Lean principles are no longer a new idea in the workplace. As many workplaces try to “do more with less”, identifying and eliminating waste not only makes sense, it is essential. A key element of the lean methodology is to “walk to the gemba.” The original Japanese term comes from gembutsu, which means “real thing.” It also sometimes refers to the “real place.” This concept stresses making a personal observation of work at the place where the work is happening. Walking the gemba is a learning activity. We can learn how to do address delivery and quality challenges, how to deal with internal quality problems, how to sustain inventory, and how to make a better use of capital. We can also learn from our teams by asking the people closest to the work what they see as waste and what recommendations they have for improvement. I recently read the article Your Gemba Isn’t the Only Gemba to Walk by Aaron Hunt in the Lean Post. He highlights the value in seeing how others (your customers, your competitors) are working on challenges, and encourages us to walk their gembas for ideas. This got me thinking – what if we applied that to our own organizations? The article The Future of HR: Run like Tech. Talk like Ops. Think Like Sales. Lead the Change by Jeff Palen offers some great recommendations on ensuring HR runs like a business. I think we can take this one step further by going to the gemba together to help each of these functions learn from each other. If we do, we can connect technology and talent, measure what matters, and be more customer-centric, and by doing so we will drive business value.
Connect technology and talent. Gone are the days of massive annual IT updates, where people were given big binders of instructions and had their systems down for hours while the new release was launched. Instead, technology has moved to micro releases sending regular, small updates in real time. HR could ask IT how to redesign the talent review as a micro release process instead of today’s annual, big binder process. By observing the process steps and the waste removed, HR may gain some insights on how to redesign their own talent process. In exchange, IT could ask HR how to engage stakeholders before a release is launched. An incremental release of a Workday program may launch but won’t stick unless managers understand why the change was made, believe this change is for the greater good, and understand how to execute the change.
Measure what matters. Operations teams are often experts in ROI metrics. Common customer experience metrics used by operations teams include on-time delivery, cycle time, and time to make changeovers. Walking through an operations gemba you may see the line stop and manufacturing employees giving feedback on an inefficiency that slows down delivery and/or cycle time. HR could ask Operations if performance reviews are efficient and if they measure what matters. Are managers delivering feedback in a timely manner? Is the cycle between feedback discussions optimal? Have managers changed over to the feedback approach you launched? In exchange, Operations could ask HR what internal customers are measuring. Is Quality measuring supply chain stability but Operations is switching to low cost suppliers? What are HR incentive plans designed to drive? Is that in synch with what operations is measuring? Making these connections is key to making ROI metrics real.
Be customer-centric. Sales people know that knowing your products is important but knowing your customer is essential. Key elements of the sales process are prospecting, conducting a needs assessment, and presenting benefits to the customer. HR could ask Sales how to better engage their customers. For example, you may have identified major market segments (employees, managers, executives) but have you fully profiled each of these in order to adjust marketing tactics appropriately? Is your engagement strategy designed to solve your prospect’s problem? The only way to do that is by asking lots of questions. Asking good questions will not only help you determine potential solutions, but also builds confidence, trust, and may help prospects consider ideas they may never have thought of. In exchange, Sales can ask HR how to better engage their employees. Gemba walks are a great way to do this, and anywhere a sales employee works is a place for a gemba walk. That could be in a home office, a car, or an onsite customer meeting. A gemba meetings looks at flow: what is the process, who are the people, and where is the friction. By asking the employee questions and offering him/her coaching, the sales leader can drive both results and engagement.
Most functions believe they know what their peer functions do. But as the quote says, there is a difference between knowing the path and walking the path. By walking the gemba together we can get to the “real thing” we need to address to improve our performance. We can also learn from those closest to the work how we are generating waste and what recommendations they have for improvement. How could you walk the gemba with your peers at work?