A strange word with an important meaning for leaders

If you’ve followed me for a while, you know I’m a “plant rat.” I love manufacturing and everything about it.

It’s real.

You can touch it and see it.

You can see raw material being transformed by employees into a final product.

Maybe that’s why I have spent more than 25 years leading manufacturing businesses.

Some of what it takes to run a manufacturing business isn’t 100% applicable to other businesses, but, there is one term from the world of Lean Manufacturing that is applicable to all businesses.

It comes from the Japanese and the word is Gemba.

Gemba is Japanese for “the real place.”

What does that mean?

It’s the place where value is added.

  • In manufacturing, it’s the shop floor
  • In a school, it’s the classroom
  • At a bank, it’s the teller windows
  • At a call center, it’s the call center floor

If you can’t figure out where that is in your business, in most cases, it’s where most of your employees are.

And, it’s likely not where management is. In fact, that’s the problem.

Too many leaders are sequestered in their offices or in meetings far from where the value is added, far away from where their people are.

Too many leaders are sequestered in their offices or in meetings far from where the value is added, far away from where their people are. Click To Tweet

Most leaders make decisions based on what they assume is happening in “the real place.”

Taiichi Ohno, an industrial engineer and the Father of the Toyota Production System, understood this. He knew leaders needed to understand what was happening in Gemba to make the right decisions.

And, I love this story!

To get his team to understand what was happening in Gemba, he would draw a circle on the manufacturing shop floor and tell young managers to stand there as long as 8 hours with a notebook.

Then he would ask them what they learned.

In every case, these engineers discovered problems that needed to be addressed. Real problems based on real observations!

Contrast this with the many managers who rarely venture out to where the magic happens.

We had an expression in the Navy which I love, “Expect what you inspect.”

Expect what you inspect. Click To Tweet

How can you know what’s happening if you haven’t seen it yourself? In other words, you need to get out of your office to see what’s really going on. I often say that “leadership is a people business” and you can’t understand the problems your people face if you’re locked up in your office.

So, get out there!

Go to Gemba and learn what is really going on in your organization. Your employees will appreciate it and you will gain a new perspective.

Deep Leadership Podcast

By the way, If you want to know more about Gemba and how it applies to your business, listen to the latest episode of my new podcastDeep Leadership.

If you like it, please subscribe and share it with a friend.

The One Problem in Business We Can’t Seem to Solve

A Powerful Visual

On Monday night, two AFC East football rivals played under the lights. The New England Patriots had traveled to take on the New York Jets. New England took an early lead and seemed to be dominating their opponent in every phase of the game. While leading 24-0, head coach Bill Belichick called his entire defense together to “coach them up” on the sidelines.

What was remarkable was watching the players. Every eye was on Coach Belichick. They listen to every word and nodded in agreement. It was a powerful visual moment. Even though they were winning, Belichick knew they could do better and he challenged them. It was an image of an engaged leader and an engaged team.

The Challenge

I’ve been in managing people for nearly 30 years and one of the biggest challenges has always been getting people engaged in the business. How do you get them fired up, excited, and actively helping you achieve the organizational goals?

The Gallup organization famously does a survey every year to measure the amount of employee engagement around companies in North America. The thing they find consistently year-after-year is that 70% of employees are typically disengaged at work. It’s a number that doesn’t change. In all the improvements we have made in leadership and business, we haven’t been able to solve this one problem. Overall employee engagement is poor and it isn’t getting any better.

Overall employee engagement is poor and it isn’t getting any better. Click To Tweet

The question is, why are a vast majority of employees just clocking in and out without any desire to get involved with their employer?

A Monster We Created

The sad thing is that when most employees first come to work at any new job, they are excited. They want to be involved and engaged. For many, this is their dream job and they have spent years in school or in training becoming qualified for this role. They want to make a difference and be part of the team.

What ends up happening is these new employees quickly become disillusioned.

They work for bosses who are too busy to lead – bosses who ignore them, don’t listen to their ideas and don’t treat them with the respect they deserve. And most leaders don’t understand how their actions affect their people. These wide-eyed, excited, new employees get slapped in the face with the cold, hard reality of leadership in Corporate America. And after a while, many new employees just give up.

They say to themselves, “You know what, I’m just going to do my job, keep my mouth shut and go home.”

The problem with employee disengagement is that it’s a monster we created. We built this. It’s the leadership in Corporate America that took excited, engaged, happy employees and turned them into apathetic, sarcastic, and discouraged workers who are just trying to make it through the day.

The clear problem with employee engagement in business today is leadership (or the lack thereof).

Back to Basics

You might be surprised to learn there have been more than 15,000 books written on the subject of leadership. It seems our knowledge of leadership has never been stronger. It also seems like our practice of leadership remains subpar and it’s getting worse. The busier we get as leaders, the less time we have to spend with our people. In a time where we are all connected digitally, we are becoming more disconnected on a personal level.

