28 July 2022

How Mindset Impacts the Effectiveness of Your Gemba Walks, Leadership and Performance

In my first article about Gemba Walks, I described the mistakes that leaders often make whilst adopting Lean management routines to lead the organisation and not knowing what to look for and more importantly what not to look for. Having knowledge and understanding of Gemba Walks is hugely important, but there is another crucial factor […]

In my first article about Gemba Walks, I described the mistakes that leaders often make whilst adopting Lean management routines to lead the organisation and not knowing what to look for and more importantly what not to look for. Having knowledge and understanding of Gemba Walks is hugely important, but there is another crucial factor that can make a vast difference to what you see and don’t see, your behavior as a management team and the decisions that you make.

Approaching Gemba Walks with the right mindset can be the difference between how effective the management team is in eliminating firefighting, making good decisions, developing people and improving performance.

For example, recently I joined members of a senior team during one of their weekly Gemba Walks. The organization is regarded has mature example of continuous improvement and Lean, but with a closer look there is evidence that it is being impacted by gaps in mindset, leadership behavior and management routines.

At the start of this management routine, the team stood around the visual management board waiting for the operations director to start. About 5 minutes past the hour he turns up with a face like thunder and greets the team with a mumbled “good morning” and a nod of the head.

The quality manager then picks up the management standard work form for the meeting and we’re off, initially the quality manager leads the walk, but within minutes the team starts splintering into sub teams. A few members of each team seem to be pointing issues out while the other members look on in silence, I stay close to the senior members as they follow the operations director, he is now leading them through the facility moving from process to process, zig zagging around pointing out housekeeping issues, storage issues, looking to see if people are busy, discussing individual employees, providing instructions and discussing possible changes.

About 15 minutes from the end of the meeting, the operations director informs the production manager and the logistics manager that he’ll see them at 1pm for the planning meeting and leaves the group. Withinminutes the rest of the team disperses and the quality manager adds his final notes to the paperwork and heads back to the visual board to posts it back in its placeholder.

I discuss, the meeting with the improvement manager who tells me that this was a good meeting and thatoften several members of team get a good dressing down if standards have fallen or problems found. Also, themanaging director and other members of the exec team do not like to join the meeting as they want to staystrategic and not cause too much concern among the staff by walking around as a group. Looking at the notesfrom the Gemba Walk the team had picked up housekeeping issues, repainting floors and additional signage. Despite the fact, that we walked past numerous processes that were their missing targets and staff that were waiting for work while others had work waiting.

If the purpose of the Gemba Walk were to just get through an hour of the work day and show people where they are wrong and what they need to do and think about - then we'll done you have delivered on the purpose, also you will be very much mistaken and wasted an hour of our lives.

The problem is that leaders often approach Lean and visiting the workplace on Gemba Walks with a fixed or closed mindset, one that focuses on blame, solutions and showing who’s boss instead of an open and discovery mindset and one that focusses on learning, cutting through the noise and developing a greater understanding of the real issues that are impacting people, process and business performance.

Too often see leaders that puff out their chests as they walk around with their management team, almost as if they are taking a bunch of naughty kids out for a walk. The leader makes a point of showing everyone who’s boss and pointing out issues that they are not happy about or need to be addressed. In other words, they are hard on the people and soft on the process.

Instead of going to see, observe, and discover problems and issues that stop our employees being successful, they go to Gemba to be seen, show others what they know and want done.

We often see leaders who are:

  • Going to be seen instead of going to see the real issues impacting people and performance.
  • Seeking to catch people out instead of seeking to understand and learn.
  • Telling and instructing instead of asking questions and developing a greater understanding.
  • Show what they know, want others to know and pointing issues out instead of showing respect.
  • Jumping to solutions and assigning blame instead of grasping a real understanding of the situation and developing people.

Indeed, Fujio Cho, former chairman of Toyota, summed this up when he said that there were 3 key behaviors to Lean leadership and to “go see, ask why and show respect”.  

