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Gwendolyn Galsworth


Translating Information Into Behavior

Visual devices become translation points between information and desired outcome

Published: Monday, July 23, 2018 - 11:03

The world of work shares a single basic transaction, used millions of times a day: translating vital information into human behavior. But operationalizing this formula is not that simple. Workplace information can change quickly and often—schedules, customer requirements, engineering specifications, operational methods, tooling and fixture needs, material location, and the thousands of other details on which daily life in the enterprise depends.

To share that information, most companies depend on on-the-job and classroom training, binders of standard operating procedures, reference manuals, online instruction, and blueprints—followed by lots of supervisors and managers to answer our many questions. These are indirect methods, with varying levels of effectiveness. Yet managers assume these indirect methods are capable of translating vital information into exact behavior.

The belief is that once we get the right information, we will do the right things, the right way, on time, and safely. We will behave in keeping with that information, and good things will result—namely, well-made products delivered on time, and well-provided services presented with a smile. Unfortunately, that is rarely the case. Other things happen instead.

You begin your day determined to produce outstanding results; then the unexpected happens. You grab the wrong material (or the wrong material is delivered, and you don’t know it); you make the wrong model (because you couldn’t quite make out the work order); you use the wrong tool (because the right tool could not be found); you overheat the part (because the gauge on the oven slipped); and so on. You intended to do the right thing, but wrong things happened.

What would it be like if the physical workplace itself could help make that translation, instead of books, manuals, computers, training hours, and coaching? What would your work day be like if the floors, instead of just holding you up, actually helped you do your work, actively and precisely? What would it be like if the walls assisted you in that—as well as the tools, tables, shelves, carts, materials, machines, and other objects in your work area? What if they too became active partners in helping you reach your daily work outcomes—safety, quality, cost, delivery—day after day, week after week, year after year?

This is exactly what happens when we create a visual workplace. When we populate the physical work environment with visual devices, we make an active partner out of the physical work environment. When we do, we ensure that the complete, accurate, and precise information we need is available when and as we need it, as close to the point of use as possible.

Visual devices become the translation point between vital information (your standards) and the exact behavior or outcome the information is supposed to produce. Instead of the indirect methods described above, the physical workplace itself—these devices—influence, guide, direct, limit, or even guarantee that we do that right thing precisely, completely, repeatedly, and reliably.

They transform your physical work area into a gigantic mechanism for adherence, with an impact that is equally gigantic. And it is also simple. You are free to do your work excellently. This is why you came to work in the first place: to command and execute excellence; to do ordinary things extraordinarily well.

Visual devices are the translation point between vital information and the exact behavior the information is supposed to trigger. Your journey to a visual workplace begins and ends with them.

In a previsual workplace (i.e., an area or company without visuality), we are forced to rely on our words only, to convey information and meaning whether written or spoken. As a result, we stay busy reading, or talking and listening (they’re called “meetings”). You know how that goes. Even when the information we need is in a report, binder, or computer, it is never really close enough. It is not where we need it—at our fingertips, at the point of use.

The previsual workplace is always hungry for information, starved for the information that is either there somewhere, or not there at all. In either case, that information consists of missing details that usually are found in the mind or memory of a colleague or supervisor. But what if that colleague is out ill or just began a two-week vacation? What if the supervisor is in another meeting or just got promoted? What happens is: We’re stuck. When all is said and done, the result of missing information is that we can’t do our work, or not all of it. We can’t do it accurately, completely, correctly, safely, or on time.

Management believes indirect methods will produce needed behaviors. Visuality converts information into exact behavior.

First published on the Visual Thinking website.


About The Author

Gwendolyn Galsworth’s picture

Gwendolyn Galsworth

Gwendolyn Galsworth, Ph.D., has been implementing visuality for more than 30 years. She’s focused on codifying the visual workplace concepts, principles, and technologies into a single, coherent sustainable framework of knowledge. Galsworth founded Visual Thinking Inc. in 1991, and in 2005 she launched The Visual-Lean Institute where in-house trainers and external consultants are trained and certified in the Institute’s nine core visual workplace methods. Two of the seven books Galsworth has written received the Shingo Research and Professional Publication Award.