In a time where we are all connected digitally, we are becoming more disconnected on a personal level. Click To Tweet

If we want to solve this problem, it’s time to get back to the basics of leadership. Leadership is simple – It’s about influencing a group of people to accomplish a goal. There are three main elements: people, influence, and goals. Do you know what’s not on this list? E-mails or meetings.

The average manager today is too busy to lead. Many business leaders come into work and they have full inboxes and long to-do lists. They spend the morning banging out e-mails because they have meetings to get to. They have back-to-back meetings then head out to lunch with a customer or vendor. By two in the afternoon, they still haven’t even seen any members of their team. And the process repeats itself the next day.

Most managers are forgetting about people, influence, and goals. And most employees feel their manager just doesn’t care.

We have to remember that leadership is a people business.

Make a Change Today

The first step in solving this problem is to recognize that, as leaders, we are in the people business. We have a team of people who work for us and we need to engage them. Just like Coach Belichick, if we want engaged employees, we need to be an engaged leader! That’s the bottom line.

If we want engaged employees, we need to be an engaged leader! Click To Tweet

As a leader, you can never underestimate the power of your presence. So be present!

Physically push yourself away from your desk. Even if you’re swamped with work, get into the workplace and talk to people. See what’s going on. Engage your team!

Try this out for the next two weeks and see if it makes a difference in your organization. Focus on people, influence, and goals. You’ll be surprised by the results.

If you are striving to become a better leader, get a copy of my Amazon best selling bookI have the Watch: Becoming a Leader Worth Following.

7 Keys to Engaging Your Employees

In my last post, I was asked how to grab the leadership bull by the horns when you suddenly find yourself thrust into a new position.

And I said the first 100 days are critical.

To review, you’ve got to have a plan, you’ve got to have dialogue…and as many one-on-one meetings as possible!  If you haven’t read my comments yet, you can find them here.

Moving on…

Here are 7 more ways to “ace” that first 100 days:

1. Set expectations early. People want to know what you stand for.  Let them know what’s important to you as a leader. I typically send a list of my top 10 expectations to my team in the first few weeks.

The worst thing you can do is leave them guessing.

2. Set an example. Your minimum behaviors will be your team’s maximum performance. If you expect people to be on time, you need to be on time. If you expect managers to get out of their offices, you need to be out of your office. If you expect people to wear their safety equipment, you need to wear your safety equipment.

It’s simple.

You can’t lead people where you yourself aren’t willing to go!

3. Signal your priorities.  If you spend the first two hours of each day on your computer and not with your team, they’ll notice. They’ll assume they’re not as important as your e-mail. If you’re all about the inventory numbers and not the on-time delivery results, they’ll think you don’t care about customers.

Always be aware…

Your actions telegraph your intentions.

4. Create a buzz.  Do something to get everyone talking. Make it dramatic enough that it gets the point across instantly.  Here’s an example.  In one manufacturing plant, I had the maintenance team paint over all the signs for the reserved parking spaces for managers…mine included!

The message was clear:

No special treatment.

We’re in this together.

5. Communicate with employees regularly.  Look, leadership changes can make people uneasy.  Your employees will want to know, will there be any organization changes? What are your initial observations? How are things going?

TIP: Send a weekly e-mail to your team.

Let them know what you’re seeing and what they can expect. If there’s any void in communication, worry, speculation, and rumors will spring up in its stead.

6. Create the mood. Attitude is contagious. You need to be upbeat and “on your game” when you’re around your team – no matter what’s going on for you personally. Be empathetic when you have serious issues to deal with, of course.  But if you’re consistently upbeat and in good spirits, the team will mirror your energy.

A leader who’s quiet, unresponsive, angry, abrasive or sarcastic, will suck the life out of any team. Always think about what mood you’re conveying.

7. Cast a vision. At the end of the first 100 days, your team’s strengths and weaknesses will be evident. The goal now is to communicate your vision for the future. Know where you want to go. Let your team “see” your vision in a way that’s clear and concise.

Setting the tone early is critical.

All eyes are on you as the new leader, so make it count.

Create a buzz, set an example, show your priorities, establish the mood and most of all…

BE PRESENT.

All of the above will save your gluteus maximus down the line if and when you need to work as a team on the tough issues.

That’s all for today.

One more thing, if you haven’t already, be sure to get your copy of my book I Have The Watch by going here.

And if you buy it before October 30, 2019, and send me your receipt, I’ll send you a special 20-minute video interview I recorded called “Engage Your People, Or Die” that contains some of my best “shotgun” tricks for quickly bringing your team on side when your survival depends on it…because it does!

This recording is NOT for sale anywhere.

And I honestly think it’s some of my most valuable content on the subject…not that I’m biased or anything. 😉

I could probably charge as much as $49 for the video, but it’s yours FREE if you buy the book and send me your receipt by October 30th at 11:59 PM.  Grab your copy today!