GA 033 | The Lean CEO with Jacob Stoller

Play

Press the play button above to listen to the episode. If you’re reading this via email or RSS click the image below to listen to the episode.

The Lean CEO

This episode’s guest is Jacob Stoller, journalist and author who is about to release his newest book, The Lean CEO. To write this book, Jacob travelled around the world and interviewed CEOs from 28 different companies regarding their lean journeys.

An MP3 version is also available for download here.  

In this episode you’ll learn:

  • How Jacob got started in the realm of lean (3:01)
  • Jacob’s favorite inspirational quote (5:35)
  • The process of writing “The Lean CEO” (6:45)
  • What Jacob learned in the process (9:44)
  • One company that stood out to Jacob (14:37)
  • Something that really surprised Jacob in the process (18:04)
  • Jacob’s take on “Respect for People” (19:33)
  • What “Kaizen Culture” means to Jacob (20:38)
  • The best advice Jacob has ever received (21:28)
  • Jacob’s personal productivity habit (22:45)
  • Jacob’s simple but powerful final words of wisdom (27:37)

Podcast Resources

Free Lean Training DVDs Promotion

Screen Shot 2014-11-13 at 5.25.39 AMOur most popular promotion is back for the month of November. Purchase a School of Lean or School of Six Sigma subscription and receive our entire DVD collection for free, including worldwide shipping.

These sets retail for $1,295 per school and include up to 54 DVDs,  so it’s definitely a good deal. Valid until November 30th or until we receive 500 orders, at which point the promo page will be removed.

Click here for more information.

Subscribe & Never Miss New Episodes!

300px-BlackLines-Podcast-Removed-2

Click to Subscribe in iTunes

If you enjoyed this podcast please be sure to subscribe on iTunes. Once you’re a subscriber all new episodes will be downloaded to your iTunes account and smartphone.

The easiest way for iPhone users to listen to the show is via the free, and incredible, Podcast app.

You can download it here. CLICK HERE to subscribe to the Gemba Academy podcast on iTunes.

You can also subscribe via Stitcher which is definitely Android friendly.

What Do You Think?

What are you most looking forward to about The Lean CEO?

Airbnb and Uber – From Batch to One Piece Flow

uberSome of the more interesting internet-driven companies these days are the likes of Airbnb and Uber. They call themselves part of the “sharing economy.”

But let’s take a look at the word “share.” From the MacMillan dictionary, share is “to allow someone to have something you own.” Is that what’s happening here? Not really. It’s not free.

There is a small unit of demand in the form of a single room or a single car ride, and there’s a small unit of availability in the form of a room in a house, an apartment, an empty cab, or even someone with a car going in the same direction. The are matched, a value is being transferred, and there’s also a financial transaction representative of that value. That’s really micro supply and demand management.

Previously such small units of supply and demand were never taken advantage of, let alone optimized, unless aggregated. Now internet connectivity and computational power can dynamically and efficiently track, match, and transact such small units.

The results are rather astounding.

Since its founding, in 2008, Airbnb has spearheaded growth of the sharing economy by allowing thousands of people around the world to rent their homes or spare rooms. Yet while as many as 425,000 people now stay in Airbnb-listed homes on a peak night, the company’s growth is shadowed by laws that clash with its ethos of allowing anyone, including renters, to sell access to their spaces.

Over 400,000 rooms – on a single night. That’s the equivalent of over 3,000 average size hotels. Empty space that was being wasted, now going to good use, eliminating the need to build 3,000 hotels. Think about the positive impact on the environment, urban sprawl, energy use, and so forth.

Similarly, in March 2014, seven months ago and a lifetime in the timescale of a hypergrowth company, Uber was providing 1.1 million rides per week. In this case it is only partially displacing the required capacity of the old business model, taxis, as many taxi drivers are switching to the Uber platform. Still, think about the impact of that optimized micro capacity and demand utilization on the required supply of taxis – and hence steel, plastics, and gas.

I happen to be a big fan of Uber, and use their service almost every time I travel. The speed, convenience, and ease of transaction creates significant value.  Yes, their business practices may make me hold my nose a bit.

Other companies are looking at similar concepts. Amazon is looking at using micro units of delivery capacity in the form of taxis and Uber competitor Flywheel to provide same day – and perhaps same hour – delivery.

