Gemba walks and Leader Standard Work (LSW) have the power to transform organizational culture.
Done well, they ensure a presence and engagement with managers and leaders at every tier of the organization.
We support organisations on their journey to enterprise excellence and sustainable business results. Our belief is that true enterprise excellence can only be delivered by engaged, well trained and aligned people working within well designed systems and processes.
One of the most powerful business systems we develop to help organizations improve and reach their potential is LSW with Gemba Walks at its heart.
Gemba Walks have been popularized by a number of thought leaders such as Jim Womack in “Gemba Walks” and Michael Bremer in “How to do a Gemba Walk” (two great books worth looking at). The practice originated within Toyota as a critical part of their standard work practices.
The Gemba Walk is a powerful tool, but to use it effectively, it is important to understand its purpose and how this element fits within the wider LSW system. When we understand the purpose, we can then define the interactions and behaviors necessary to achieve this purpose.
According to W Edwards Deming (1993):
‘A system is a network of interdependent components that work together to try to accomplish the aim of that system. The aim of that system must be clear to everyone in the system”
LSW ensures leaders within an organization develop and maintain the right culture and performance by supporting and undertaking the right activities, in the right style and at the right location. Gemba Walks are a tool to help leaders achieve this.
In organizations, we talk about work systems and having standards for those work systems and processes. Any well-designed system will consist of several component elements. These elements will include standards that detail how procedures or policies work. There will be reports outlining how the system itself is performing. The system will also define: the necessary patterns of repeatable activities; a feedback mechanism; and how opportunities for continuous improvement are captured.
Under pining all these components are expectations on the required ideal behaviors the system should enable.
The purpose of LSW and Gemba walks is to ensure standardization and improvement in both the physical nature of the work and the underlying culture and behavior necessary to ensure ideal and consistent results. The core element of LSW is the interaction between people and the identification of those common and sometimes unique coaching moments. These coaching moments allow leaders the opportunity to understand the alignment between expectations, capability and understanding. They also provide an opportunity to observe the presence, or absence of, ideal behaviors.
LSW achieves its purpose in several ways:
- By defining the roles and responsibilities of Leaders at all levels
- Ensuring that activities are standardized and consistently checked and reinforced.
- Recognizing people’s contribution to success through the improvement of standards.
- Identifying and acting on coaching and development opportunities within a pattern of regular habitual activities.
Designed well and embraced appropriately by all team members, LSW will engaged the whole organization in delivering its purpose.
The Components of the LSW System
Whether an activity involves making a product, supporting a critical asset or delivering a service, the LSW system has 4 main components:
- Management meeting systems or rhythm: For example, daily huddles, weekly action and idea review meetings
- Standard work audits (Gemba) – checking compliance to a standard of work
- Personal standard work commitments – choreographed patterns of work that are repetitive and habitual in nature.
- One to one coaching and development – performance review meetings and development conversations
The Role of Human Interactions in the LSW System
The differentiator between the LSW and other systems (such as Learning & Development or Continuous Improvement) is that it focuses less on results and more on the necessary behaviors and standards required to achieve the results.
How we talk and listen to people is the basis of human interaction. How we communicate and convey messages to colleagues has a profound effect on how people ultimately feel and behave. It can also impact the quality of subsequent interactions they have with their own colleagues.
It is important to understand that the purpose of the system is to facilitate the interactions which support, and enable ideal behaviors. These are the behaviors that an organization needs to see in order to deliver the desired sustainable results it seeks. Gemba Walks (and the conversations and coaching moments that are created as a result of this activity) must focus on getting the balance right between confirming standardization, individual development and improvement opportunities.
Benefits of LSW
This system is one of the pivotal parts of any Excellence journey. Done well, it has the ability to standardize and systemize leadership interactions and expectations in relation to culture and observed behaviors. LSW eliminates guess work in relation to what a leader should be doing and by implication, it identifies what a leader should not be doing.
LSW also promotes the discipline of having consistent and repeatable habits both in daily and weekly routines but also in how leaders respond to challenges and non-conformance. Leaders become more comfortable with the ‘compliance conversations’ which are backed up by actions and followed-up within the routine.
There is an expectation that the emphasis of a leader’s standard work may change. Team leaders should focus on how standard work procedures function to deliver consistent results, whilst senior leaders should focus on how people behave, how they interact with each other and how they can be developed.
In summary, LSW is a powerful lever to influence culture, activity, and team capability. It moves the focus on to behaviors, by defining the role of leaders in the development of observable ideal behaviors. It sets the expectations for the leader’s own performance and behavior as it clearly defines the things a leader must do habitually. And finally, patterns of standard work should interlock to ensure senior leaders review activity across tiers and functions within the organization.
The Gemba Walk
At the core of the Gemba walk is the servant leadership model where the senior leaders’ role is to ensure teams have the tools, systems and support necessary to succeed in their task. It also provides the opportunity to coach and develop teams
to help them define meet their challenges.