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.
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