How Management by Walking Around is Done in Dubai

This past Sunday at 7:30AM, the beginning of the workweek in the UAE, a gentleman walked into a government office in Dubai and saw very few, if any, employees at their desk. He went to find the supervisor and was told they were not at work yet. For many people who go to offices anywhere in the world early in the morning they would not be surprised that many of the employees or managers are not at their desk. However, in this case, the person who walked in was the Ruler of Dubai and the Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates, His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum.

HH Al Maktoum surprise visit

Sheikh Mohammed decided to do an unannounced visit to a few Dubai government offices. This is not the first time he has done this, and I suspect will not be the last. He seems to be a practitioner of a style popularized in the 1970’s & 80’s called Management by Walking Around (MBWA),

I first learned of MBWA when I worked in Public Television in the United States in the early 1980’s. Our station aired a program hosted by Tom Peters which he discussed various management techniques including MBWA which was a style was used by Hewlett-Packard executives in the 70’s. MBWA is defined in the business dictionary as a style of business management, which involves managers wandering around, in an unstructured manner, through the workplace(s), at random, to check with employees, or equipment, about the status of ongoing work.

I purchased the book, “In Search of Excellence” by Tom Peters and Robert Waterman after watching the show and to this day practice this particular management style though many executives now considered it out of style moved on to new modern management styles that are the current rage, though I can’t tell you what they are.

While Sheikh Mohammed visited the offices he had his aide video record him walking around in the supervisor’s office, looked at the pictures on the wall, (in which he is one of the portraits), then went to their desk looked at their computer or book and that ended the 14 second video. He then aired the tape on Twitter on @DXBMediaOffice which has 1.55 million followers, and who knows how many outlets have picked up the story in the past 36 hours.

According to a Bloomberg article For Dubai Government Workers, the Wrong Day to Turn Up Late by Zainab Fattah: “The video was posted on Twitter by Dubai’s media office, which noted that managers were no better than rank-and-file employees. Videos of the ruler also visiting the Dubai municipality and the city’s international airport were also shared on Twitter.” NOTE: You can see the video in this article.

“He certainly wanted to send a message,” said Mona Al-Marri, director-general of the government of Dubai’s media office. “Timeliness starts at the top and we won’t go after employees when their bosses aren’t there.’’ “Khalifa Saeed, who heads government protocol, shared several pictures and videos on Instagram showing Sheikh Mohammed touring the airport and casually greeting people waiting to get their passports stamped.”

I do not know if Sheikh Mohammad has ever met Tom Peters or read his books (which I would recommend) but if not I would say to Dr. Peters that His Highness practices MBWA not only that day but everyday. I can show you hundreds if not thousands of images of him walking around the city, attending exhibitions, and even in the desert where a group of Chinese tourist ran into him and he posed for a group picture.

Chines visitors meet HH

So what can be learned and applied to my world of higher education?
First: It’s important to be at your job on time. You never know who may walk in to get service or say hello.
Second: Employees do watch managers and if they are on time and engaged with the clients in a friendly and professional way they will follow their lead.
Third: In order to gain respect of your employees you must earn it. To be a manager does not mean you give orders and then do nothing. It can be done be walking around, asking questions, listening, providing encouragement and guidance. It seems Sheikh Mohammed does this and we all can learn from the style he employs.

The Ruler of Dubai is actively engaged with his stakeholders. He is in constant motion and is an advocate of a positive customer experience.

Tom if you happen to be reading this blog, and would like to meet him he is not hard to find. Just remember to have your walking shoes on. I think you two would find you have similar views on management and innovation.

Very Soon Many PBS Stations Will No Longer Exist

I traditionally write Hoke’s Notes about the UAE, higher education and over the past years bogus universities. However, you may not know I worked in Public Broadcasting from 1983-94 starting as a VP of Development for WKPC-TV Louisville, KY and eventually served as the head of three PBS stations, in Stamford – Bridgeport, CT, Odessa, TX and Anchorage, AK. In fact one day I may write a story of my previous life and working throughout the USA.

I have a strong belief in PBS and NPR and I have witnessed what excellence in television and radio can provide to our cities and rural communities.

Over the past few days I have been reading with great interest about an upcoming Auction by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). The FCC is doing a reverse auction in which they will buy any of over 2,000 TV broadcast licenses and then re-sell them to wireless providers who are in need of spectrum.

In the February 25th article of the Wall Street Journal titled, Some Viewers Risk Losing PBS Broadcasts After FCC Auction the author Thomas Gryta writes:

The stations that sell their airwaves could go off the air, potentially redrawing the map for public television and its audience. The Public Broadcasting Service, which produces programming for its independent member stations, has little say in the matter, and won’t get any of the sales proceeds.

As a former station General Manager, I understand the temptation of putting a broadcast license up for bid.  It has always been difficult to raise the proper amount of funds needed for PBS-NPR. State government has drastically reduced, if not eliminated, support over the years and financial support from the Federal Government via the CPB grant has been attacked by the House and Senate members.

The days of Senator Ted Stevens of Alaska and Senator Dan Inouye of Hawaii as Public Broadcasting’s defenders are long gone. There are few high profile Public Broadcasting defenders (Republican and Democrat) among the members of Congress. Who knows what the make-up will be after November 2016.

I understand the pressure many license holders are going through. In 1992, in order to keep state support and not downgrade our presence in Anchorage Alaska and the smaller communities who received our signal, I was presented with the challenge and a difficult task of developing a way to consolidate two individual public broadcasting organizations; one for TV and one for radio. We did successfully merge the radio and TV station in Anchorage but while successful, it took the good will of the respective boards, staffs and membership to come to an agreement and in the end it kept a major local broadcasting presence to our community in tack with the state government and the Governor’s office satisfied, at least for awhile.

With the opportunity for holders of PBS licenses to turn them in and generate a potential multi million dollar payday must be tempting to state, school, and university license holders. It also must be even more of a temptation to smaller stations that overlap with larger stations to enter the auction.

Stations that have publicly declared they will offer the FCC the license include

  • WTCI Chattanooga, TN
  • Tampa, FL owned by the University of South Florida,
  • New Jersey Public Broadcasting,
  • WEDW my old station in Connecticut
  • WYCC, Chicago’s second station
  • WIPB Muncie Indiana owned by Ball State University
  • KVCR, San Bernardino California
  • WNMU Northern Michigan University, Marquette, Michigan
  • WCMU, Central Michigan University
  • Lima, Ohio PBS station
  • WHUT, Washington DC, the only black owned PTV station in the country

I am very concerned that a number of additional stations have said yes and many are university licensed, who are under pressure to generate new income. Also no doubt some of the more rural stations will go into the auction.

Less than 15% of the country has access to only over the air broadcast these areas are mostly lower income and rural. Many minority and rural viewers of public television whose children watch its high quality educational programming such as Sesame Street likely will no longer be served.

Though I wish in an ideal world that all the stations would reject the offer, I know that will not be the case and perhaps some who overlap and do not have a specific programming mission should go to the auction. It may be a bit late saying this but it is critical to listen to the stakeholders who contribute and more importantly the viewers have a significant voice in this not just a few board members.

The list of who has said yes will become public by the end of March soon. Look to see if your station is selling its license and if yes, how you can you get a PBS signal.

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