Tag Archives: manager standard work

Senior Moments

sr momentsI was speaking last week with, Jen, a senior manager at a large manufacturer, and she commented to me, “I know it’s important for me to get to the floor, but the time involved for me and my staff to regularly visit two dozen different departments makes this seem like an impossible task.”   She was alluding to the scheduled Gemba walks, which were a component of her and her reports manager standard work.

“I understand the challenge, “ I responded, having faced that myself in my last job. I continued, “As a senior manager it’s important for you to be present both to observe, and also to show your commitment to improvement. Spend whatever time you can, but make sure you use the time well.”

Sometimes I worry about the scripted Gemba walks. Even with the script, they often look like a management posse. And one thoughtless comment or even a thoughtless gesture by the senior visitors can create exactly the opposite effect of what is intended. In fact, managers can make a very positive impact on employee engagement in just moments. It’s the quality of the interaction not the duration that’s telling. About ten years ago, GBMP produced a DVD, Moments of Truth, to demonstrate how short encounters, either deliberate or inadvertent, between managers and employees, can have a powerful impact. A short clip from that video, starring GBMP staff members, demonstrates (with a little humor of course) how important a single moment can be.

Of course, the moments of truth could just as well be positive. An employee at a large insurance company related to me recently that, after a short time on the job, he found a note on his desk from a senior vice president whom he’d never met, welcoming him and stating “I’m hearing from your manager that you’re already making terrific contributions to our improvement program. Thanks.” That note set the tone for employee’s career. It didn’t require a structured Gemba walk and probably took about 10 seconds to write — literally moments. But it showed commitment from the highest level of the organization, both to the new employee and to his direct supervisor.

I related that story to Jen and she smiled. “I can think of a few of those moments, both good and bad, that I had when I was on the front line.”

How about you? Are you watching for those moments of truth?   Gemba walks are important, but a manager’s impact can be expressed in seconds.   Please share a story about your “moments of truth”.


PS Hope to see you at the International Shingo Conference in Provo, Utah next week.

PPS And don’t miss our next Shingo Institute courses (DISCOVER Excellence followed by Continuous IMPROVEMENT – attend one or both, it’s up to you) coming up in the week of May 11 at Vibco, Inc., in Richmond, Rhode Island. Register online here.

BTW: The GBMP lean training DVD Moments of Truth can be purchased at www.shopgbmp.org. Use code “MOT20” by May 8, 2015 to get 20% of the regular price.


nvllivs imageThere was a time when it was not fashionable for managers to associate with front line employees. Alluding to an old adage, I used to joke that you could not even lead the horse (manager) to water, let alone make him drink. Division of labor at that time was a great divide. In my early days as a manager, visiting with front line employees was frowned upon as “fraternizing”. Managers stayed on the margins, managing from a safe distance.

Today the divide seems to be narrowing for some organizations. Thanks to the popularization of manager standard work and emphasis on business culture (referred to twenty-five years ago as “fluff”), managers are now adding Gemba walks to their busy schedules. So – that’s progress. We can now lead the horse to water. But can we make him drink?

“Why are we here?” I asked Lorie the sales manager as I accompanied her to a sales order department. “According to my standard work, I’m to look for abnormalities.” “So, what do you see?” I asked. Pointing to some numbers written in red ink on a huddle board at the edge of the department Lorie noted, “I see that we’re taking too long to respond to quote requests.”   I asked, “What do you actually see here at the huddle board?” Thinking for a second, she responded, “a record of quote requests.” “So how would you learn more about this apparently abnormal condition,” I inquired. “I’d talk to the supervisor,” Lorie said. “Okay,” I persisted, “would that be direct observation of the abnormality?” “No,” Lorie, conceded, “it would be second hand information as well.” Pausing a moment she then argued, “I can’t be out here all day long just watching for slow responses to quote requests.” Without disputing the time commitment issue I asked, “Do you have even fifteen minutes to watch the process that produces the quotations?” “Yes, I do,” said Lorie. “Good, let’s see how many abnormalities we can observe in that length of time.” With that we left the margins of the sales order department and went to where the work was done. Here is what we observed:

  • A computer system stalled according to the sales associate by “some buffering problem” that IT was working on.
  • An incorrect price list, which needed to be verified and approved.
  • An inconsistency between the customer’s and manufacturer’s drawings.
  • A phone coverage issue. Quotes from different time zones frequently generated abnormal quote times.
  • Escalation challenges. When technical questions were not directly answerable, the path to the correct answer was not always clear.

This is a partial list of process abnormalities, not all from one order writer or a single order, but most directly observable within the fifteen-minute time frame and all coming direct from the front lines. “What will you do now?” I asked Lorie.   “I guess I need to go see for myself more often,” she said.

In many cases, we have led the horse to water but he is still thirsting for the truth. The idea of direct observation continues to be foreign to many managers who feel that division of labor dictates they get their information second hand, massaged, summarized and homogenized. Change leaders would do well to remind managers of the motto of the Royal Society, the seat of modern science and philosophy: “Nullius in verba” – a Latin expression meaning “take nobody’s word for it.” This gold standard of objectivity encouraged scientific thinkers not to let status quo politics and prevailing beliefs affect their thinking. If we are truly seeking a culture change to our organizations we need to encourage the same thinking from our leaders.

In your organization, have you led the horse to water? Has he/she drunk? Share a story.


P.S. A few reminders:

In my next Tea Time with the Toast Dude webinar, on Tuesday, November 18, I’ll discuss “Making Huddle Boards Work“. Hope you can join in the conversation. Register here.

Also, I’m excited to be leading the upcoming Shingo Institute course –  “Discover Excellence” – at Ken’s Foods in Marlborough MA on November 6-7. Seats are still available. This foundational workshop introduces the Shingo Model, the Guiding Principles and the Three Insights to Enterprise Excellence™. With real-time discussions and on-site learning, the program is a highly interactive experience and designed to make your learning meaningful and immediately applicable to release the latent potential in your organization and achieve enterprise excellence. Read more and register here.