Sep 10 2013

Robert Peston is currently presenting a programme on shopping in which he looks at, amongst other stores, Tesco. The founder of Tesco Jack Cohen started out selling fish paste out of barrels in a London market. His business grew to become the largest in Britain & the third largest in the world. One of the keys to his success, was that he believed in being involved, committed to the business. He didn’t sit in an ivory tower & bark orders from up on high. His motto/signature, after “pile ‘em high & sell ‘em cheap” was YCDBSOYA or You Can’t Do Business Sitting On Your Arse!

Apparently he used to give tie tacks to his top managers that displayed those letters. I would argue that this is one of the key reasons why Tesco’s grew so large & became so profitable. The owner & founder understood what so many managers don’t. You can’t run a business from behind a desk.

To truly understand what is going on in your business, to support the folks at the front line in delivering whatever value you create or provide for your customers means you have to get in there with them and see the real situation. In lean it is often referred to as “Going to Gemba” (Gemba being the Japanese word for the place where the work happens).

This doesn’t mean you have to live on the shop floor, shoulder to shoulder day in day out with your hands dirty building or repairing or whatever it is you do. But the closer you are to those who actually create value for the customer, the better your relationships will be with them and the more you will know what is ACTUALLY going on in your business.

Layers of hierarchy which report upwards are like filters & screens, providing information they think you want & often hiding the important information needed to truly resolve the issues faced in your business. To know the truth, the real situation, you have to go look for yourself. Spend some time at the coal face seeing the problems first hand, understanding the implications of the policies you set.

Management is not about status or prestige, it is about supporting those who deliver value – you can’t do this from behind a desk. As Jack Cohen said, “You can’t do business sitting on your arse!”

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