We Need to Keep Showing Up

Many years back, when I had the accountability of leading several healthcare teams, I worked to maintain a standard calendar that put me in gemba one day per week. There were, however, months when my compliance to this weekly standard was variable, for lots of reasons, all of which I could comfortably rationalize.

When I did get back to gemba, I’d find that the teams had just recently updated their visual boards or had just completed a PDSA on a nagging issue. When I reflected out loud that it seemed like they were not doing improvement work until just before I arrived, one of the managers looked me straight in the eyes and stated in front of the entire team: “Karl, if you want to see improvement, then you need to show up.” To this day, that one is still ringing in my ears and I continue thank her for it.

I’m not saying that front line teams are not capable of doing process improvements, PDSA’s, etc. on their own but it sure helps when someone is consistently checking, coaching, teaching and asking about their thinking and expertise in improving our healthcare processes. When they know you are coming and that you are going to ask those pesky inquiring questions, teams tend to want to show you what’s working and what isn’t’ working.

The more we “show up” in gemba, the more the teams practice, learn and develop their habits of continuous improvement. The more we “show up”, the more we learn about the reality of our operations; the good, the bad and the ugly of our healthcare processes.

We really do need to keep “showing up”…


6 thoughts on “We Need to Keep Showing Up

  1. Karl, thanks for the inspiration. I have a commitment to spend 2 hours in gemba every week, which is not much on an absolute scale, but a goal that I have had trouble meeting the last few weeks. I need to get back there – both because me showing up supports the teams’ improvement efforts, but also for me, to keep me grounded in the reality of the work.

    1. Eleanor, Nice reflection. For me, “persistence, persistence, persistence” serves as my personal daily mantra… – Karl

  2. Karl,
    Reading this gave me a good chuckle!! Underscores evolution from being a great leader to a Lean leader. As a great leader, the foundation for honest communication in a trusting environment facilitated the conversation about “showing up”. That foundation is critical for a Lean leader.

    1. Terry, Thanks for the comment; thought you might enjoy this post! You have me reflecting on the concept of “leadership before lean”. Thanks again for your support in helping me in my leadership! – Karl

  3. If you are a Leader in any organization, ask yourself one very simple question: Are the important things for our business happening in my office or are they happening in the gemba? If the answer isn’t painfully obvious, a refresher on the definitions of value added and non-value added would be a good place to start. Lean Leaders must be coaches and mentors, and neither function can be done effectively from an office. As a Sensei, I always know a Leader is starting to become serious about their role as a Lean Leader when they block small amounts of time on their calendars for OFFICE HOURS, not gemba time. You’ll know you’ve got it when the ever-elusive “showing up” starts to become what you do at your office rather than what you do in the gemba.

    1. Kevin, That would be a very cool flip to see office hours as the exception rather than the norm. Gonna steal your question and start asking my clients: “Are the important things for our business happening in my office or are they happening in the gemba?” Thanks, Karl

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