After reading the recent post titled “Kaizen, The Art of Small,” my friend Elizabeth Umberson told me about another Japanese word which relates both to manufacturing and life.

Elizabeth heads up ZF Industries, North America.  She’s been working in high-end manufacturing her entire career.  She really is one of the smartest people I know so when Elizabeth speaks, I listen . . .

The word she told me about is “Gemba.”  It’s a Japanese word that means “the real place.”  In lean manufacturing, gemba describes the idea that problems are visible and that the best ideas for making improvements come from going to the gemba.

This is much like what is called “Management by Walking Around.” (MBWA)  By walking around and being present, the observant leader “sees” problems and is able to make small changes because of what he or she observes.

Elizabeth described it this way: 

“We find that when we listen to what ‘they’ said, (who is ‘they’ anyway, and what do they actually know?) our progress and decision making abilities are impaired.  We might not have all the information.

So, we try not to only listen to that which someone else says, we also practice Gemba.  We get up off our hind ends, walk out to the where the process is actually taking place, and see what’s happening for ourselves.

Then we find out that the operator didn’t actually install the part incorrectly, his tool malfunctioned.  Or we find out that the lady tried to pay the invoice, but was missing information to complete the transaction.  We connect with other people.  We find out a little more about what they’re dealing with.

We stop hiding behind email . . .”

This concept of gemba can be used daily by any leader.  Get out there and dig.  And don’t believe everything that you hear.

Now let me tell you another principle regarding gemba that might help you have stronger relationships in your life.

Have you ever heard someone say something regarding another person that seems to be a little bit out of character?

Sometimes we may take what we hear as ‘truth’ and don’t question the actual validity of what was said.  And then it colors our perception about the person.

I’d suggest that you use this sentence.

“History tells me . . .”

An example:

Someone tells you that they heard that a friend of yours did something that was dishonest.  Instead of just believing the source, say to yourself, “History tells me that John isn’t that kind of person.”  Then go to John and get his side of the story.

This will stop things from spreading and will give you a chance to continue your relationship based on truth, not gossip.

Past behavior tends to predict future behavior.

Might as well go to the gemba—the real place, and find out for yourself.

Enter Your Mail Address

Leave a Reply