Monday, March 25, 2013

Gemba – Engaging upper management at the front line

The February 4, 2013, blog posting on effective leadership generated more response than is usual for this weekly blog site. Here are excerpts from the responses:

One of the questions I’d ask is what do we want upper management to do? While an occasional Gemba (Where the actual work takes place, aka the front line) walk to discuss safety, among other topics, is worthwhile, having upper management out on the floor is disruptive. They should be interacting with their direct reports to ensure that THEIR direct reports are out on the floor having meaningful, caring conversations with our employees, every day. We’ve heard that our employees appreciate it when the facility manager shows he cares about safety, but they respond when their supervisor does regular interaction at the Gemba.

I’ve found that our facility managers want to do the right thing (not a will issue, for the most part) but need and want to be told what to do. Also, since they are usually hired for their technical expertise, they may have some skill needs on the social side. We are making some progress but have a long way to go. - David

Your posting is right in line with the DOE (Department Of Energy) thinking. The main item to address is Culture. Safety Culture is a component of Overall Culture. Dr. Petersen’s six items are all addressed in the DOE “Safety Conscious Work Environment” effort. It is hard to get effective culture change and thus safety culture change from top to bottom in any organization. The working level responds to behavior, not words. If all levels of management don’t exhibit the right behavior toward safety, then the working level won’t either. All effective leading indicators are behavior based. - Thomas

What kind of “leading indicator” can you wish for in addition to a zero for injuries? What are the alternative and possible measurable “leading indicators?”  You mention in your article the six criteria for safety excellence, but I don’t think you may call them leading indicators, because they are behavioral. - Ray

And now some feedback from me. When I was in facility leadership slots I found that being consistent in floor presence was a challenge for a number of reasons: corporate demands, staff demands, too many hours away from family, social skill weakness, conflict concerns with a difficult labor force, etc. These all lead to the easy way out of avoiding floor/frontline presence.

A few blogs back (July 18, 2011) I gave an example of a friend, Major General Lewis MacKenzie, and his reality check with the impact of leadership on the front lines of military battle. Indeed, I too found that the easy way out only added to my operations and safety difficulties. I had to get out of my comfort zone. Yes, this caused some level of chaos at first, but that quickly evaporated once “each work cell, each week” became my norm, through which I checked in with the supervision to get the ops and safety status and then mingled with the most important people of the company – those who were doing the work that paid my salary. These hard working people opened up when I did, whether it was about safety, operations, off-the-job, personal interests or the like. In turn, this moved me from uncomfortable to enjoyment as we went beyond ‘yes-no’ questions to a ‘tell me about’ relationship. Morale, performance, safety; all improved as we became genuine interactive adults.

Though initially the Gemba walk can be an uncomfortable experience, good leaders must become visible, engaged, involved, real persons where the organization makes it or breaks it – the front line. I agree that there is a need for practical, one-on-one social training for leaders. At Caterpillar we addressed this need with training in giving and receiving feedback (Speak Up! & Listen Up!) as well as effective adult recognition (Recognize It!). 

Ray’s comment about the six criteria of safety excellence being behavior-based is right on target. Think of all those studies showing conditions are not the major cause of injuries. Rather, incidents are caused by actions (behaviors). Visible, value added behaviors by hourly, supervision and upper management all function to improve safety culture and downstream indicator performance. If the actions and behaviors do not correlate with improved safety culture downstream indicators, then it is time to change/improve the actions and behaviors. Safety is dynamic and we leaders must also be dynamic.

The above training tools and a personal commitment to get out of an ineffective comfort zone are critical success factors at the Gemba.


The Doc

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