Gemba: the Japanese term meaning “the real place”
Gemba is the place in any organization where humans create value. In the Lean community and in our Lean implementation efforts, it should be commonly said “Let’s go to the Gemba.” “Let’s go and see, let’s ask why, and above all let’s be sure to show respect as we do”.
But as is all too often the case, we slip back into our traditional management style of command and control. We expect results without really trying to understand the process. We have a vertical rather than a horizontal focus. We are quick to give answers without asking questions with a desire to truly understand. We make decisions remotely using data without making them based on the Gemba with facts. We develop elaborate plans instead of encouraging those closest to the work to conduct experiments. We focus on formal education rather than learning to walk the Gemba.
As we go to the Gemba looking in on a work cell, department, assembly line, or entire value stream, we should look to see if there a clear visual communication system with an emphasis on Visual. This system should accurately express the current status of that work area. Are we on schedule? Are there other things that we are measuring? Visual management is critical, for both those closest to the work and managers alike. It must be simple. Something everyone understands and agrees on. I like to ask, “If a visitor came in would they immediately know what is going on by our visual operating system?”
The Gemba and Respect for People
Jim Womack, author of Gemba Walks and many other great Lean books, tells the story of how it is very common for organizations to have a “respect for people” statement as a core element of their corporate philosophy. But in many of these organizations, when managers are asked a simple question “how do you show respect to people”, a litany of typical replies come forth. “Employees are treated fairly, given clear goals and held accountable for their results. We hire smart people and give them latitude to do their work. We hold them to objective measures of performance. That’s how we show respect for people. ”
But when asking the best Toyota trained managers how they show respect for people, there is a vast difference. Mangers begin by asking what the problem is with the way work is currently being done. Next she enters into a dialogue about what the real problem is. It’s rarely the problem showing on the surface. Next, another dialog ensues about the root cause that requires the employee to gather evidence on the Gemba for joint evaluation. The manager then asks the employee what should be done about the problem, what countermeasures should be implemented and how we will know if they achieve the desired result.
For many, this doesn’t sound like much respect. The manager isn’t a morale booster always saying “Great Job!” even when the problem hasn’t been fully solved. Instead the manager challenges the employee every step of the way, asking for more thought, more facts, and more discussion when the employee just wants to implement his or her favored solution. That is indeed a higher form of showing respect for people.
Brian Collyer is an inside business development expert with 20 years experience in various management and administrative roles such as plant and materials management, production and project management. Brian has had the privilege of assisting many companies achieve important project objectives resulting in higher levels of performance and greater profitability.
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