Why this lean management manta is important to TPC Automation
By Simon Walker
“Go See, Ask Why, Show Respect” is a fundamental mantra of practitioners of the lean management philosophy. At TPC Automation, we have built it into our culture and we’ll explain its benefits to our business shortly, but first some background on how the mantra came to be.
“Go See, Ask Why, Show Respect” was made famous by Toyota Chairman Fujio Cho, a famed businessman in the automotive world. Cho joined Toyota in the 1960s, and through the years has risen the company ranks to become Honorary Chairman, the most powerful executive at Toyota.
He has held numerous roles at the company, including spearheading Toyota’s first production facility in North America. He is also a strong advocate for environmentally friendly automotive technology. Under his watch, the Toyota Prius was developed.
Cho has received countless awards for his work. Accolades include an honorary engineering degree from the University of Kentucky. He also received the prestigious International Executive of the Year Award in 2011 from the Academy of Business. In 2004, Time Magazine recognized him as one of the 100 most influential people of the year.
His career started in the 1960s under the mentorship of Taiichi Ohno, a Japanese industrial engineer and businessman, who is considered to be the father of the Toyota Production System and architect of the Lean Management philosophy. While mentoring Cho, Ohno preached the importance of “Genchi Genbutsu”, a concept that stresses the necessity of observing a situation from where it originated to truly understand it.
Ohno also emphasized the importance of involvement, commitment, and dedication of all employees. From these core teachings, Cho created: “Go See, Ask Why, Show Respect.” It has become one of the most prominent lean management principles.
To better understand this philosophy, here is a breakdown of each segment of the famous phrase.
Understanding: “Go See”
“Go See” relates to one of the core concepts in the Toyota Production System, which is Genchi Genbutsu (現地現物). In English, this means “real location, real thing”. In business, it is the place where value is created. Some refer to it simply as the “shop floor”.
As the translation suggests, a situation (or “thing”) and its location must be intertwined to understand the bigger picture. If you understand what is happening at work, you must go to “the place” or “Gemba”, where the work is happening.
In lean manufacturing, managers should be present in the Gemba, to observe. To do this in a meaningful way, managers must know what to look for. In a broad sense, they should work to determine if the manufacturing processes are working towards achieving company goals.
For example, a common goal of lean manufacturing is to improve efficiency while reducing costs and waste. If a process is not achieving this, the manager would understand why this is the case, and could then develop a fix for the problem. However, before determining the next course of action, it is important to also gain the perspective of employees by asking why the current process is in place.
Understanding “Ask Why”
The phrase “Ask Why” refers to asking employees questions about how they do their work and why it is done that way. Employees provide managers with valuable information since they work directly with the product every day.
When a manager observes a manufacturing problem, it may be hard to determine a viable solution solely from an outsider’s perspective. For example, a primary goal of lean manufacturing is to reduce waste. Acknowledging that the waste is being produced and that it is problematic, does not solve the problem. In the lean philosophy, you must investigate the circumstances. You want to learn why the waste is being produced in the first place; if anything can be done to reduce it; and if reducing the waste would sacrifice efficiency, and so on.
Asking employees these kinds of questions will help to work toward developing a solution because they can provide perspectives that are not otherwise available through observation alone. Doing this can also show employees that the company respects their work and values their opinion.
Understanding “Show Respect”
Although “Show Respect” is last in Cho’s principle, it is of utmost importance and should be present in all of the steps of the process. Understanding that one must be present on the Gemba to fully grasp a situation, shows respect to those working on the floor. It acknowledges that their work is far too important and complex to be observed from afar.
Involving employees in the problem-solving process shows that their input is valued. Their work is an integral part of the process and their insight is valued by management. It also shows that management respects different opinions. Everyone has a unique way of thinking and different perspectives may warrant different solutions. If employee opinions are not valued, then a more effective solution may not be determined.
The TPC Automation Way
At TPC Automation, the “Go See, Ask Why, Show Respect” principle is at the forefront of the problem-solving and decision making process. Every day, we have a standing meeting where the individuals responsible for each department stand up and share data with the group. After this process, we discuss it as a group and ask questions to better understand the results. Our objectives are to understand why we do something a certain way, if that process makes sense, what is preventing us from getting certain results, and so on.
By doing this, all members of the organization can see the processes of the gamba, from those who work directly on it. This allows us to gain a better understanding of the whole picture, instead of relying solely on the data. Through our discussion, we can understand why the data is the way it is and what can be done to change or improve the outcomes.
Most importantly, the group setting allows for everyone to have their voices heard. We understand that our team may perceive a situation differently and there may be multiple solutions to a given problem. We respect and value different opinions and rely more on asking questions than making assumptions. This allows us to create a more positive business atmosphere.
Why is this important?
In the workplace, managers are often isolated and disconnected from the production floor. Their decisions rely more heavily on the data, but there is only so much you can learn from an Excel spreadsheet. Relying solely on data forces managers to make assumptions about the Gemba and workers.
By applying the “Go See, Ask Why, Show Respect” principle, managers have to get out from behind their computers and fully experience what the business does. To be a good leader, you must understand how all the pieces of the puzzle work together and respect that all employees are crucial to the success of the company.