Art of Accounting: Managing a firm by wandering around

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A technique I have become comfortable with is Managing by Wandering Around (MBWA). It seems I have been doing this ever since I started managing someone. It just evolved as an effective technique long before it started appearing in articles and books.

MBWA is simply walking around the office to see what people are doing and if there seems to be forward movement. Part of the genesis for me was that walking around offered me an opportunity to get up from where I was sitting, and part was to make sure there wasn’t any wasted time or efforts by those I was relying on to get “my work” done for me. That is what supervision is – having others do your work. When I wrote my Power Bites book I referred to this in a chapter titles “When Others Push Your Pencil, Make Sure it is Your Pencil.” If you haven’t already downloaded a free copy of Power Bites, here is a link.

MBWA has a few purposes besides seeing your staff and them seeing you. If someone is stuck, they have an opportunity to ask you a question. You show your availability and accessibility. I’ve found that the “boss” is always thought of differently by those under him (or her) than the boss thinks of himself (or herself); walking around removes a barrier of approachability.

Lately some things have changed—in particular, staff are now working remotely—and MBWA needs some changes…or modifications. This is harder, for one reason, since it eliminates the need to stand up and walk. Another reason is that you can become a pest with constant phone calls or emails “checking up” on their progress. Calls and emails can be more intrusive or annoying than sticking your head in a door for a minute or so. What I do now is create a benchmark that requires checking with me when that is reached and an approximate time when it should be reached. Alternatively, I set a time when I want the person to check in with me to discuss their progress, say around 11:30 and 4:00. Actually, I also do this when I am working with someone in the office, unless they are sitting at the same table as me.

I am obsessive with supervising since I want what I want, the way I want it, when I want it and can only get it if I have the right people doing what they are supposed to be doing. I further understand that not everyone will always know what to do, or will always understand what needs to be done, or who won’t sometimes encounter a problem creating an unintended stopping point. An effective manager is one who manages so there is constant forward motion. Simple premise: If you are a manager, manage! MBWA is one of my ways—and it works.

Edward Mendlowitz, CPA, is partner at WithumSmith+Brown, PC, CPAs. He is on the Accounting Today Top 100 Influential People List. He is the author of 24 books, including “How to Review Tax Returns,” co-written with Andrew D. Mendlowitz, and “Managing Your Tax Season, Third Edition.” Ed also writes a twice-a-week blog addressing issues that clients have at www.partners-network.com. Ed is an adjunct professor in the MBA program at Fairleigh Dickinson University teaching end user applications of financial statements. Art of Accounting is a continuing series where Ed shares autobiographical experiences with tips that he hopes can be adopted by his colleagues. Ed welcomes practice management questions and can be reached at (732) 964-9329 or emendlowitz@withum.com.

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Practice structure Practice management Ed Mendlowitz