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Gather facts firsthand to fix problems

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in Leaders & Managers,Leadership Skills

One of the dangers of managing people is the ease with which you can rely on them as your eyes and ears in the workplace. Since you can't be everywhere at once, their impressions and observations may drive your decision-making.

Whenever possible, couple your interpretation of employees' comments with firsthand fact-gathering. Confirming what you hear can help you base your judgments on valid information. In Matthew May's book, The Elegant Solution, we learn how Shoichiro Toyoda, 82, the honorary chairman of the Japanese car maker, responded to a problem during a visit years ago to a Toyota dealer in the eastern U.S. (At the time, he served as the company's president.)

When touring the service department, he spotted a vehicle under repair. He asked what was wrong with the car, and the service manager said that metal shavings were falling off the transmission case into the valve body. At this point, the company president could have noted the situation and moved on. Instead, he decided to dig to learn more. So he asked the service manager to show him the problem.

The head of Toyota was dressed in a suit, so he removed his coat, rolled up his sleeves and stuck his hand into the transmission pan. He felt around, retrieved some metal shavings and put them in his handkerchief to bring back to Japan for further investigation. This story illustrates the Japanese concept of genchi genbutsu, meaning "go and see." May writes, "Toyoda believes so deeply in the practice of personal fact-finding and hands-on problem solving that genchi genbutsu is written in stone as one of the company's guiding values."

Follow Toyoda's lead and gather data alongside your employees. Thank them for making you aware of a problem and invite them to join your investigation. That way, you show that you trust them and you simply want to learn more.

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