As the leader of a 5 person company, you wear many hats. You are the management, the sales, the technical leader, and sometimes the assistant too. You know how your employees doing their work badly and if you could clone yourself, then your income could have overcome Steve Jobs’. Of course, everybody overworked but it’s just normal. They aren’t as effective as you, so they have to. Obviously, you pay for done, not for hours except they have empty hours. The delivery is sometimes late, your partners are sharpening their scythes but it’s the same everywhere. Maybe next month you fire somebody just for efficiency’s sake.
Maybe your coworkers aren’t the best on the market, maybe you can’t pay enough for that knowledge. But if you saw more new faces in the office than in the neighborhood’s mall, then the problem is in the process.
In our business years, we learn that the actual product is made at the lowest level. When we get to the top, then we are eager to craft the processes that we won’t try out ever. The Gemba walk helps you to optimize those processes depending on the actual situation and not on a fading memory.
Gemba means the place where the work is being done. It’s the child of Lean and Taiichi Ohno. The main goal to help the management know and discover the field that they manage and build trust between the managers and employees.
If you drop the Gemba bomb then the employee’s PTSD will surely pop up. Fast alt+tabs, blazing IDE, and excel sheets. Dropping sweats after the first awkward questions. Angry and sad employees who missed their coffee break for you and the fading memory of the 11 o’clock dinner hunt. Lost smoking breaks and news checking. You can think that you make everything more efficient with this. But obviously, you can’t sit next to your people and nobody’s work is so interesting every second that they don’t need a break from it for 10 minutes.
How to prevent anxiety?
Let’s begin with you. You should remind yourself that the goal is collecting knowledge during the Gemba walk, not clashing your whip. If you make a performance evaluation from it, then this walk will be a one-timer. As you give out info before a change, as you should inform your employees and make a plan.
The needed information:
- Why is this walk necessary? What is the goal?
- What will be the process? When and what will happen?
- How will it affect BAU? Who will be affected by it?
- How will you compensate for their time (if it’s needed)?
- What will be the consequences? What will happen after the process?
What should you know before the walk?
- Why do you go for this walk?
- From what aspect would you want to examine the BAU?
- How does your company create value for your customers? How does the process help the customer?
- What do you know about the original process? Are there any unnecessary steps or pain points?
Go and see it!
The end of year reports is very enlightening. It always shows that your employees were nice or naughty that year. The only problem is that you never will know why they were that. You can give everybody a piece of coal but in the end, they just won’t believe in you. If you want to know the exact reasons, then you should walk to the scene.
First, make a checklist that helps you structure the information:
- What will happen during the walk? Why?
- Do your employees know what they should do and why in BAU situations?
- What kind of surprise can occur during their work? What do you expect from them?
- Will it be better if you modify this? Can you simplify it?
During your walk you should not suggest any change, just listen and make notes. Your tasks are to teach your employees how to fish and give them the best tools you are capable of.
Follow the capsule wardrobe rule in your processes. Be minimal to save time.
Question company’s know-how
During movies, you see every scene from different angles. Sometimes you hear thoughts, sometimes you see hidden scenes. In the real world, we don’t see the scenes where the magic happens, but open-ended questions can destroy some doors for us. Everybody likes to speak about their work, your job is to listen.
What you should ask:
- What is the common law when this happens?
- How do you know if you have an outstanding performance? Who gives you feedback?
- How do you know that customers are satisfied?
- How do you know if something went wrong?
- Do you want to change something?
- Is there something you can do for making the process better?
The key is active listening. In elementary school, we learn how to mime listening. After that, it’s really hard to learn the way you can fully focus on somebody. Be open, be aware, listen to every word, and every move. Don’t build card castles after the first sentence. In those 20 minutes, you are part of someone else’s story so don’t be an old lady and let the story unfold before you begin to argue with the writer.
How to stay present?
- Make notes (Where? What? Why? How? Who? When?)
- Summarize what you heard
- Keep eye contact when you can
- Ask open-ended questions, though it can be harder than you think
- Let others speak
- Don’t judge
Invest time, energy, and money into your employees. They make the work that you can’t do or don’t want to. You need them and they need you.
After you collected all the knowledge, think through the things you’ve heard. Make a council with your most appreciated employees in the fields and make a plan.
Talk about your experience, make a strategy, and let them create a new process that fits the business goals and the common law. Don’t forget that your work is setting the goals and put the problems on the table, not to find out the solution.
If you are pretty sure that everything is awesome and you can’t change a thing, but the fluctuation is in the sky, the customers are furious and the income is less than the expenses, then maybe you should check in by HR. Who knows…
And a nice book here.