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Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Guest Post: Adopting the Nemawashi Mindset

It’s a common occurrence in business: a manager is gearing up for a major project or is ready to propose a change in policy. They’ve spent months working on the proposal, conducting research, and gathering information to make it successful. But when the proposal is presented in a meeting there is a clash of opinions, changes are rejected, and progress is seriously hindered. In order for policy changes or projects to succeed, a consensus among team members must be met, and this can be done with nemawashi.

A literal translation of nemawashi is “going around the roots,” referring to the transplant process of a plant or tree.  Extra effort is taken by introducing to dirt from the new location to the tree and digging around the roots to move the tree. Transplanting a tree takes time and preparation to ensure survival in the new environment. Nemawashi is an important part of not only the Toyota Production System but it is also deeply embedded into the culture of Japan.

The same concept can be translated as transplanting ideas to minds for nurturing a successful proposal. In business, nemawashi is the first step in the decision-making process and works to develop a foundation of consensus before implementing changes to a process or project. Through small and informal meetings, managers gather feedback, suggestions, and opinions and can use this to present a successful proposal. The free exchange of ideas promotes continuous improvement and like other Lean tools, relies on involvement from workers on all levels. When a manager presents his proposal to others in a meeting after using the nemawashi mindset, everyone is on the same page and has a better understanding of the proposal, and by this time changes have been already made based on employee feedback. The project can be carried out smoothly and successfully.

How to Apply the Nemawashi Philosophy

Nemawashi is more ambiguous than some of the other Lean tools; there is no exact framework to follow or steps that must be completed. Each nemawashi process will be different than the last, and over time you will see how you can effectively practice nemawashi in your own facility.
However you decide to go about it, the process typically begins with managers and supervisors sharing information. For instance, if you are going to propose a change to part of the manufacturing process, you would send out information about the condition of the process, why the current process is wasteful, possible countermeasures, and any other relevant information to all employees involved in the process.

After employees get a chance to review the info, the manager will begin to meet with them for a conversation. This can either be done one-on-one or in small groups, but it is important to give the workers an opportunity to share their opinion. Leaders will need to take the time to listen and show that their suggestions are taken under consideration. From there, the proposal can be refined or even tossed depending on the consensus, a new document with the revised project proposal is create, and a formal meeting is scheduled to present the proposal. By this time, support has already been gathered and any kinks in the plan have been smoothed out. Employees have an understanding of the proposal and will be able to effectively help implement any changes.

Leaders and managers who take the extra time and effort to listen and learn to employees, the nemawashi mindset truly allows changes to be carried out with all parties consenting of decisions. The success of a project usually relies on support from everyone involved, and nemawashi builds that consensus behind the scenes, before any changes are even made.   

About the Author: Jesse Allred is a blog writer for Creative Safety Supply leaders in visual safety and Lean manufacturing resources. She enjoys sharing information and advice for facilities to achieve efficiency while keeping employees safe.

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