We all know how easy it can be for employees to feel disconnected from upper management. This divide can lead to some serious “invisible” problems for everyone in the company. Employees may not feel seen, heard, or cared about, and management may falsely think they have a good grasp on the company’s day-to-day activities. So how do you prevent this wedge from being formed and help your company continuously improve? Go for a Gemba walk!
Gemba, or “the real place,” is a core Lean manufacturing philosophy that aims to promote collaboration and improvement. For manufacturing, the gemba is the factory floor, for an artist, it’s the studio, and for a farmer, it’s the fields. In short, the gemba is the place where value is being added to the product. It’s important for those managing these industries to leave their office and observe the everyday processes of the organization.
In order to have a successful gemba walk, you and your team will need to prepare. Picking a theme for your walk, like safety or cost efficiency, is a great place to start. Then apply that theme to a specific value stream within your company. That way, you and your team know what you’re looking for, and can stay focused. Next, brief the people you’re observing about the upcoming gemba walk. This isn’t a surprise drop-in by management, and your team isn’t there to “catch” anybody. Gemba walks are a common practice meant to benefit everyone and improve business processes. You’re all on the same team.
You and your team’s behavior is absolutely crucial to the success (or failure) of your gemba walk. No matter how tempting it may be, you mustn’t offer advice or correction. Save all your thoughts and comments until after. You are there to observe, learn, and understand. Coming in and trying to take control will do more harm than good, and will only serve to alienate your employees. Instead, ask lots of questions! Ask people what they’re working on. Is there a standard process for what they’re doing? Do they run into any problems with it? If so, what do they think that is and do they have any ideas for solutions? How do they communicate to others when there’s a problem? Take detailed notes of your findings and thank everyone for helping you deepen your understanding.
Take some time to think about all you’ve seen and heard. Again, this is not the time to offer your own solutions. It’s time to collaborate with your team and the appropriate representatives from affected departments. Share your ideas on how processes could be improved. Together, their first-hand experience and your outside perspective are a powerful combination for finding creative and practical solutions. Once you all have agreed on some solutions and started putting them in place, check back in to see how effective they are. Keep the lines of communication open and the focus on process improvement.
There really is no better way to connect with your company than by visiting your departments and asking questions with the intent to understand. Not only will this improve processes, but it builds trust and respect between employees and management. When employees feel valued and cared for, everyone wins. So what are you waiting for? Get to the gemba!
By Aubrey Dion
Aubrey Dion is proud to be back working for the family business she grew up in. Over the years, she has performed a wide variety of jobs in both the office and factory, becoming a true "jack of all trades." Aubrey credits her quick learning ability to her strong theatre background, where memorization and attention to detail are vital. Working in the marketing department allows her to stay creative and work on exciting new projects for the company.