Genchi Genbutsu Lean Leadership is an article demonstrating through example how “go and see” is applied by Wiliam Bratton, the celebrated police officer who turned the Los Angeles Police around
I recently finished reading a few articles in Harvard Business Review on Leading Through Change. In that series is an excellent article on Tipping Point Leadership. Tipping Point, essentially, is an idea that Malcolm Gladwell popularized, but is a term that comes from epidemiology. It is a business term that aims to study or explain social epidemics. In the case of Tipping Point Leadership, it is an article that aims to explain how leaders can use the notion of “Tipping Point” to affect change in an organization. In that article are many excellent case studies, one of which is of William J. Bratton and how he used Genchi Genbutsu to turn-around the New York Transit Police and the Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority.
Getting people to agree for the need to change is a challenge. Most often times, using data and numbers just doesn’t stick. According to the article, a tipping-point approach is to place your key managers or influencers face-to-face with the operational problems, so that the managers cannot evade reality. Poor performance becomes something they witness rather than hear about or see on paper. Taiichi Ohno places a distinction between “facts” and “data”:
“The root cause of any problem is the key to a lasting solution,” Ohno used to say. He constantly emphasized the importance of genchi genbutsu, or ‘going to the source,’ and clarifying the problem with one’s own eyes. “‘Data’ is of course important in manufacturing,” he often remarked, “but I place greatest emphasis on ‘facts.’”
In other words, experiencing problems first-hand “sticks” in people’s minds and hearts, whereas poor performance described in numbers is forgettable.
When Bratton first went to New York to head the transit police in 1990, he discovered that none of the senior staff officers rode the subway. Comfortably removed from the facts of underground life — and reassured by statistics showing that only 3% of the city’s major crimes were committed in the subway — the senior managers had little sensitivity to the riders’ widespread concern about safety. In response to this, Bratton required all his officers to ride the subway to work, to meetings, and at night. This Genchi Genbutsu approach was enough of a platform to convert the senior managers to begin policing differently and to enforce change in the subway system. While data showed crime numbers in the subway of 3%, the widespread feeling was fear, chaos, and panic — the senior officers no longer could deny this claim — they experienced it first-hand.
In another example, Bratton was made Head of the Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority. On one occassion, the board decided to purchase small squad cars that would be cheaper to buy and run. Instead of fighting the decision, Bratton invited the General Manager of the MBTA for a tour of the district; Bratton picked him up in a small squad car — similar to what would have been bought — with all of his police gear on, and drove over every pot hole he could find all over the city. This direct experience convinced the General Manager that the small squad cars wouldn’t be a good purchase for the officers of the MBTA.
Nothing beats direct, front-line experience. Indeed, Genchi Genbutsu is about experiencing the facts — a reality that is much more true than data.