All rational leaders appreciate that, rather than sitting in metaphorical ‘ivory towers’, they need to understand what actually happens in their business.
But how do many leaders go about this? I suggest that the following two techniques are the norm:
- hold a regular ‘road show’ in which the leaders present to ‘their people’ and hold a Q&A session, usually at the end.
What usually follows are questions from the floor that are:
- generalist in nature and which can be answered safely, politically with ‘happy talk’…and everyone appears content; or
- highly specific and which need to be answered ‘off line’ because how could you expect your leader to be able to answer that on his/her feet…and no one is the wiser
Whilst such leaders are usually great orators and the people like what they hear….it becomes somewhat of a show divorced from reality.
- perform ‘tours’ of their facilities, usually starting with a (very carefully prepared) workshop presentation by that function’s management team, and then being introduced around the floor by the duty manager…along the lines of “Leader, this is your worker…worker, this is your leader…now have a polite chat as if he/she were the Queen”.
What usually follows is a discussion with a random set of workers who are conveniently at their posts that:
- is full of pleasantries: “so how are things”…”very good thanks”….”that’s great to hear, keep up the good work”…and everyone is happy; or
- is used by a ‘plucky worker’ as a golden opportunity to air a particular soap-box issue (which may have little relevance in terms of size and occurrence)…and management MUST now act immediately on that issue because the leader now ‘knows about it’ and has to be seen to be ‘listening to the workers’
How much of reality do the leaders actually get exposed to? How much ‘polishing’ is likely to be performed before a management presentation? How distorted (subdued, careful or biased) is the process performer’s voice likely to be?
…how is this really helping the customer receive a forever improving service?
I suggest that ‘leaders’ (whatever level in an organisation) switch their mentality from ‘meeting the people’ to ‘meeting the process’. This means:
- listening to, and observing actual customer demand at the point it comes in; and
- following actual units of demand through the value stream (not just a silo within!) until its successful conclusion.
Now, it should be obvious that to do this the leader has to meet the process performers along the way…but the purpose is totally different. Instead of focusing on a person, there is a joint focus (leader and process performers) on the unit of customer demand and how it is processed through the value stream – with its warts and all. This is likely to garner a level of trust with the process performers as and when they believe the leader is really interested in the process, not in judging them.
Meeting the process is often referred to as ‘Gemba walking’, where Gemba is the Japanese word for ‘the real place’ or place of action/ where the work gets done. A Gemba walk involves walking with a unit of customer demand, from its trigger all the way through to its resolution (to the customer’s satisfaction). In performing this, the leader will see the environment that their management system requires the people to work within and probably a great deal of waste along the way.
To be clear: A Gemba walk isn’t a one off thing…it is a management practise that is regularly performed. This regularity is hugely important:
- one walk won’t uncover the variety that exists within customer demand, or the subsequent process;
- establishing the trust of the process performers will come over time (as and when they believe in you); and
- we want to see the process actually changing for the better as leader, management and process performers continue to make changes to improve their capability of meeting the customer’s true purpose.
The act of actually ‘meeting the process’ will ensure that the leader really gets what’s going on and what’s possible…and can ensure that the appropriate management system is put in place that ensures continual process improvement.
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