Senior leaders at the gemba

Friday, March 10, 2017

AME Chairman of the Board, CEO-Western Sensei

I've had the opportunity to coach some very senior level executives and CEO's both within my former company of 37 years (I just recently retired) and in other organizations. A considerable amount of that coaching took place during gemba walks and gemba reflections. Some leaders are uncomfortable with the concept of going to the gemba at first because they feel out of their element, out of their comfort zone.

Perhaps you are a leader, not necessarily a senior leader, and you have experienced these same uncomfortable feelings, and maybe it keeps you from going to the gemba even though you know you should be spending more time there.  If this describes you, or if you just want to be more effective at gemba walks, please consider the following approach, which might help you to feel much more comfortable and even leave you looking forward to your next gemba experience.

Think about your time at the gemba as an opportunity to learn more about the front line operations of your business, to explore what types of experiments are underway, to hear about the problems people are working on, to build relationships, to see what kind of improvements people are making in the business and to thank people for their hard work and dedication to the success of the organization. There's no pressure on you to know all the answers, or to follow a prescriptive process.  All you need to do is listen, not just listen but really listen, be a learner, not a knower, show genuine interest in people and their work, and start to build relationships.

You need to be thoughtful, especially if your people aren't accustomed to seeing you in their work area, about how you ask questions and what comments you make. How will your presence, your comments and your questions be received? Will they come across as you having a genuine interest in learning more about their work or will it sound like you are giving them a test, or asking "gotcha" questions, or trying to show them how smart you are? Do you come across as genuinely caring about them, or do you come across as being insincere and just going through the paces so you can check the box?

After you have built relationships with the front line, or wherever gemba is for you, and earned the trust of the people there, you can work towards more standardized and systematic approaches for your gemba walks.

So, go to the gemba. Learn more about your operations, build relationships, earn your people’s trust and find ways to remove their frustrations and make their work more fulfilling, be present, be respectful and really listen!