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Go and See for Yourself

  • Annette Franz

Do you know the Japanese term genchi genbutsu? A key principle of the Toyota Production System, the APICS Dictionary says genchi genbutsu involves visiting the shop floor to observe what is occurring. The idea is that any business decisions you make should be based on firsthand knowledge, rather than relying on the (perhaps) biased, outdated or incorrect knowledge of someone else. Moreover, problems are best understood and solved where they occur. In other words, how do you get to the root of the problem, effort or issue without seeing it for yourself?

According to The Economist article “Genchi genbutsu: More a frame of mind than a plan of action,” genchi genbutsu represents a fundamental difference between western and Japanese management styles. Whereas in the West, knowledge is gleaned and digested in the office or the boardroom, in Japan, it is gleaned on the factory floor. The entirety of this concept is captured by the idea of place — being on the spot, at the source of the action, to identify and take advantage of opportunities for improvement.

The title of the article notes that genchi genbutsu is a frame of mind. This is a key part of the concept to adopt. You cannot run a business in your ivory tower or by simply looking at numbers, metrics, data and reports; you must get in the trenches. This is about knowing your business, how things are going and experiencing firsthand what employees do.

Although genchi genbutsu is primarily a manufacturing principle, it has interesting applications in the employee (and customer) experience. To that end, consider the following ways to move your organization from mindset to action:

  • Management by walking around: Wander the workplace, check on employees at random, and talk to them about how things are going and what issues they are facing at the moment.
  • Reverse mentoring: This can be used in a variety of ways and applies to helping senior leaders learn and understand the roles and tasks of their team members.
  • Undercover executive programs: Go undercover and do the jobs of your employees to get the real experience without being treated differently.
  • Doing the job: Some companies assign executives to take on a different role within the organization once a month (not undercover) to experience what their employees do.
  • Call monitoring: Sit with a Customer Relations representative and listen to the calls.
  • Mystery shopping: Shop your own organization. You don’t have to be a retail operation to do this. “Shopping” can be calling customer support or your main office line, and it allows you to experience the organization as customers would.

As you’re undertaking these exercises, remember that people are unique. For example, the experience of a disabled employee will be completely different from someone who is not disabled. Experience it all.

Go to the place where it all happens. Go and see for yourself. It will be time well spent, as these initiatives will help you develop empathy, clarity, understanding and awareness. With the information you gain, you will be able to formulate improvement plans and execute them successfully. You will identify issues and their root causes. Best of all, you will develop an appreciation for what others do every day, which will make everyone more engaged and committed to advancing performance.


Annette Franz is founder and CEO of CX Journey. She may be contacted at


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