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When it comes to the world of lean management styles, there are several things to keep in mind. This particular management approach, which began in the Japanese automaking industry, has proven highly effective when its principles are applied properly. One of the most important of these principles is the practice of going on “Gemba walks” on a regular basis.
The concept of Gemba walks may be hard to grasp for Western managers that are new to lean management styles. Let’s discuss what a Gemba walk is, its significance, and why Gemba walks are important. Let’s get started.
Gemba walks are when high-level management of a company takes time to tour crucial areas of the company that are essential to the proper operation of the business. The term “Gemba” means “the real place” in Japanese, and therefore a Gemba walk is a tour of the “real places” that matter in any given business. In other words, the most crucial spots that contribute to the success of a business – the ones that can’t be done without – are these Gemba spaces – and this is what management tours regularly.
Gemba walks are unique to lean management because they are not an inspection of workplace conditions or an evaluation of whether employees are doing their jobs properly or not. Instead, the goal of a Gemba walk is to provide opportunities for high-level management personnel to get an up-close and personal look at how the most important functions of the business are undertaken. These managers are encouraged to ask questions about these practices to understand them better and to build connections with the employees that undertake this important work.
Once high-level management has gone through the process of a Gemba walk, the next step is a time to reflect on their observations before anything else. This downtime is built into the process in order to provide enough space to truly understand what management has learned from encountering employees on the front lines and their observation of how the work is done. Management is meant to analyze their findings before bringing them to a meeting of other company leaders for discussion.
During this discussion, it’s important to go over both the positive and negative things that you’ve observed. Again, the goal is not to punish bad behavior but instead, it is to find ways to improve conditions in your company’s Gemba spaces to support workers in those spaces in ways that can help them do their job safely and efficiently. The last step, after instituting these changes, is to return to your Gemba spaces and see how they have been working in that practical environment. Following up with the employees that you forged those initial connections with will help fine-tune the process even further.
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