Process Improvement Tip #9: Get your senior managers out of their offices

In the lead up to PEX Masters next month, we’re running a series of process improvement tips to help you jump start your initiatives for 2013. This is the ninth of twelve.

In the television show Undercover Boss, which has versions aired in North America, Europe and Australia, a top executive of a company goes undercover to work as a "new" recruit in various different functions of their own company. A hotel executive, for instance, would experience what it’s like to work in the hotel kitchen, serving customers at the front desk, making up the rooms, and so on.

Usually, they find inspiring people and broken processes. And more often than not, they’re shocked at how much they didn’t know about what was actually happening inside their organizations.

Is this how problems appear to your senior management?

The more senior you are in an organization, the more that problems - and even customers for that matter - can appear like just a series of numbers on a spreadsheet in a management report. It’s easy to theorize about numbers as they appear abstract.

The Lean management principle of going to where work gets done ("going to the gemba") is critical to ensure that managers really understand what’s going on. Get your senior staff out of their office and to see what's really going on. Even better than "management by walking around" is "management by doing and understanding." Get your CEO manning the phones in the "customer contact center" for a few hours a couple of times a year or on frontline service. The amount they’ll learn in those few hours will beat any amount of staring at spreadsheets trying to solve the company’s problems.