Receivable/Accounts - Information for Credit and Collection Issues

Monday, February 13, 2012

Mobile Management

In a conversation with Jennifer Bulman (@jenniferbulman) on Twitter, the subject of management styles came up, and she referred to “Walking Management”. This is not a new concept, going back to Bill Hewlett (pictured above) and is touted on the internet as “MBWA”, or “Management By Walking Around”. But it doesn’t go far enough, and has developed into far too stiff and formalized an idea in my opinion.

One online definition of “MBWA” is “An unstructured approach to hands-on, direct participation by the managers in the work-related affairs of their subordinates, in contrast to rigid and distant management. In MBWA practice, managers spend a significant amount of their time making informal visits to work area and listening to the employees. The purpose of this exercise is to collect qualitative information, listen to suggestions and complaints, and keep a finger on the pulse of the organization.”

I believe that management leaving their office, having face to face meetings rather than hiding behind emails, or a buffer layer of supervisors, going to the people that make the company run and learning the personalities of their staff members, and understanding what motivates them and building rapport is only the first step in the equation.

There are armchair generals, who dictate without doing, and there are front-line leaders, who lead by example, and act as “walking management”, but there are those who go an extra step, and take power and responsibility as management to the staff, and pass the torch to them.

Every reasonable, thinking staff member has ideas and frustrations every day about their role in the company. They have ideas of how to do something better, obstructions to basic tasks that complicate their roles, and thoughts on office morale, environment, and culture. But they won’t bring the ideas to management if the management is isolated, unapproachable, or unresponsive. If you go to the staff and draw them into a conversation, they’ll share their ideas with you. And that’s the time to get everyone around them to stop what they are doing, and have an “impromptu management meeting”. Everyone in that meeting is now a manager and has input on the company.

I touched on this concept briefly in “The Power of Management”, but this is worth a full, thought out article. If you give staff the ability to contribute to their workplace, in a meaningful way involving a decision making process, you build powerful loyalty, a sense of ownership across your company, and you build potential managers and staff you can empower through delegation.

Of course, to give this sort of meeting any sort of credibility, you need to take the ideas that come of these meetings, and implement at least some of them! Better yet, let the staff implement them if they can. And show praise and positively reinforce those who come forward with ideas and thoughts outside of the box, outside of daily processes. Let your fellow staff members ask “why” to existing roles, targets, or duties. That builds a team that includes you as a manger and they as a staff member, but makes you peers for that meeting in the decision process.

By having these impromptu discussions, you give insight to how the company works. You gain insight into how the staff members think, and how they perceive the company. You can share challenges and obstacles that management are aware of that staff may not – budget limits, reporting requirements to the government, laws or rules that bind the company. And everyone walks away owning a bit of the company, with more knowledge. And that is far more powerful than sending out a blanket email from on high.

In credit and collections, be they internal Accounts Receivable departments, or at a collection agency, this can deal with discussing demand letter wording, daily target challenges, idiosyncrasies of particular clients or customers, company structure, and so on.

Let me give you an example. On a recent Thursday, we had an issue at the collection agency about debtors requesting validation letters. Our existing process was for collectors to flag the file, and the IT department to pull the flagged file if it had been worked in the last seven days and send a weekly request to the client, who would then produce a batch of PDF validation letters, and send them back to the agency. However, the process got tangled because the collectors were noting the letters going out, creating a repetitive loop that caused the IT department (who saw the flagged file worked in the last seven days) to re-request the validation letters. All of this was a miscommunication issue easily solved by snagging the collection department leader, pulling over the IT staff, and grabbing the two collectors responsible for sending out the letters. In five minutes we had a simple solution, created an automated flag for ‘validation letter sent’, eliminated some unnecessary work noting files, reduced the validation letters requested from the client, and made everyone’s work lives better.

In five minutes.

This couldn’t have happened as quickly (if at all), or with as much positive karma through an email issued by management, a formal board room meeting, or some other formal structure. What it took was grabbing all the involved parties, encouraging them to explain their piece of the process, and brainstorming some new ideas. We changed the collection database that day by adding a new status, and added two lines of code to a PHP/SQL report. Simple solution, created by the collectors, undertaken by IT. All the management needed to do was to check in the next day and make sure it was done.

If any managers or staff members have a question or comment, I am always happy to share my experience and opinions, and encourage anyone to contact myself and have a conversation.

Blair Wettlaufer
Kingston Data and Credit
Cambridge, ON


  1. Actually, I mentioned "Management By Walking Around" and my fond memories of George Smith (now of Purple Angel), a tech savvy senior manager at Bell Northern in the 1980s, who was a great practitioner of this art. He remembered names and relationships and was always interested in what you were doing. It gave him a feeling for the pulse of the company and all its workers, not just his direct reports.
    Our immediate managers were known as "working" managers and many exercised a tech lead function. It was a great environment to learn and grow in.

  2. My apologies for misremembering, Jennifer! I absolutely agree with "working managers", and keeping your finger on the pulse of the company, through the workers.