Very large numbers of previously wasted supply units being matched with demand in a very efficient manner. The batch unit of a large delivery truck, a bus, or a hotel is being broken down into units approaching one.  Obviously any change like this doesn’t come easily, and cities – often dependent on bed taxes – are pushing back on Airbnb while traditional taxi services are pushing back on Uber.  But value is being created in an efficient and popular manner, therefore change will occur.

Where have I heard about that concept before?

GA 032 | Exploring Western Toyota Culture with David Meier

Play

Press the play button above to listen to the episode. If you’re reading this via email or RSS click the image below to listen to the episode.
david meier podcastToday’s guest is David Meier. David has an impressive background as an author and former Toyota group leader. These days he runs his own consulting practice, helping other companies implement lean transformations.

An MP3 version is also available for download here.  

In this episode you’ll learn:

  • David’s background at Toyota (3:08)
  • What David’s consulting practice offers (4:06)
  • The quote that inspires David (5:22)
  • What David’s learning experience at Toyota was like (6:45)
  • The balance of philosophy and practical tools at Toyota (8:26)
  • David’s experience with the intensity of some Japanese Senseis (10:44)
  • What David noticed at other companies after leaving Toyota (13:13)
  • A common misconception people have about Toyota (15:09)
  • David’s take on Leader Standard Work (20:01)
  • How leaders can incorporate lean into the company’s strategic plan (23:27)
  • What “Respect for People” means to David (26:03)
  • The best advice David has ever heard (28:31)
  • David’s personal productivity habit (29:28)
  • David’s final words of wisdom (40:46)

Podcast Resources

Free Lean Training DVDs Promotion

Screen Shot 2014-11-13 at 5.25.39 AMOur most popular promotion is back for the month of November. Purchase a School of Lean or School of Six Sigma subscription and receive our entire DVD collection for free, including worldwide shipping.

These sets retail for $1,295 per school and include up to 54 DVDs,  so it’s definitely a good deal. Valid until November 30th or until we receive 500 orders, at which point the promo page will be removed.

Click here for more information.

Subscribe & Never Miss New Episodes!

300px-BlackLines-Podcast-Removed-2

Click to Subscribe in iTunes

If you enjoyed this podcast please be sure to subscribe on iTunes. Once you’re a subscriber all new episodes will be downloaded to your iTunes account and smartphone.

The easiest way for iPhone users to listen to the show is via the free, and incredible, Podcast app.

You can download it here. CLICK HERE to subscribe to the Gemba Academy podcast on iTunes.

You can also subscribe via Stitcher which is definitely Android friendly.

What Do You Think?

What is the lean culture like at your organization? Is it more western or are the traditional Japanese values more apparent? How so?

GA 031 | Applying Lean Within the State of Washington with Hollie Jensen and Darrell Damron

Play

Press the play button above to listen to the episode. If you’re reading this via email or RSS click the image below to listen to the episode.Results

This week our guests are Hollie Jensen and Darrell Damron.

Both Hollie and Dan work in the Washington State Governor’s Office implementing lean practices and serving as overall continuous improvement advocates.

I think you’ll find it really interesting to hear some of the many ways lean can be used beyond the private sector.

To hear the podcast just press the “Play” button at the top of this post. An MP3 version is also available for download here.  

Visit Us at the AME Conference November 10-14 & Save 10% on Registration!

10-JacksonvilleMachinesToolsBannerAdSeries298x248NetworkingIf you plan to attend the upcoming AME conference November 10-14 be sure to stop by the Gemba Academy booth to say hello.

While I’m definitely biased I think you’ll find we give away some of the coolest “swag” at the conference!

We also plan to host an after hours “networking” event on Tuesday evening… free food and drinks!

You can RSVP to attend the party free of charge here.

Finally, if you haven’t registered for the conference and plan to be sure to use the coupon code GEMBA10 in order to save 10%. AME is definitely our favorite conference to attend so we hope to see you there!

