Visual management is actually all around us. When we go to the supermarket we can clearly see where the parent and toddler or disabled car parking spaces are, because they are marked out with symbols indicating either a parent and child or a wheelchair for the accessible spaces. Inside buildings, we no longer have the symbol for the FIRE EXIT as it used to be called, instead we have the image of a man running, in green, or the ‘Green Man’ as it is often referred to.

These are only some basic examples of the use of visual management, but within any workplace, especially in factories or manufacturing, visual management is a means of communicating effectively to all members of staff, without having to constantly reinforce messages, or have endless meetings.
Communication: King or Catastrophe?

Within any organisation there are lapses of communication. Sometimes it can seem as if the messages simply fall on deaf ears; people are simply not listening to what may be important business messages. So staff are told not to enter specific areas without PPE (personal protective equipment) but repeatedly do so and when challenged they assert that they ‘Forgot’ or that they were simply in the area for a few minutes, so didn’t think it mattered.
A sign displayed on the entrance to that area, which has a person in full PPE with a √ next to it and then a person in standard dress with a big X over it, soon reinforces the message and the constant cry of ‘I forgot’ can no longer be heard!

In effect, using visual management acts as a way of constantly communicating with staff, so that messages can be relayed on a continuous basis, without having to verbally tell people the same message over and over again.

From a management point of view, making the excuse of ‘I forgot’ no longer valid, means that there is no valid excuse for not adhering to the message that the business is conveying; so adherence becomes the norm, not the exception.

In these circumstances, communication really does become king!

Understanding What Is Happening

Although it may sound very basic, the use of visual management techniques helps everyone who is involved in different processes know exactly what is going on. They will know whether performance targets have been met for that day or the day before, they will know what the aim is and what they are all trying to achieve.

Visual management can offer an opportunity for feedback that is almost in ‘real time’ as opposed to having to wait until management feed statistics down the line, which can take time and in that time performance can continue to be poor. With immediate feedback the cry of ‘I didn’t know’ can no longer be heard. Everyone knows what is going on and so cannot plead ignorance.

Keep It Minimal but effective

The only drawback to visual management is that if the system is used too liberally there is a real risk that ‘visual fatigue’ can set in. This is due to people having too many signs to read, too many visual indicators that simply blur into one another and lose their impact.

So careful choices have to be made about which type of visual management signs and techniques are to be used and the balance has to be right, or else people will simply ignore some of the signs and visual indicators and you are right back to square one!

But with careful planning and the strategic use of visual management techniques, there is much that can be achieved and business messages will be reinforced not just weekly, but daily, if not hourly!

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