Go See? What For?

Neo Blind1

Go See, Ask Why, Show Respect” is the phrase made famous by former Toyota president and chairman, Mr. Fujio Cho. He was referring to how managers should interact with workers and address problems that occur at the genba. “Go See” means to go where the problem occurred to thoroughly understand the situation, “Ask Why” to determine the root cause of the problem, and “Show Respect” to the people who do the value-creating work. It is sound advice when confronted with problems at the genba.

But what about problems that are not at the genba? The big problems that have no genba, such as the one I worked on for nearly 15 years: Why do business leaders resist or reject Lean management? Part of my work in this area involves training leaders in Lean leadership. They seek training because they have a problem with Lean transformation. They usually want to give me a tour of the work areas — “Go See” — which is where they think the problem is. I typically decline their offer to “Go See.” They are befuddled by this. If I am somehow compelled to view the work areas, I smile and pay as little attention as possible. We then proceed with the training.

Why do I decline to “Go See?” It is for three reasons:

  • I want to test myself to learn how much has changed since I left industry in 1999.
  • Chances are high that what I will see — the basic structure of material and information processing in the shop and office — is something that I have seen hundreds of times in the past (prior to 2000).
  • For the type of work that I do, what I want to “Go See” is what is inside leaders’ minds, and that cannot be “seen” in the traditional sense.

I decline to “Go See” for the purpose of applying inductive reasoning to further explore the above stated problem — to test if my predictions are accurate or not, and to more deeply comprehend how entrenched classical management is or is not as the years go by.

As I do my Lean leadership training, there are times when I describe examples of material and information processing specific to the company in question, not having seen how workers do their work in the shop or office. I describe certain leadership and management practices, never having witnessed how company leaders lead and manage. I describe what employees do and how they react to different circumstances. I describe various interactions with suppliers and customers. About nine times out of ten I am on-target — and as recently as last week. Participants say things like:

  • How do you know that?
  • Did you used to work here?
  • That’s exactly how we do it.
  • You must be clairvoyant.

How unfortunate this is; not much has changed. I am no genius and I have no preternatural or supernatural capabilities. But I did learn some things well during in my years in industry; I have been a dedicated student, researcher, and observer in my current role; I do understand classical management; I understand how leaders think when it comes to leadership and management; I understand TPS and Lean; and I am inquisitive and imaginative. The interesting thing about all of this is not how good I am at guessing what people do or how they do it, but that these things have gone unchanged for so long. This, despite decades of vast and varied forms of information produced over the last 50 years (and more) on how to improve leadership and management, of which Lean is only a small, but significant, part. Overall, there has been remarkably little impact, which shows that most people who do this type of problem-solving work do not understand the true nature of the problem to begin with.

So, for what I do, for the problem that I work on, “Go See” is not necessary. What about “Ask Why?” When you engage in “Ask Why” with leaders, to get to the root of why certain problems exist, most quickly become very annoyed. More often than not they will obfuscate, change the subject, or leave the room to take calls or texts. They are either nonparticipative or participative in ways that are disingenuous — i.e., the root cause, accurate as it may be, is irrelevant to them because they have no intention of taking action to correct the problem. So, usually, there is no point to “Ask Why.” One must use additional sources and means to discover the root causes of why leaders resist or reject progressive management.

Lastly, “Show Respect.” There are two aspects to this: Respect for what leaders have personally accomplished, which society holds to be admirable, and that which they are unable or unwilling to accomplish, which is less than admirable. I admit to having some difficulty showing respect to the professional business leaders who have essentially zero real interest in advancing the practice of leadership and management, given their great responsibilities to the company itself, the board of directors, and the employees, customers, suppliers, investors, and communities. It is difficult to show respect for leaders who are steadfastly committed to archaic ways of thinking and doing things. This creates discord in companies, similar to the discord that occurs in families where parents are out of step with the times and unwilling to change. Old-fashioned people, whether parent or business leaders, demand that others conform to their ways and thus retard needed progress. They are unwilling to address or comprehend the need to separate traditions that should be retained and those traditions that are out of date and should be immediately cast aside.

We have a shared desire to fully understand why leaders are more interested in pecuniary efficiency than they are in productive efficiency — not just on the shop or office floor, but the productive efficiency of the work performed by leaders at all levels of an organization. It is clear that tending to the pecuniary ends of business, based on archaic preconceptions, habits, and traditions, assures slow or no progress in productive efficiency. Could that be why productivity growth remains so low in recent decades? What this does is generate a never-ending stream of “financial innovations” that produce the appearance of increasing pecuniary efficiency.

The accuracy of my inductive reasoning will surely decrease in the future, but likely not by much, because, as they saying goes, “the more things change, the more they stay the same.” New technologies are coming into the workplace such as “robotic process automation,” whose purpose is to automate “between 30% and 60%” of manual office tasks. The same technology is coming to the manufacturing shop floor. This technology is beyond my field of sensory experience, so perhaps I will have to “Go See.” But first I will try some inductive reasoning to determine if these new technologies are built with the same preconceptions and cognitive biases that have long been in existence. Maybe in the coming years I will be right only seven or eight times out of ten. That will still be unfortunate.

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