Do you want to know more about what’s going on in your workplace?
As a leader, do you sometimes feel like people hide things from you for one reason or another?
If you’re working from home, do you often feel isolated and disconnected, wondering what the rest of your colleagues are doing?
Take a walk.
I’ve mentioned that I’ve studied Toyota pretty extensively. 19 years ago, Toyota leadership released “The Toyota Way” in an effort to teach their expectations for people around the world. It is a remarkably simple document that explains their 5 philosophical principles.
One key thing I’ve learned is that Toyota, as a global company, tries very hard to use English in documents like this, so when the Japanese words remain, that usually means there isn’t an adequate translation for the term in English.
In this list we have Kaizen and Genchi Genbutsu. One of these days, I’ll do one of these episodes on what I’ve learned about Kaizen. Today, I want to focus on Genchi Genbutsu.
I’m not a Japanese linguist or anything, but here’s what I’ve learned. Genchi translates directly to local. Genbutsu translates directly to in-kind. Those are hints, but not very helpful. By the way, if you look up gemba (with an m) you get nothing, because it should be genba (with an n) which means actual spot or the scene of the crime.
The Toyota Way says Genchi Genbutsu means “go to the source to find the facts to make correct decisions, build consensus, and achieve goals at our best speed.” Friends who worked there usually say it means “Get your boots on and go and see reality.”
So gemba walks are born from this need to go and see what is really going on and go see it for yourself to really understand the people, the process, the purpose, and the problems in real time.
Because the Toyota Way emphasizes building consensus, I like to teach leaders that an underlying principle for every gemba walk is to improve relationships with your people. Yes, go and see to ensure the system is working properly. Yes, go and see to set new challenges for the teams to achieve. Yes, go and understand the problems people experience and the processes that lead to them. But you are dealing with people and this is an opportunity to either build trust and build consensus, or to break it through bad behavior.
As we progress, I’ll focus on each type of gemba walk in more detail. But for now, you can do a system level gemba walk to see overall how the workplace functions – and you can do this virtually by having video calls with your key team members.
You can also do a process-focused gemba walk to understand a specific work process and the team of people who work with that process.
And you can do a problem-solving gemba walk to go and see the point of occurrence of a problem and understand how and why it happened.
But again, underlying all of these are critical relationship building behaviors. The key things that drive an effective gemba walk will always be Go and See, Ask Questions, and Show Respect.
Have a great day and I’ll see you tomorrow.