Having practiced as a physician, I can’t do my work on a chart or in a lab – I have to see my patients up close. With a thorough history and physical, I can examine signs of the illness and eventually reach a diagnostic conclusion. Simply taking a patient’s pulse gives me an idea of the condition of his or her heart.
Going to gemba, the workplace, is like taking the pulse of an organization and how well it’s really doing. When you go to the shop floor, you know the conditions under which your staff is working – and seeing that can be a game-changer. Paul O’Neill, former CEO of aluminum maker Alcoa, went to the gemba and saw up close the unsafe conditions in which his staff was working, prompting a focus on his workers’ safety instead of profit margins. According to an article in Business Week, O’Neill took the company’s time lost because of employee injuries from one-third the national average to 1/20th.
If labor productivity is one of your concerns, leave the office and head to the shop floor or the clinic where your employees are working hard to do their best. You’ll see their challenges, their “firefighting” and you’ll start empathizing. Like Paul O’Neill, you’ll feel compelled to improve working conditions so your employees can focus on value-added work. Improvement in your financials will naturally follow.