In this episode you’ll learn:

  • Darrell and Hollie’s backgrounds (1:40)
  • The quotes that inspire Hollie and Dan (7:26)
  • How Results Washington is helping the state government adopt lean methodologies (9:40)
  • How working in the private sector is and is not that different from government work, in Hollie’s experience (13:26)
  • Which lean strategies have been helpful in implementing lean in the government (15:47)
  • What the Lean Fellowship program is all about (18:34)
  • How other states are pursuing lean journeys (20:38)
  • Some concrete examples of how lean is revolutionizing the Washington government (22:58)
  • What “Respect for People” means to Hollie (28:05)
  • The best advice Darrell has ever received (28:46)
  • Hollie’s personal productivity habit (30:04)
  • Darrell’s final words of wisdom (34:34)

Podcast Resources

Download a Free Audio Book

If you enjoy listening to podcasts chances are you’ll also enjoy listening to audio books.

And if you’ve never listened to an audio book today is your lucky day since you’re able to download a free audio book over at our favorite audio book provider – Audible. Simply click this link to claim your free audio book.

Please note you will need to sign up, which includes providing your credit card, but if you’re not happy with the service you can easily cancel the subscription after downloading your free audio book before your free trial expires.

Subscribe & Never Miss New Episodes!

300px-BlackLines-Podcast-Removed-2

Click to Subscribe in iTunes

If you enjoyed this podcast please be sure to subscribe on iTunes. Once you’re a subscriber all new episodes will be downloaded to your iTunes account and smartphone.

The easiest way for iPhone users to listen to the show is via the free, and incredible, Podcast app.

You can download it here. CLICK HERE to subscribe to the Gemba Academy podcast on iTunes.

You can also subscribe via Stitcher which is definitely Android friendly.

What Do You Think?

What other ways does lean apply to government? Have you seen evidence of lean in your city, state, or country?

GA 030 | Teaching Lean the Toyota Way with Tracey and Ernie Richardson

Play

Press the play button above to listen to the episode. If you’re reading this via email or RSS click the image below to listen to the episode.

Tracey

Today’s episode features our first husband and wife duo, Tracey and Ernie Richardson. This dynamic team are Toyota veterans and are now on the Lean Enterprise Institute faculty, and have their own consulting practice.

With their decades of experience, the three of us definitely did not have a shortage of things to talk about it. From working for Toyota, to Value Stream Mapping, to the overall challenges of pursuing lean, there’s something in this episode for everyone.

To hear the podcast just press the “Play” button at the top of this post. An MP3 version is also available for download here.  

Visit Us at the AME Conference November 10-14 & Save 10% on Registration!

10-JacksonvilleMachinesToolsBannerAdSeries298x248NetworkingIf you plan to attend the upcoming AME conference November 10-14 be sure to stop by the Gemba Academy booth to say hello.

While I’m definitely biased I think you’ll find we give away some of the coolest “swag” at the conference!

We also plan to host an after hours “networking” event on Tuesday evening… free food and drinks!  You can RSVP to attend the party free of charge here.

Finally, if you haven’t registered for the conference and plan to be sure to use the coupon code GEMBA10 in order to save 10%.

AME is definitely our favorite conference to attend so we hope to see you there!

In this episode you’ll learn:

  • Tracey and Ernie’s backgrounds, including their years at Toyota (3:19)
  • Their favorite continuous improvement quotations (8:09)
  • Why the Toyota Production System is not a “quick fix” (14:35)
  • The biggest mistakes Tracey and Ernie see companies make at the beginning of their lean journeys (17:50)
  • How Tracey and Ernie used Value Stream Mapping or Material Information Flow at Toyota (21:40)
  • Practical advice for starting your lean journey (27:31)
  • What “Respect for People” means to Tracey (31:43)
  • The problem Ernie is currently trying to solve (34:45)
  • The best advice Tracey has ever received (36:01)
  • Ernie’s personal productivity habit (38:23)
  • Tracey and Ernie’s final words of wisdom (51:01)

Podcast Resources

Download a Free Audio Book

If you enjoy listening to podcasts chances are you’ll also enjoy listening to audio books.

And if you’ve never listened to an audio book today is your lucky day since you’re able to download a free audio book over at our favorite audio book provider – Audible.

Simply click this link to claim your free audio book.

Please note you will need to sign up, which includes providing your credit card, but if you’re not happy with the service you can easily cancel the subscription after downloading your free audio book before your free trial expires.

