Genchi Genbutsu

The Idea: Genchi Genbutsu is a Japanese phrase and Lean Management concept that translates as “go there and see for yourself.” I like this explanation from Pete Abilla’s blog — you’ll see why this idea is so powerful:

“In Lean Management Go and See is more of a management mindset than a technique or tool applied. To contrast, here are two approaches to learning about and solving problems (these are general comments):

  • In the West: problems are learned about and solved in a conference room or in a boardroom; there is distance. Decisions are made from a PowerPoint presentation and Excel spreadsheets.
  • In the East: problems are learned about and solved where it actually happens; in manufacturing, fulfillment and distribution, and like occupations — that means on the factory or shop floor.

In general, data and conclusions codified in PowerPoint presentations are steps removed from the actual phenomena.”

The Execution: How often do we avoid getting personally into the details of work, relying on someone else (usually a less experienced team member) to do the heavy lifting and give us the 30,000-foot summary? Thinking that we need to be “strategic,” do we operate at too high and removed a level? As a chief audit executive, I find it incredibly valuable to go directly to the people doing the work we’re auditing and hear them talk about it, and to equip myself on unfamiliar topics (IT especially!) as well as I can through research (online learning) and networking with subject-matter experts so that I can ask better questions and make better-informed decisions. As a retailer, I’m lucky to be able to visit my “shop floor” any day of the week and see what’s going right — and what isn’t. I’ve found it’s not the devil that’s in the details — it’s the insights.

We know that internal auditors need to sharpen our business acumen to be seen as valued advisers and enhance our credibility. Put your boots on. Every once in a while, go and see for yourself.

Posted on Jan 3, 2014 by Carolyn Saint

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  1.  Carolyn is spot on.  Know I remember why I liked working with you so much.  Good thoughts.

  1. Tim--I'm glad you enjoyed it!  Thanks for the comment (and vice versa!)

  1. “Naruhodo” and Happy New Year Carolyn! Your post reminded me of an ancient American phrase (from the 80’s) I was always partial to, which was “manage by wandering around”. I can appreciate that organizations now executing much of their operations via the ether has likely made this practice more difficult to do effectively. However, it has also likely made it all the more important that we go there and see for our self when possible. Hey, ironically (or not), I will be traveling to Japan next month. I don’t imagine I will see one of your stores while I am there? ?
  1. I agree that you should go and see for yourself, but I think it should be a pervasive part of your work.  In every organization I've worked for, I've found silos and filters that keep important details from making their way to HQ.  If you don't show the commitment to be in the field, even your staff may fall into this trap.  You can't take someone's pulse standing in a different room, you can't be an effective auditor without face-to-face interaction with your client.  I call it boots on the ground and I do all I can to lead by example.

  1. Thanks for the article, Carolyn. It reminded me of my former career, when I used to design machinery for the steel industry, working from the Chicago engineering office. It wasn't until I started traveling to the manufacturing plants, feeling the heat (literally) of walking around the shop floors, and talking to the operators, that I got a better sense of what was needed to improve the processes. Those who do the job know it best, and I was able to incorporate many of the operators' suggestions into process improvements across all of the plant locations.

  1. This article is relevant regardless of your industry.  Whether you are auditing in manufacturing, retail, media or any other number of industries, I believe it is critical to leave your office and be with the people who are making the decisions and taking the actions.  My recent trips my Company's offices in Europe and Asia have proven to be invaluable.  It has given me a chance to see how the business actually operates and learn where the real risks are.

    Thank you, Carolyn.  I appreciate your taking the time to write this insightful article.

  1. I 100% agree with Caroline that an internal auditor cannot rely just on what others tell them. I believe this is especially true when managers and directors review audit work. With the growth of electronic workpapers and budget pressure, it is all too easy to convince ourselves that a review of audit work can be done from your desk in the main office. You learn so much more, gain so much more insight, and at times completely change the audit results when you go out into the field to review audit work.
  1. Couldn't agree more.  As a former Site Controller, I found the best way to understand how the business operates is "management by wandering around".  Unless you see the processes in action, you can't really understand the process bottlenecks, potential risk exposures, and other challenges to a successful business.  Nor would you appreciate the talents and expertise of your most important assets (people) that keep your business running and successful.   Because the employees would see the "face" of management they were generally more open about problems, and finding solutions to them.  Sometimes you need to hear that if we spent $100 in staplers for every cashier that it would improve productivity by 10%. Or that a battery backup system on the cash registers would prevent a 10 minute boot-up and loss of sales when the power was flickering on and off.

  1. Great comments and stories!  Thanks for giving me feedback and elaborating on the importance of seeing things with your own eyes rather than relying on secondhand analysis and computer-based research. 

    @Mike Foltyn--if you manage NOT to find a 7-Eleven in Japan that would be amazing.  There are about 15,000 stores there!  And the food's great too. 

  1. I agree with you Carolyn and the above comments. I can remember two managers, one with on office tucked away some distance from his staff; the other with a desk next to his staff. Which was the better manager? The one with the office. Why? Because he was rarely in it! He was usually to be found in the office with his staff, while the other manager tended to keep his head down at his desk. This emphasised to me how important the attitude of mind is to Genchi Genbutsu. Mere physical proximity is not enough, a desire to learn from others and apply this learning is also vital. This is a lesson for internal auditors. By sitting among the client staff and not scurrying back to an office, we can talk to them, learn and gain their confidence at the same time. We can also listen to the office gossip which can be very educational! As managers, if we have an office, make sure the 'default' position of our door (and mind) is open.
  1. In my opinion,the discussion leads to the monitoring procees because in every activity like running of  bussiness,manufacturing even back office working, it is essential to supervise the activity/working of workers/staff  to achive objectives of  enterpenur/management to opitimum level.However while monitoring worker/staff ,one should be act with more confidance and possesing relative knowledge. 

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