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Walk the walk

‘Gemba’ technique helps facilities innovate

USPS employee stands near mail processing equipment
Travis Clemmons is an automation clerk at the Indianapolis Processing and Distribution Center, one of several USPS facilities where managers use "gemba walks" to foster innovation.

The Postal Service has a message for its managers: If you want to know what’s happening in your workplace, go where the action is.

In other words: Take a gemba walk.”

This Japanese leadership technique encourages managers to move throughout a workroom, observing employees and asking them questions to understand how they do their jobs.

“The gemba model is simple and powerful,” said Network Operations VP Robert Cintron, a strong proponent of the walks.

The practice is fostering innovation in postal workplaces across the nation, including those in Great Lakes Area, which recently organized a Gemba Walk Week to highlight success stories.

For example, the Michigan Metroplex in Detroit has strengthened mail processing by encouraging managers and supervisors to conduct daily gemba walks and update employees on each day’s goals.

Gemba walks can also be used to highlight effective practices that can be replicated elsewhere.

Lakeland District, for example, identified a new way to manage “hold mail” — mail that is held for customers who are unable to receive it — after Post Office Operations Manager Elizabeth Wulf observed one employee’s efficient hold system in Evanston, IL.

Elsewhere, Vincent Wolff, an operations manager at the Indianapolis Processing and Distribution Center, begins his daily gemba walks with a meeting of managers and employees.

“We talk through yesterday’s performance — what went right, what went wrong,” Wolff said. “The best part is that we’re not emailing each other, we’re discussing it at the table.”

Making gemba walks a daily routine is essential, Cintron said.

“Gemba isn’t a one-and-done event,” he said. “It’s a key part of continuous improvement, getting better day by day.”

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