Subscribe & Never Miss New Episodes!

300px-BlackLines-Podcast-Removed-2

Click to Subscribe in iTunes

If you enjoyed this podcast please be sure to subscribe on iTunes. Once you’re a subscriber all new episodes will be downloaded to your iTunes account and smartphone.

The easiest way for iPhone users to listen to the show is via the free, and incredible, Podcast app.  You can download it here.

CLICK HERE to subscribe to the Gemba Academy podcast on iTunes. You can also subscribe via Stitcher which is definitely Android friendly.

What Do You Think?

How do you feel about the Toyota methodologies?

GA 029 | Conscious & Intentional Behavior with Greg Glebe

Play

Press the play button above to listen to the episode. If you’re reading this via email or RSS click the image below to listen to the episode.

Greg_GlebeIn this episode we crank up the intensity a bit as we visit with Greg Glebe, the President & Founder of Xylem Design.

During our conversation Greg and I explore how he and his company  got started with their lean journey.  We also talk about some of their challenges and how he and his team are trying to overcome them.

As you’ll hear Greg is extremely passionate and doesn’t hold back in sharing his thoughts.

And, as I mention during the opening of the show, you may not agree with everything Greg says, or how he says it, but I think it’s valuable to hear various perspectives on how others approach continuous improvement.

To hear the podcast just press the “Play” button at the top of this post. An MP3 version is also available for download here.  

Visit Us at the AME Conference November 10-14 & Save 10% on Registration!

10-JacksonvilleMachinesToolsBannerAdSeries298x248NetworkingIf you plan to attend the upcoming AME conference November 10-14 be sure to stop by the Gemba Academy booth to say hello.

While I’m definitely biased I think you’ll find we give away some of the coolest “swag” at the conference!

We also plan to host an after hours “networking” event on Tuesday evening… free food and drinks!  You can RSVP to attend the party free of charge here.

Finally, if you haven’t registered for the conference and plan to be sure to use the coupon code GEMBA10 in order to save 10%.

AME is definitely our favorite conference to attend so we hope to see you there!

In this episode you’ll learn:

  • Greg’s background and how Xylem got started with their lean journey
  • Greg’s favorite quote
  • Why culture change is so important to Xylem
  • The role Fastcap and Paul Akers played in inspiring Xylem to explore continuous improvement
  • Why staying humble is so important
  • What the Xylem values are and why they’re a little “gritty”
  • Some of the challenges Greg and Xylem have experienced and how they’re trying to overcome them
  • What consciousness and intention have to do with culture change

Podcast Resources

Download a Free Audio Book

If you enjoy listening to podcasts chances are you’ll also enjoy listening to audio books.

And if you’ve never listened to an audio book today is your lucky day since you’re able to download a free audio book over at our favorite audio book provider – Audible.

Simply click this link to claim your free audio book.

Please note you will need to sign up, which includes providing your credit card, but if you’re not happy with the service you can easily cancel the subscription after downloading your free audio book before your free trial expires.

Subscribe & Never Miss New Episodes!

300px-BlackLines-Podcast-Removed-2

Click to Subscribe in iTunes

If you enjoyed this podcast please be sure to subscribe on iTunes. Once you’re a subscriber all new episodes will be downloaded to your iTunes account and smartphone.

The easiest way for iPhone users to listen to the show is via the free, and incredible, Podcast app.  You can download it here.

CLICK HERE to subscribe to the Gemba Academy podcast on iTunes. You can also subscribe via Stitcher which is definitely Android friendly.

GA 028 | How Toyota Leverages Lean in the Front Office with Jeff Miller

Play

Press the play button above to listen to the episode. If you’re reading this via email or RSS click the image below to listen to the episode.

Jeff_Miller

Today’s guest is Jeff Miller, the Chairman of the Global Best Practices Group for Toyota Financial Services. A long-time Gemba Academy customer, my favorite thing about Jeff is his humility. Despite the prestige that comes with a job at Toyota, he’s always trying to improve.

In this episode, Jeff and I zone in on how and why continuous improvement practices are so effective in an office environment. We also discuss the role that the traditional Japanese lingo plays in the North American Toyota headquarters.

