While on an afternoon run in preparation for a panel discussion on lean leadership, I was contemplating how to describe a functional leadership gemba visit. I had recently visited Lucile-Packard Children’s Hospital in Palo Alto, CA and had the privilege to observe their gemba rounds. As I thought about what it meant to be a leader supporting gemba learning, I recognized that the leaders at Lucille-Packard, and at other places I’ve observed, apply a practical aspect to gemba visits that takes the process beyond the simplicity and passivity of the words “go see” to an interactive opportunity for true inspirational leadership.
Thus, I came up with a mnemonic to better describe the rich and unique, “flavorful” opportunity that a gemba visit provides. SALT.
“S”: Go See. Open your eyes, and truly observe the situation. Take note of where you are, who is there. Are the right people there? Is the location and environment you are observing conducive to teamwork, communication, and problem solving? Although seeing is passive, there can and probably should be internal, active engagement by the leadership.
“A”: Go Ask. Based on what you’ve observed, ask questions to both get a deeper understanding of the environment you are visiting and to demonstrate interest and engagement to those employees you are leading. I can’t understate the importance of this simple behavior. By simply asking questions, you immediately show respect for the people you are leading. You inherently acknowledge their expertise and the importance of their opinions .
“L”: Go Listen, go Learn. What good is asking if you aren’t listening? Ask and Listen go hand in hand, and by simply paying attention you readily demonstrate that you want to learn directly from the frontline employee.
“T”: Go Teach, go Try. How often on a gemba visit do good ideas come up that are worth trying? The ideas will come from the employees who know the situation. As a leader, a successful gemba visit should include specific, planned follow up actions based on what is seen, discussed, and learned. In addition, it is highly likely that the learning is applicable to other areas. Leadership indeed is about sharing and disseminating the information that has value across an organization. The teaching from the gemba is not top-down; it stems from the true expertise and knowledge of those on the frontlines of the work. Encouraging the spread of small experiments and the sharing of ideas is the root of a truly functional gemba.
So, although a bit silly, the mnemomic “Go S.A.L.T.” can remind every leader of the true purpose and value of a gemba visit.