“Go See, Ask Why and Show Respect” Fujio Cho

But why is it that these leaders, like so many others find it so difficult to adopt these 3 key behaviors? And what can we do to change our mindset and start approaching leadership and Gemba Walks in the right way?

Firstly, I believe it is helpful to understand the two sides of the communication process, i.e.: 1. Sending a message, or telling and 2. Receiving the message, or listening.  Often there is too much emphasize on the left-hand side and sending the message.  Interestingly, Dr. John R Schermerhorn, 2011 found that there are typically six sources of noise within interpersonal exchanges that impact its effectiveness, they are physical distractions, semantic problems, mixed messages, cultural differences, absence of feedback and the effect of status.

From a leadership and Gemba Walk perspective, key factors that create noise and block the right mindset and behaviors from being adopted, are:

  • Distractions
    •  Not having a clear understanding of the purpose
    •  Mixing different types of Gemba Walk’s or going off-track by not sticking to the plan ie, going off track, splintering into sub teams
    •  The maturity of the environment is low and does not support the team in seeing flow, understanding when it breaks down and learn about performance problems.
    • Not able to see and think at the right level and getting drawn into the weeds
  • Status
    •  Going with a solution in mind and showing that you are the Boss, a senior leader or super clever and know what needs to be done.    
  • Absence of Feedback
    • Task orientated and being mistaken and seeing Gemba Walks as a management task that needs completing instead of a management routine consisting of PDCA (with feedback loops before, during and after the walk).
  • What we think about problems, standards and managements role in improving the business,
    • Do we assume that we know what the problem is, where it is and what is causing it before confirming it.
    • Behaving inappropriately and believing that they are there to convey problems, punishment and actions
    • Do we believe problems are bad and standards are there just as a guideline
    • As Leaders, Managers and supervisors do we believe that improvement is the role for others.

To move forward, it is a relatively simple set of rules and state of mind that we need to adopt for a short period-of-time (like being polite at a dinner party, when you really want to watch the game). We need to adopt an open and discovery mindset where we look to learn instead of a closed and fixed mindset where we look for problems and blame[CF1] .  Establish some rules as simple mechanism to help you discover, learn and make better decisions.

  1. Develop a clear purpose - To run effective Gemba Walks the team needs to develop a clear understanding of the purpose of Gemba Walks, it should be one that seeks to learn, discover, develop a greater understanding of the work, and gain consensus amongst the management team about the issues impacting performance and obstruct staff winning and being successful.  

My definition of the purpose of Gemba Walks is that it is a:

Management practice to learn more about the organisation and to help grasp the situation. By developing a collective understanding and agreement of leadership at different levels to develop their leadership skills and improve business performance. It’s about Learning and Discovery Not Fixed Mindset of conveying solutions and blame

  • Establish Management Routine – Replace your management task where the purpose is to complete the walk with a management routine consisting of PDCA to help with your continuous: learning, improvement and development.  PDCA should be applied multiple times within the 3 phases of beginning, during and at the end, at the end of the routine you Get to understand what others have seen and believe the problems are, before understanding what is causing it.
  • Establish Behavior Standards  - As a leadership team start adopting behavior standards and to ban the Gotcha questions, no telling, showing, pointing out, solutions or blame.  If leaders are still acting with traditional management thinking then they are in the wrong meeting, remember Go See, Ask Why and Show Respect.
  • Eliminate Noise – First develop a greater understanding of the noise that disrupts you and your leadership team from observing, establish sacred time and get members of the team to stop you when you: act like a Boss or senior leader, knows whats best, go off track into other process or discussion, get into solution and blame mode, provides instructions and point out what needs to be done
  • Develop Capability -  Develop capability of the team to grasp the situation by discussing what reoccurring issues are impacting your value streams from delivering what the customers want and that hinder your employees from winning and being successful. Within the feedback session, build consensus about the key reoccurring issues and don’t assume you know what is causing it without confirming it over a period of time.  

What do you think, are fixed mindsets and noise impacting the behavior, decision making and performance of your organisation?


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