5.26.2011

The Merciless Genba

It's been a few months now since I've posted to TWI Blog. My new position has consumed...well, what it hasn't consumed, I have spent with my family, not blogging!

However, I was reminded of a genba genshou (workplace phenomenon) the other night while doing some coaching and thought I should take a few minutes to share with you. The story, if you will, starts with me doing some genba observation and coaching the 3rd shift supervisor and operators to practice their observation and problem solving skills. As we focused on one area within their span of control, a few quick observations were made: a) the operator table was too low (2S level problem), and the inspection device had an unused component (1S level problem). Both problems resulted in potential ergonomic and safety issues that all operators recognized as problems that they have just accepted...check that, that is the manager in me speaking. Rather, perhaps they have learned to live with the problems as I wonder if they would welcome these problems into their daily work routine.

The next thing I had the supervisor do was take a photo of their observations. Then I asked a simple question: "What can be done about this?" The ideas came quickly and were simple. Raise the table to a height all operators agree to so one can sit properly at the table. Remove the unused component so the operators reach is not overextended.

Then, a curious question was put back to me: "Are we allowed to do that?" I was stunned by this. Our people, who butter our bread, felt like they could not make positive changes that would improve their workplace and make the job safer and easier. I was ashamed that I had inadvertently stripped their empowerment away from them. It really had come to this! As I chewed on that thought, I couldn't bring myself to cough up the pretentious answer: "Yes, you have my permission to make your job safer."

In trying to grasp this difficult situation, to try and understand this phenomenon, I could only reply enthusiastically: "This is the United States of America dammit, we can do anything!" At a company that manufactures ballistic eyewear for the Army, I got a few "Hoorahs" in reply! Now, I have to resist that awful instinctive management urge to rein them in and control the improvements! Indeed, leadership is a phenomena that is not always easy to grasp.

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