To hear the podcast just press the “Play” button at the top of this post. An MP3 version is also available for download here and a downloadable PDF transcript of the interview is available here.  

Visit Us at the AME Conference This November & Save 10% on Registration!

10-JacksonvilleMachinesToolsBannerAdSeries298x248NetworkingIf you plan to attend the upcoming AME conference November 10-14 be sure to stop by the Gemba Academy booth to say hello.

While I’m definitely biased I think you’ll find we give away some of the coolest “swag” at the conference!

We also plan to host an after hours “networking” event on Tuesday evening… free food and drinks!  More details to come on this.

Finally, if you haven’t registered for the conference and plan to be sure to use the coupon code GEMBA10 in order to save 10%.

AME is definitely our favorite conference to attend so we hope to see you there!

In this episode you’ll learn:

  • Jeff’s background, including his now 23 years at Toyota (4:11)
  • Why “best practices” immediately become standards (6:20)
  • The quote that most inspires Jeff (8:29)
  • How Toyota’s continuous improvement principles apply to their offices (10:17)
  • A concrete example of lean in the Toyota mailroom (12:30)
  • Why all of the Japanese terminology isn’t an issue (17:53)
  • The challenges Jeff faces in regards to Toyota associates (18:53)
  • How online training has helped Toyota (20:32)
  • What was holding Jeff back at the beginning of his lean journey (23:36)
  • The best advice Jeff has ever received…you’ll be surprised! (26:02)
  • Jeff’s personal productivity habit (28:33)
  • Jeff’s final words of wisdom (38:00)

Podcast Resources

Download a Free Audio Book

If you enjoy listening to podcasts chances are you’ll also enjoy listening to audio books.

And if you’ve never listened to an audio book today is your lucky day since you’re able to download a free audio book over at our favorite audio book provider – Audible.

Simply click this link to claim your free audio book.

Please note you will need to sign up, which includes providing your credit card, but if you’re not happy with the service you can easily cancel the subscription after downloading your free audio book before your free trial expires.

Subscribe & Never Miss New Episodes!

300px-BlackLines-Podcast-Removed-2

Click to Subscribe in iTunes

If you enjoyed this podcast please be sure to subscribe on iTunes. Once you’re a subscriber all new episodes will be downloaded to your iTunes account and smartphone.

The easiest way for iPhone users to listen to the show is via the free, and incredible, Podcast app.  You can download it here.

CLICK HERE to subscribe to the Gemba Academy podcast on iTunes. You can also subscribe via Stitcher which is definitely Android friendly.

Full Written Transcript

GA 28 | Jeff Miller

Announcer: You’re listening to Episode 28 with Jeff Miller.

[background music]

Announcer: Welcome to the Gemba Academy podcast. The show that’s focused on helping individuals and companies achieve breakthrough results, using the same continuous improvement principles leveraged by companies such as Toyota, Del Monte and the US Department of Defense.

Now, here’s your host, Ron Pereira.

Ron Pereira: Hey there this is Ron Pereira and I’d like to welcome you to another episode of the Gemba Academy podcast. We’re humbled and honored that you’re taking time to listen to the podcast. We also want to thank all past, present, and potentially future customers of Gemba Academy for their interest and business.  We definitely appreciate each and every one of you!

Now, today, I’m excited to welcome Jeff Miller to the show.  Jeff is the Chairman of Global Best Practices Group for Toyota’s Financial Services group which some refer to as TFS.  Now, I’m humbled to say that Jeff and his TFS colleagues have been customers of GA for several years so I’ve had the chance to meet him.

Now, the thing I love best about Jeff is how humble he is… I mean, Jeff works at Toyota and obviously has access to best lean thinkers in the world and it would seem like one in that position could become easily complacent and maybe a little comfortable, but as it turns out, Jeff’s constantly trying to learn and grow.

In fact, the last time I visited Jeff at his office in Torrance, CA he was reading all kinds of lean and leadership-slanted books and was even excited to share some new websites and blogs he had been reading.

So, in today’s episode Jeff and I explore many things including how TFS is applying lean thinking to the office area and why lean, most definitely, isn’t simply for the manufacturing folks. Jeff also talks about whether the Western Toyota associates are bothered by the use of Japanese words like Kaizen or Genchi Genbustu.

