Computer geeks over the age over 40 will recall that once upon a time, the images of text and graphics that appeared on computer screens bore little relation to the product outputted from the printer. There was a bit of an art involved using special ‘markup tags’ to control the printing font and format. Prior to 1980 we could not see our work in advance of printing. Then in the early ‘80’s came a miraculous software advance referred to as WYSIWYG – What You See Is What You Get. This may seem trivial today, as everything we see on computer screens, including moving 3-D simulation models, is a faithful and accurate representation of the actual. But for those struggling on early PC’s or Macs, the ability to see was a breakthrough.
The idea of “seeing what you get” pre-dates the emergence of IT. The revolution began with Flip Wilson’s Geraldine in the 1960’s and entered our musical vernacular in 1970’s as a laidback Motown classic. The message in both instances was “Here I am with no guile or pretense and no hidden agenda.” What you see is what you get. So by 1980, when the phrase was usurped by techno geeks, we understood what it meant. [BTW: For a bit of nostalgia, take a couple minutes to click on the links above.]
In the 1990’s with the popularization of the Toyota Production System we were once again Learning to See, except this time, the process ran in reverse as we struggled to correlate our mental image of the workplace with Gemba – the “real place.” Using a new method referred to a Value Stream Mapping, we toured our factories and offices, our OR’s and ED’s intending to understand and separate the real value provided to the customer from a sea of waste. With post-its and pencils in hand we walked the process flow to “see” the real place.
But what did we see? The traditional supposition, that the workplace was dirty, unimaginative, unmotivated, cut-and-dry often tainted our observation. A general manager of a large consumer goods manufacturer commented to me in a loud voice as we stood on a load dock watching a worker unload a truck, “Wow you can tell we’re paying him by the hour. How much time is he going to take to unload this truck?” The worker shot around and glared at the manager, responding, “Last week I got my butt reamed for making a mistake on the count. The way shipments arrive here it’s a miracle anyone ever gets the count right! So now, I’m taking my time and triple-checking everything, BOSS.”
It seems that what this general manager saw was exactly what he got. Respect is a two-way street, something with which many managers still have difficulty. Thirty years (and 14 million copies) after Kenneth Blanchard and Spencer Johnson advised managers to “catch someone doing something right,” this continues to be a challenging concept. The VSM symbols describe material and information, but they don’t provide a WYSIWG of the people who do the work.
How about in your workplace? Are employees your most valuable resource or a necessary evil? Geraldine was right: What you see is what you get. Share some thoughts.