Gemba walks at a major hospital. This story was conveyed to me by a maintenance person at the hospital. They were directly involved - they hung the boards in the work areas that would display project status' for the executive/management gemba walks, a CEO directive. It's been a few years, so I've forgotten all the stories, but suffice it to say they never thought it was more than an effort to "do something" - as in: when you don't know what else to do. As the manager's did the walk, a team member from each area would discuss the project selected by that team and provide an update, the boards displayed project data with stop light colors and related charts and tables. Each project lasted 30 days. So if the project didn't go so well, se la vie, it won't be discussed again when the month is over. As the story goes, the CEO left the organization and the gemba walks ceased within weeks. I get the feeling they weren't missed.
Talking to an individual at a struggling private equity owned manufacturer (planning an across-the-board headcount reduction) I asked "if you were running the company, what would you do?" Second on the list they responded with; "stop the gemba walks." I had never heard them mention gemba walks before. Apparently they are taking an inordinate amount of time for middle management, exactly the group stretched in all directions and struggling...
Each of the management teams in the stories above could have consulted Michael Bremmer's ebook, How to Do a Gemba Walk. The tastes left in the employees mouths might be different. I've been an admirer of Michael's since reading Escape the Improvement Trap: Five Ingredients Missing in Most Improvement Recipes. If you have any interest in Gemba Walks, do yourself a favor and spend $7 on his ebook. Unfortunately, like many of the ingredients required for organizational improvement, gemba walks have been politicized and abused.
Don't want to read an ebook? Here's another option; listen to the Gemba Academy's podcast interview with Michael; you can find it here. It's their podcast number 26: How to Conduct a Gemba Walk. Highly recommended.
Bad tastes linger - when I asked one of the individuals in the stories to review what I had written, here's their reply: "Gemba, just the thought of it makes me cringe. It should be called Gemba the walk of the dead."