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You’re not sure how to respond to a bigwig's question.

In a well-run Lean organization, leaders are frequently present on the shop floor. They will be likely to engage with you and ask lots of questions about specific things that they see. They will also probably ask the open-ended “How are things going?” question. You can brush it off with a “Fine” or you can take the opportunity to put a senior leader to work on one of the problems you are facing.


One of the bigwigs asks how things are going, and you’re not sure how, or if, you should respond.

How this affects you

Senior leaders like to walk around (go to gemba) and talk to employees. They want to find out what is happening down in the trenches. For some employees, these situations can be stressful, because they worry that saying what is really on their minds will get them, a coworker, or their boss in hot water. Anxiety may be costing these frontline workers a prime opportunity to get assistance on a persistent problem

Action to take

This is a fine line to walk. First, think of the reason the executive is there in the first place: he is sincerely interested in finding out how the operation is running and how workers are doing. But employees generally tend to be uncomfortable when executives are around and just want “the suit” to leave. To hasten that retreat, subordinates rarely ask questions, voice concerns, or make any comment at all. This means that any comments you choose to make will stand out. You can often make very important points with great payoffs. The big bosses, if they agree with your comments, will not only be impressed with you for taking a little risk, but they can almost always get things done more quickly than anyone else.

Now, here are some tips for talking to executives. Limit how much you say—control the quantity. Don’t bring up a laundry list of problems—you’ll only come across as disgruntled. Be concise. If you are long-winded, the executive’s mind will wander onto something else. They always have lots going on. If it feels too stressful being the one to talk, recruit the outspoken person on your team who will say just about anything to anyone (every team has one). Ask him to voice your concerns for you…

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Why this works

The Why this Works section is only available in print copies of Whaddaya Mean I Gotta Be Lean?.


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