Kamishibai: A pessimist’s blood type is b-negative

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Rey ElboA FOREIGN dignitary, visiting Africa, made an appearance before a large gathering of natives. He launched into a long, rambling anecdote that went on for about half an hour. The natives were respectfully silent. When he had concluded, the only available interpreter in town rose from his seat and said four words. Everyone laughed uproariously.

The dignitary was stunned, “How could you tell my story so quickly?” he gasped.

“Story too long,” said the interpreter. “So I say-He tell joke. You can laugh now.”

That’s the trouble when you don’t communicate directly with the people, using their own language. The same thing could happen when you are in the office or factory. Now, if you’re the boss, how well do you monitor the work of each and every worker in your unit, and compare it with an objective standard?

While I know all the best possible answers (at least 1,478 of them), my personal policy is to be democratic by asking within my circle that is intellectually and emotionally prepared to share an opinion. Actually, I don’t think there are many important cerebral differences among us except for one. I’m a newspaper columnist who can do two things at the same time-write and laugh.


Anyway, Mario who is a regular reader of this column opines that the best way to monitor employee performance is to install at least 2,789 CCTV cameras in the office. That’s the expensive part. The cheap part, according to Lito, my neighbor in ParaÒaque, is to require employees to record their attendance and punctuality via a biometric system.

So getting answers from ordinary but trustworthy people like Mario and Lito is like basically a matter of going on a treasure hunt from hell. You need to do a lot of analysis from it to get the best possible answer. Don’t be pessimistic. As you can imagine, both Mario and Lito are pathetically incorrect.

The low-cost and common-sense approach to monitor real-time work performance of people is to install and maintain a kamishibai board, which is like a “story book” that tells what’s actually happening in the workplace using several cards that describe the situation. The kamishibai which can be made out of colored cartolina (cardboard) must necessarily be visual and accessible to all supervisors and workers.

Jeffrey Liker and David Meier in “The Toyota Way Fieldbook” (2006) tell us that the kamishibai board is one excellent practice in monitoring standard work as it requires “group leaders check one process each day for compliance to standardized work, watching work cycles. This brings them to each job at least once per month. The cards contain questions they complete on the performance of standardized work and the accuracy of the standardized work document.”

“Discrepancies are noted and countermeasures described on the card. There is a card slot for every process in a team. The cards are moved to a corresponding adjacent vacant slot once the check has been performed. When a problem is noted, the card is turned with the dark side facing out, indicating that something needs correction. Assistant managers check the boards each day to verify that the checks are being made properly. They randomly select a card from the board, obtain the standardized work and conduct a check of a process with the group leader,” they added.

Of course, you can always have the equivalent of a kamishibai in your computer similar to what people and organizations do online with the Balanced Scorecard. But nothing beats the kamishibai because you must be at the exact place where the real action is happening and not at the comforts of your air-conditioned room. The kamishibai is one good excuse for people managers to practice MBWA (management by wandering around).

The Japanese knows the potency of MBWA in helping them to communicate well with the workers that they do it within the context of genchi gembutsu or literally “go, see, and find out what’s really happening out there.”

Of course, you can’t have kamishibai or the balanced scorecard if there’s no standardized work which is “a baseline for continuous improvement,” according to Liker and Meier. After defining the standards, you must ask that one strategic question-”Where is the next level of opportunity?”

That’s the point. Use kamishibai or its equivalent to monitor real-life performance of people. But again, when you see a deviation from a work standard, don’t be mad at your workers. More importantly, don’t be a pessimist. You know what I mean. A pessimist is someone who complains about the noise when an opportunity knocks.

If the workers continue to violate the standard, maybe it’s about time to examine its reasonableness.

Rey Elbo is a business consultant on human resources and total quality management as a fused interest. Send feedback to elbonomics@gmail.com or follow him on Facebook, LinkedIn, or Twitter for his random management thoughts.

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