Prepare the Way for Your Gemba Walk

November 17, 2019
Wally Bock

Warren Blackwell started in business selling and repairing vacuum cleaners. Then he started selling refinished furniture. Then he added fine oriental rugs. But that’s not important now.

We’ve bought literally dozens of rugs from Warren. We’ve bought them for ourselves and as gifts. We’ve traded in one rug to buy another. When Warren called and said he had a rug he thought we would like, we clicked over to Facebook and checked out the picture. It looked good.

Our next step was to go to Warren’s place and inspect the rug. Lean practitioners might call that going to the Gemba. Gemba is a Japanese term for “the actual place.”

In a lean context, the Gemba is the place where value is created. It’s the place where work gets done. Lean practitioners also talk about a “Gemba walk.” That’s where a manager goes to the Gemba to observe the work being done, ask questions about the work and work process, and help eliminate waste.

A Gemba walk has a business purpose. That’s like our trip to Warren’s to check out the rug he told us about. It turned out that this particular rug wouldn’t work for us, but we didn’t just check the rug and leave. We chatted a little with Warren and looked at some other things he wanted to show us.

There was a business part to our visit and a personal, relationship part. The personal part took much more time. That’s okay. That’s how you build a relationship.

If you’re a manager who wants to get a sense of how the work is done, make your version of a Gemba walk part of your practice. But don’t just show up with a business purpose. Don’t just talk about the work process. Be human, too.

Team members won’t feel like they know you, like you, or can trust you if you only show up to talk about business. Human beings, including you, are about more than business. Before you start doing a lot of focused business-oriented going to the Gemba, take the time to build relationships.

Touch base a lot. Have conversations. In a conversation everyone talks and everyone listens. Most of the conversations should be about the things that have nothing to do with business.

Conversations are the way that human beings build relationships. We built a relationship with Warren over hundreds of conversations and dozens of transactions over decades. That relationship makes the doing business part easier and more effective.

Relationships rely on trust. Taking the time to build trust pays big dividends over the long haul. Stephen M. R. Covey wrote a marvelous book called, The Speed of Trust. Here’s how he sums up why it’s worth doing.

“Trust always affects two quantifiable variables: speed and cost. Trust equals confidence. When trust goes down in a relationship or a company, speed goes down and cost goes up. When trust goes up, speed goes up and cost goes down. Trust always impacts speed and cost.”

Bottom Line

When you take the time to build relationship and build trust, you also improve the insights you get from your Gemba walks.

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In addition to writing the Three Star Leadership blog, Wally Bock is an author, ghostwriter, writing coach and book doctor. In his past lives he has run a small publishing company, been a popular keynote speaker to audiences around the world, and served as a U. S. Marine. He loves good beer, good friends, and good stories.

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