Home Depot’s CEO and Gemba Walks


Bob Nardelli is Watching

Update Jan 4 2007 — I really had it wrong on Nardelli, see the latest news and post.

They don't call it a “gemba walk”, but in the new Fast Company magazine, there is a profile on CEO Bob Nardelli, who came from General Electric under Jack Welch. Ignore the ominious Big Brother sounding headline and check it out.

…He also spends at least one week a quarter as a “mystery shopper,” popping in unannounced to as many as 10 stores a day. “There was a perception that I was going out to catch people,” he says. “Over time they understand that I just want to see it like a customer. I can do my job better if I have firsthand exposure to the good, the bad, and the ugly.”

That seems like a perfect illustration of the concepts “Genchi Genbutsu” (go and see) and “Gemba” (actual place). Rather than relying on reports to run a plant or company, put on some walking shoes and “go and see” at the “actual place”, whether its a factory or a store. I'm sure Nardelli is a much more effective leader because he sees what it's like as a customer (assuming the employees don't know what he looks like and they haven't been tipped off that they're coming).

When I used to work at Dell Computer, Michael Dell was known for popping in, unannounced and without an entourage, at the factories in Austin. He would just walk around, look, and listen to people. I had a great plant manager at GM (trained at NUMMI with Toyota) who did the exact same thing. He spent at least 1/3 of his day walking around the plant, coaching, and listening to people. He knew what was going on, more so than the monthly accounting reports would tell him.

Go read the wonderful article “The Gemba Walk” by our good colleague Norman Bodek.

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Mark Graban
Mark Graban is an internationally-recognized consultant, author, and professional speaker, and podcaster with experience in healthcare, manufacturing, and startups. Mark's new book is The Mistakes That Make Us: Cultivating a Culture of Learning and Innovation. He is also the author of Measures of Success: React Less, Lead Better, Improve More, the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, and the anthology Practicing Lean. Mark is also a Senior Advisor to the technology company KaiNexus.


  1. Great example and story. Dedicating time every day for the “Gemba Walk” and other habits required for lean leadership is one of the most challenging yet vital “transformations”.

    Bob Nardelli may get it, but we’ve found most executives are stuck. Most learned the Sloan model of “managing by the numbers” (and often they’re measuring the wrong numbers) and once in place, the incessant, consuming process of collecting, analyzing, massaging, and explaining the numbers leaves little energy for…leading.

  2. Great point, Mark. Not only are they sometimes measuring the wrong things, but the data are often so massaged that they’re practically meaningless. Or, the data is so old, they’re managing in the rear view mirror.

  3. Mark, good post.

    I would add that the chapter you mention in Norman’s book is one of the best in that entire text. It is very practical and demonstrates both a respect for people and a passion for results.

    This issue of about 1/3 of the time being spent on the shop floor, simply being there, is consistent. There is something about that level of involvement, of seeing, of be-ing, that is significant. It is not an accident that this level is often cited.


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