"There is only one way to look at things until someone shows us how to look at them with different eyes." - Pablo Picasso
Good company culture cultivates engagement and innovation. Research shows that workplace innovation leads to significant and sustainable improvements in organizational performance, employee engagement and overall well-being.
For years, many companies have implemented the Gemba Walk to uncover new ways to do things. Gemba Walk translates to “the real place” in Japanese, also known as “the place where value is created.” In the practice of Lean and Six Sigma this means not only taking the time to watch how the process is done, but also talking with those who do the job, engaging with the employees to gain knowledge about the work process and exploring opportunities for innovation and continuous improvement. Too often though, when done incorrectly, a Gemba Walk has no value added and brings down employee engagement because we fall prey to authority bias.
Authority bias can be described in two ways: 1) it is our “tendency to overvalue the opinions of those in authority and undervalue opinions from the bottom and 2) it is our inclination to be more influenced by the opinion of an authority figure without questioning. This can unfold in two ways. We can leave ideas on the table when we don’t tap into all our employees and only speak to a select few, our "go-to people", meaning those with a title, position, or seniority. Secondly, production workers may feel culturally that speaking up is not within their job and would be disrespectful, they don’t dare to question authority and they don’t want to expose themselves to embarrassment or rejection.
Because bias is a shortcut our brains use to save time, no leader is immune to it, yet we can take steps to determine if our bias is enhancing employee’s creative ability to drive innovation or diminishing the opportunity for our employees to participate. It means we need to confront embedded attitudes and behaviors (within ourselves and employees), ask ourselves difficult questions, and be open to the experiences from a diverse range of employees. The good news is creating a space for participation and innovation is a teachable skill. Here are 4 tips for your next Gemba Walk:
- Recognize that bias is a natural part of the human condition.
- Pause before selecting your Gemba team; does your team represent diversity in age, gender, languages spoken in your workplace?
- Ensure your team seeks out the opinions of your diverse workforce regardless of age, race, gender, preferred language, position or seniority.
- Create a safe environment where your employees feel included, where it’s safe to learn, contribute, and challenge the status quo all with the fear of embarrassment.
By equipping your leaders and employees, your organization can stay ahead of the curve and thrive. To learn more on inclusive practices and how to create a psychological safe environment, contact Paola A. Velasquez, Director of DEI in Manufacturing.