I took a walk recently through our Personal Lines Operations, Claims and Claims Legal teams at our East Regional Building. They’re working to improve processes, and using Lean techniques to identify and eliminate waste, improve speed for customers and reduce costs.
This wasn’t just any walk. It was a Gemba walk – a specific term used to describe personal observation of work – where the work is happening. (The Japanese term Gemba means the “real place,” and is used to represent where value is created closest to our customers, and where we can go to understand the truth about our business).
It was my first Gemba walk, but not my first walk through our areas – where the work is being done. There’s a difference between the two, and it’s a good reminder of what we’re trying to accomplish at American Family as we stay agile and work together to put the customer first in all we do.
My “humble inquiry” with these teams was just that – a chance to observe from a place of mutual respect and interest in making things faster, safer, easier – better – for everyone. It was not about sharing my opinions or inserting my solutions into these teams.
In fact, Gemba walks are not the same as Management by Wandering Around. Those are more random, lack the clear purpose of Gemba walks, and often lead to distrust. They’re also not nearly as structured or effective, in my opinion.
Gemba walks are about engaging with, and developing, people. They take leaders and decision-makers – at all levels – away from desks and meeting rooms and into the places where the work is being done. Grasping the current situation and witnessing how the work is done, enables leaders to coach employees to be more effective problems solvers and to make better, more informed decisions.
This fits with creating the culture we deserve at American Family. This supports the beliefs and behaviors that show how we work with each other, make business decisions, and take care of customers. It’s also one of the lean tools that help us identify and get rid of waste, speed up how we serve customers, and lower costs.
A Gemba walk is just one more way leaders can support effective, high-performing employees. It’s also tied to improving innovation, collaboration and respect, which are crucial to our inclusion and diversity efforts.
I’m grateful for this time, and humbled by the chance to observe and learn from different teams on my Gemba walk. This isn’t just something for the CEO. It’s how all leaders can do what’s right for customers.