the business of staying in touch with the territory all the time." This must be accomplished by "being accessible and approachable." Obviously, my story's hotel general manager certainly was. In short, a Management by Wandering Around program gets the manager out of his or her office and onto the floor, making contact with employees.
While a college student, I spent a great deal of time working on a farm on Maryland's Eastern Shore (and, yes, college football players on scholarships really do work!). I remember one very old "Grandpa" continuously telling us youngsters, "I don't see any footprints in those fields out there." We knew exactly what he meant. I kind of think you know exactly what he meant, too. Hmmm, I wonder if the executives at Hewlett-Packard ever visited the farm.

Robert Milner is assistant director of Parking and Transportation at the University of Maryland, Baltimore. He can be reached at milner@parking.umaryland.edu

Article Abstract from April, 2002




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