Quality/Published: August 27, 2015

Forget Talking the Talk: Learn to Gemba Walk and Listen

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Gemba Walk

Too often the root cause of a process failure boils down to poor communication. Employees on the shop floor look to management for guidance on how to improve their production quality, yet open communication channels are rarely available in a manufacturing environment. Top managers may have the tools they need to effectively communicate to their team, such as regular meetings with middle management but their messages sometimes don’t reach the front-line workers that matter in day-to-day production.

A 2015 survey conducted by TR Cutler of 1,500 small and midsize manufacturing CEOs, revealed that the greatest pain point causing anxiety, fear, and apprehension about manufacturing growth among these leaders was speaking to their employees. More than four out of five (82%) said that speaking to their employees was difficult or very difficult.

Top managers know too well the types of complaints front-line workers have when it comes to operations. Workers can sometimes be quick to deflect blame and grow defensive when confronted with a process failure. No wonder conversations around manufacturing growth can lead to anxiety, fear and apprehension. Negative feedback tend to circle around the shop floor when employees feel like their voices are not heard. Unaddressed emotions and negativity complicate the work environment, leading to reduced productivity, efficiency, and profits. Avoiding confrontation is not a sustainable solution.

It’s time to change gears and practice listening to front-line employees instead. Create open communication lines in your organization and build trust among your team using Gemba Walks.

Dr. Marvin Marshall, author of Discipline without Stress Punishments or Rewards recently shared his ideas on building trust within an organization with Reliable Plant magazine, connecting the similarities between teacher-student and manager-employee relationships, and noting the importance of trust in both scenarios.

To start:

  1. Begin a conversation with an engaging question.
  2. Listen to Learn. Refrain from sharing judgement, acknowledge an employee’s feeling and opinions before speaking.
  3. Repeat weekly, understand the fact that growth comes with struggles.

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