Kamishibai – Visual Guides for Leader Standard Work

If you feel weirded out when your boss starts asking questions about your work—because it happens so irregularly, or only when bad stuff happens—your supervisor or team lead could probably use a kamishibai.

Supervisors need standard work just the same as front-line workers; kamishibai are visual guides for that leader standard work.

A kamishibai is a board that shows the standard, regular checks managers make on work teams. These are meant to be simple visual guides that show what the leader standard checks on work are and when leaders make those checks. Kamishibai often have a “yes or no” (green or red) flipcard system that gets turned when the leader has done the standard check.

Why We Need Leader Standard Work

When leaders and managers don’t have standard checks on the work being done, they tend to “check in” on front line work only when things aren’t going well. If you only see your supervisor when something has gone wrong, that tends to make for an adversarial relationship, and the supervisor’s questions can seem prying or punitive—even if they aren’t necessarily intended that way.Likewise, when a manager only shows interest in “the bad stuff,” it can skew workplace priorities. Avoiding or hiding problems itself becomes the priority, regardless of what is actually the most important work for the organization and the customer. The meaningful work gets neglected as people chase little problems in order to avoid those awkward conversations with managers about “what went wrong.”

Of course, when everyone is hiding problems and dodging tough conversations, the organization is headed for much a much bigger “what went wrong.”

The Japanese word “kamishibai” (pronunciation here) literally means “paper drama,” and kamishibai also refers to a form of picture-based story telling. (Kamishibai in this sense are still used to entertain and educate children.)

In both cases, visuals guide the activity, whether storytelling or leader checks on work.

Standard kamishibai leader checks have three main benefits:

  • Clear priority of what is important. Employees know what matters. Managers aren’t checking every single detail of the work. They aren’t asking only about “the bad stuff”—nor are they only showing up for the big wins (a corollary to “bad stuff” prioritization that isn’t much better).
  • Regular conversations about the work being done. Employees can expect their bosses to ask how important work is going. They know that when their supervisor is asking these questions it isn’t a whim or a “gotcha” exercise. And kamishibai prevent supervisors from hitting snooze, as they can with Outlook reminders. When supervisors skip a kamishibai check or leave it until next week, that card stays red, showing everyone that the leader is not making the check.
  • These conversations help identify problems in the process before they bubble over into “what went wrong.” When kamishibai checks show that process isn’t being followed or that results aren’t being achieved, workers and supervisors can ask “Why?” together.


Here is a kamishibai that Neil Dayley, an supervisor with Jail Health Services, has used to monitor his team’s work:

Dayley kamishibaiAs in this example, kamishibai checks are simple, focused on performance (what are the results?) and process (how are we doing the work?). The color-coding represents the check, not the work itself. Red indicates the check has not been done yet. Green indicates it has been done. This board has weekly checks, but those could checks could be daily or monthly, or even hourly, depending on the needs of the team.

So if you are a supervisor doing random checks on the work being done, or only visiting when problems arise, consider a kamishibai. And if you are an employee who feels weirded out when your boss starts asking questions about your work because it only happens on the bad days, your supervisor or team lead needs a kamishibai.

As Dayley explains in this short video, the board takes the uncomfortably unexpected, punitive quality–the weirdness—out of conversations between employees and supervisors.

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