We’ve contributed a bit to the advice out there for managers that use the Lean technique of Gemba Walks. Today we want to look at the practice from the other side and focus on the point of view of the employees doing the work.
Whether you’ve been doing Gemba Walks for a long time or are just taking them up, it is important to keep the employee’s perspective in mind and make sure they have the information they need to get comfortable with the approach.
Here are the most important things for them to know.
Gemba Walks Are About Processes, Not People
It is very important that everyone understand that the purpose of a Gemba Walk is to look for opportunities to improve processes and workspaces, not to evaluate the performance of individual employees. If this isn’t clear, your team may view the Gemba Walk as punitive and threatening, rather than a collaborative exercise.
You’ll Be Asking a Lot of Questions
It is helpful to prepare employees by letting them know that you’ll be asking many questions about how, when, and why things are done. You should be clear that you aren’t looking for “right” answers, what you need far more are answers that are honest and complete. If work isn’t being done according to the Standard, you want them to say so and not cover it up. They need to understand that your questions come from a genuine desire to understand, and are not accusatory or confrontational in any way.
They Can Suggest the Gemba Path
It is a good idea to invite employees to suggest processes, shifts, or work areas that might benefit from a Gemba Walk. Not only will this potentially point you to opportunities to improve that you may have missed, but it will also make the process feel like more of a two-way street. Because they're the ones on the front line doing the work, they are more likely to have insight into the processes and areas that could use another set of eyes. Remember, the value you're bringing to the table is a fresh perspective on old processes. By asking people where this would be the most helpful, you're engaging them in the process and making it apparent that you're there to help, not criticize.
Improvements Come After the Walk
People who are used to other management techniques like Management by Walking Around may expect you to make suggestions for improvement during the walk. It is important to explain that the Gemba process calls for reflection and analysis before changes are made. Employees should be prepared to participate in an improvement cycle, such as PDSA, after the Gemba Walk is complete. They shouldn't expect to have actionable changes to make as you walk away - instead, they should be prepared to be engaged in the improvement process afterward as you all work to identify improvements to the status quo.
Like many Lean techniques, Gemba Walks are an effective way to identify waste, reduce errors, speed processes and improve efficiency. They work best when both managers and employees are well prepared in advance and know exactly what to expect.