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Get Up and Go: Management by Walking Around

“The MBWA philosophy helps you grow relationships with every member of your team. It also creates an opportunity for you to connect with them on a regular basis and gain valuable insight into the inner workings of every department of the dealership.”

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Bill Wittenmyer serves as VP sales, layered apps & competitive accounts at Elead. With over 25 years of experience in automotive retail, he relies on the industry’s most comprehensive technology platform and data-driven strategies to help dealerships enhance customer experiences and grow profits. Highly regarded as a dynamic and motivational speaker, as well as an industry leader with non-traditional views, Wittenmyer speaks at several prominent automotive forums each year and contributes to top news publications and television business shows that influence industry business leaders across the U.S. Before joining Elead, Wittenmyer worked in automotive retail in sales and operations management. He earned his degree from Ashland University and took post-graduate courses at Georgia Southern University.

When it comes to leadership, we all have our own style that best suits our team, and ourselves. But some of today’s most insightful leaders are taking it a step further by incorporating the “Management by Walking Around” (MBWA) approach.

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It’s not about stretching your legs or walking from Point A (the GM’s office) to Point B (an employee or department to address a concern or issue). The philosophy embraces the idea of making a concerted effort to bring the “open door philosophy” to your employees by wandering throughout the workplace. In an unstructured manner, the leader talks to employees face to face, gathers a sense of how they perceive things are going, checks the status of ongoing work and identifies any issues to create a touchpoint before an issue can get out of hand.

Paying attention to things that can be easily overlooked is vital to being an effective leader. Back in my dealership days with the old clunky fax machines that used primarily white paper, I added a visual-aid component that helped me spot issues on deals contacted through the call center. I changed the color of the paper to green or pink so these deals would catch my eye. By noticing them, I could find out what was going on with a deal and/or review the call center feedback.

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MBWA works in the same way. Sometimes the information you need will never make it to your office; you have to go to it.

Perception Drives Performance

For Lithia Motors General Manager Steve Hoggle, his version of the walkaround jumpstarts his day. “I come in, I check email and get the day started, and then I walk,” he said. “I walk through the showroom and the tower and then head to the service department and the garage area. Then, I walk through the lot to check in with our porter before I head back inside.”

A hike? Yes, but it’s valuable time spent connecting with the very people who have helped Camp Chevy significantly grow since Steve took over two years ago.

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And, being the overachiever he is, Steve spent significant time during his first few months at the dealership working alongside almost every team member, spanning different days of the week and times of day. “It really helped me get to know the team,” he said. “Not only did I see how well they performed their jobs, but it gave me insight into their personal and professional goals.”

Case in point: Steve spent some time with a porter on a Saturday morning. “I watched him go about his day, and just liked how methodical he was about his job,” he said. “Everything felt so precise — from how he cleaned his work area to how he folded his towels. We talked about the culture of the dealership and his career, and I learned he really wanted to be a service advisor.” This one-on-one exchange led Steve to create an action plan for the porter, which eventually resulted in his promotion to the service department.

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The MBWA philosophy helps you grow relationships with every member of your team. It also creates an opportunity for you to connect with them on a regular basis and gain valuable insight into the inner workings of every department of the dealership. You’re less likely to be surprised by operational or employee issues and you’ll become quicker at identifying growth opportunities among your team. Simply put, it negates the phrase “I had no idea.”

Transparency Improves Culture

Here are some suggestions for making MBWA some of the most productive time you’ll spend during your day:

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Make Management by Walking Around part of your routine. Dropping in on employees’ workspaces for an informal chat is most effective if you don’t do it on any fixed schedule. Even if it’s only for 10 minutes, try to spend roughly the same amount of time with everyone. It doesn’t have to be completed on the same day or the same week, but the more often you do it, the more beneficial it is.

Leave the entourage backstage. The walk around works best as one-on-one conversations with individual employees. The presence of others will probably just inhibit the discussion by making people more self-conscious or feel defensive, as if they are cornered.

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Ask for suggestions and recognize good ideas. Ask each employee for his or her thoughts about how to improve products, processes, sales or service, and to share their good ideas with the team. Also, make some personal inquiries — how is their life, are they happy with their role, what are their goals and aspirations, etc.

Follow up with answers. If you can’t answer an employee’s question off the top of your head, don’t forget to follow up later. It builds trust.

Don’t criticize. This is a time for fact finding and building rapport. Don’t attempt to address the need for behavior changes or address performance issues on the spot. Do take this time to coach in a positive manner with helpful tips that will drive success with their performance.

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Most importantly, the walkaround provides an opportunity for an open exchange on the direction of the dealership. Use the one-on-one connection to consistently communicate the company’s goals, and ask what assistance they need to achieve them.

While text, chat and email have replaced regular face-to-face contact and made our communications more efficient, convenience doesn’t have to make one-on-one interactions with your team obsolete.

Good selling.

Bill Wittenmyer

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