How to Gemba like Michael Bolton

It was an especially hot September afternoon in the plant in South Carolina where I worked as a Project Engineer. There was no air conditioning anywhere, and the sound of the presses banging out parts didn’t do much to make anything more comfortable.

lean-starBut you would never have known that based upon the reaction that my Project Manager, Mike Bolton, got everywhere he went. That afternoon, he and I were doing a walk through in preparation for a visit from Toyota. They were coming to check on how we were coming along with launching a new program for them, and Mike and I wanted to ensure things were ready, as they’d be there in a few weeks.

Little did I know exactly how much I’d learn that day.

As we walked the floor, Mike happily engaged everyone he came into contact with. Not “almost everyone” – everyone. He was a rock star. He shook so many hands and got so many hugs that I’d lost count after the third cell we visited. Mike asked the associates about their kids, how their mother’s surgery had gone, how the new truck was running… I was dumbfounded by how much personal detail he had stored in his head, especially considering our plant was 1,000,000 sq. ft. under roof!

So many folks misinterpret the Gemba walk. They think that if they can walk the floor and understand where all the product is without talking to anyone, then their plant is Lean. They proudly point to hour-by-hour charts and Standard Work Combination Sheets and brag about how solid their reporting processes are. But they miss the point. I’m all for minimizing unnecessary interruptions, but any one of the associates Mike talked with that day would have done almost anything for him if he’d asked. He showed genuine concern and appreciation for the folks and the work they did. That’s something that you can’t fake, and no chart you can post can quantify it.

Treat the Gemba for what it is – a golden opportunity for you to engage the workforce. Don’t just look at charts – Ask folks how things are going. You can get the same information (and usually more), plus you’ll build some relationships along the way.

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