Posted by Dr. Gwendolyn Galsworth   |  

There is an enemy in your company—and it’s invisible. You can’t see it because it literally is not there. Yet its impact is massive on every level of the enterprise, from board room to marketing to operations to the field staff. And the only way we have even the smallest chance of destroying it is by focusing on what it causes…its footprint.

Can you name it?

Yes, the enemy is information deficits: information that is either incomplete, imprecise, misleading, late/too late, wrong or simple not there. This missing information is always vital to the task at hand but its main attribute is its unavailability, whether by neglect or by oversight. Another way to say this is missing answers.

Missing answers are rampant in the workplace, whether factory, hospital, office or government agency. Here I am not referring to information that we as customers might request from, for example, a government agency—the DMV, IRS, or Social Security; that is a different order of answer. The missing answers under discussion this week are the ones we need in order to do our own work.footsteps-THIS

But because they are missing, we cannot see them. We can only see their impact on us, their footprint. That footprint’s name is motion. Yes, motion is one of the seven deadly wastes, defined as moving without working. When Taiichi Ohno, co-architect with Shigeo Shingo of the Toyota Production System, named motion as a waste back in the 1960s, he was referring to the fact that a machine operator was given nothing to do while the machine cycled. He decided to change that.

When I was writing my first visual workplace book, Visual Systems, in the 1990s, I wanted to find a measurement device or yardstick by which people could assess the need for workplace visuality. Motion/moving without working fit the bill perfectly because that was exactly what happened when needed information was missing at work—people were busy but not working. The types or forms may sound familiar, even commonplace, but they are no less lethal: searching, looking for, wondering, wandering, guessing, counting (already a type of motion), counting again (double motion). The list goes on and always includes our gang of four—asking questions, answering questions, interrupting to ask/being interrupted to answer…and the great catch-all: waiting, waiting for answers that may come but only probably.

Information deficits don’t just cause motion; they make it contagious. I am missing some information so I interrupt you to see if you can supply it. You, ever polite and helpful, apologize because you do not know—and go the extra step to interrupt your co-worker and ask her. She doesn’t know but volunteers to make a phone call to check with a friend in another department—and the beat goes on. The disease spreads. The interruptions continue. Untracked and un-noticed, the cost caused by the invisible enemy swells. Missing answers rule the non-visual workplace.

Did you know: It takes us 8 to 10 minutes to recover from an interruption, any interruption, no matter how long or how short? To recover doesn’t mean to merely get back to the task-at-hand—but instead to get back to the level of focused attention you had before the interruption. Some of us get interrupted continuously, so often that we are convinced answering questions is our job whether we like it or not. In some companies, we are called supervisors….

But think: What would happen if the answers to the questions you are constantly asked resided, instead, in the work environment itself as visual devices? What would change for you if missing answers, the invisible enemy, were removed from your work day—by implementing visual workplace principles and practices? What would change in you?

These are important questions. We shall tackle these and a connected series of answers over the next several articles. Next week, I share a specific way for you to gauge for yourself the impact of unanswered questions on your work; I also start to discuss how to make information deficits disappear through workplace visuality. Let the workplace speak!