Talk the Talk, Walk the Gemba Walk

February 1, 2019 / by Matt Bruno

 

Matt Bruno is the Founder and Chief Operating Officer of ReSource Pro. Matt began his career helping develop new insurance products for retail agents, and saw an opportunity to develop solutions that would cater to the pressing needs of insurance operations. With that, ReSource Pro was born. 

 

Get in the Trenches

I have a question for managers: Do you know where innovation and creativity live in your organization? From my experience, amazing ideas are already thriving in the insurance industry, and they’re happening on the frontlines, not in the C-suite.

“Amazing ideas are already thriving in the insurance industry, and they’re happening on the frontlines.”

We as business leaders can get so removed from what’s happening on the ground because we’re too focused on the 10,000-foot stuff: creating strategic goals, establishing metrics across the organization, achieving financial projections. While this top-down thinking enables growth, you need to balance it out with insights from the frontlines. Think about it like a seesaw. You need to make contact with the ground before you push off to an aerial view.

Gemba-huh?

I’ve found the right balance of top-down and ground-up perspectives by practicing the gemba walk.

Gemba walk (with a hard G like “gum”) comes from the Japanese word genba: the place where work happens. Leaders at Toyota regularly walk the factory floor, observing, asking questions, joking with employees. Business leaders around the world recognized the value of the gemba walk practice for identifying new opportunities or fine-tuning processes.

“When the anecdotes and the data disagree, the anecdotes are usually right.” – Jeff Bezos.

Gemba walks also encourage an engaged leadership. Jeff Bezos of Amazon famously reads emails from customers to get a grip on what’s really happening inside his company. He explained why in a 2018 CNBC interview:

“We have tons of metrics…the thing I have noticed is that when the anecdotes and the data disagree, the anecdotes are usually right. You do need the data, but then you need to check that data with your intuition and your instincts.”

What I Found

Every time I travel for work, whether it’s China, India or the US, I make it a point to meet with as many frontline folks as I can. Getting into the weeds with ReSource Pro employees—without any bias or project in mind—allows me to be open to new questions and ideas for innovation. At its best, a gemba walk allows you to disrupt yourself.

I recently did one of my walks while in Jinan, China, and I stumbled across a team who came up with a smart strategy that could have larger implications for how we operate. (And in case you haven’t noticed, we at ReSource Pro love optimizing operations.)

The team had made some tweaks to their new hire training. First, they created training videos for each subtask, shaving eight hours off the training time. But even more exciting was how they introduced a new mindset to onboarding, one where the trainee gained ownership over their training, rather than feeling the trainer did. As a result, the new hires produced higher quality work in their first week on the job.

This smart adjustment to process could improve the effectiveness of the whole company. If I hadn’t walked around and asked, I never would have known.

How to Gemba Walk

What could you find on your own gemba walk? Follow a few guidelines and you’ll be gemba walking like a pro

  • Stay open-minded and respectful. Take this as a moment to observe, not meddle. If employees see that you use these walks to criticize, they won’t be as open and honest with you.
  • Bring no agenda. While you may have certain topics you’re more interested in, be open to what employees feel they need to share with you. Gaining insights from them is why you’re doing this, after all.
  • Keep an eye out for star players. If you spot an exceptional employee during your walk, don’t forget them when it’s promotion time. They may also be a helpful resource when you want to follow-up on an issue or need a smart project leader.
  • Consider what’s going well. After your walk, think about what’s working, and how can you utilize employees better. Did a team find an innovative solution? Give them recognition and move the idea forward. Implementing what you hear on a gemba walk shows employees you’re listening and value their input. On a deeper level, it also keeps them thinking in an innovative way instead of blindly following directions.
TL;DR (Too Long; Didn’t Read):

By being involved with your frontline employees, you can inform business decisions, disrupt processes gone awry, identify star players and build morale. Now get walking!

About Resource Pro

ReSource Pro helps organizations align their operations to their business strategy. Our holistic approach brings together best practices around strategy, process, people, and analytics in order to supercharge your business performance.

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