Show notes for this episode can be found at GembaPodcast.com/28.  All of the links for this episode can be found there and you’ll also find information on how you can save 10% on the registration cost for the upcoming AME conference in Jacksonville, Florida in the middle of November 2014. Gemba Academy will be there and we’re even holding an after-conference networking event that Tuesday evening of the conference with free drinks and food… so if you are planning to attend the conference we’d love to hang out with you!

So, again, visit GembaPodcast.com/28 for all this information.

OK, enough for me, let’s get to the show.

Ron: Jeff, thank you so much for taking the time to visit with us today.

Jeff Miller:  Thank you, Ron. I’m excited to have this opportunity.

Ron:  Where are you calling us from today, Jeff? What part of the country?

Jeff:  Ron, I am in our North American headquarters here in Torrance, California.

Ron:  What all happens out of that Torrance facility there at Toyota?

Jeff:  Here, obviously, is our sales and marketing headquarters for North America. Toyota sales is headquartered here, as well as Toyota Financial Services of which I am a team member of. We also have our North American Parts Organization is here, our logistics team, our University of Toyota folks, accounting and finance.

It’s larger now. It’s like a college campus here.

We have approximately 20 buildings, thereabout, that are spread out among this campus, staffed with Toyota associates.

Ron:  How many folks work there, Jeff, total, approximately?

Jeff:  I would say, 5,000 to 7,000.

Ron:  It’s a beautiful campus. I’ve been there, and really, really nice place there.

Jeff, why don’t we start things off, won’t you tell us a little bit about yourself, including your background and how you came to learn about continuous improvement?

Ron:  I’ve been with Toyota now, starting my 23rd year. I’ve spent my entire career with Toyota Financial Services on the Financial Services side. I started in the field. I moved my way and eventually ended up here at our Corporate Headquarters around 1994. I’ve had a lot of operational roles and responsibilities within the organization.

But approximately 10 years ago, actually about 12 years ago, with the growth on the Financial Services side globally with our organization and moving into different markets around the world, our group in Japan realized that we were growing so fast and we needed some kind of expertise.

They formed, what they refer to as, functional committees. These functional committees were assigned the responsibility of globalizing our operations. They spread across risk and IEP and those types of business functions.

The group that I became part of was originally started out as a process management group and evolved into, what we refer to as, the Global Best Practices Group. That is to globalize our best practice operationally within our Sales Finance Organizations internationally.

I’ve been with them since the start. The last couple of years, I’ve actually have evolved into the, what they refer to as, a chairman role. I oversee all of our process improvement activities and also our [inaudible 07:02] as it relates to sharing best practices across our growing international network of sales finance companies.

Ron:  When you say “best practices,” are you really focused more in on what we would consider today Lean, continuous improvement, or is it any kind of best practice?

Jeff:  That’s a good question, Ron, because best practices is a misnomer because if you take a best practice, somebody’s doing something and you look at that process, for example and you say, “Hey, that’s fantastic. That’s a best practice,” and you adopt that best practice, then it really is no longer a best practice, is it?

Ron:  It’s a standard, right?

Jeff:  Best practices are a combination of innovation and creativity. It’s taking things that you see, whether it’s process or tasks or activities, and you say, “This may work in our environment. It may not work in our environment, but let’s tweak it. Let’s be creative and see if we can improve it.”

That continues improvement, starting out as best practices. From Toyota’s perspective, that’s what sets us apart from our competitors. That makes you competitive in the marketplace. It gives you a better position and a good place.

It’s based upon that. Those are the things that we oversee. It’s not really adopting or adapting a best practice and saying, “OK, this works in Germany, so it’s going to work in Switzerland, it’s going to work in the US, and it’s going to work in Mexico.”

No, that’s not what we’re saying when we say we want to adopt that best practices. What we want to do is we want to find out what’s going on out there, whose successful at what and share that among all of the different markets.

Then determine, “Hey, what will work in your marketplace? What has to be adapted?” In other words, we’re not reinventing the wheel, but rather maybe shortening the lead time, for example.

Ron:  Before we get into the teeth of the interview, Jeff, we like to ask all of our guests to share a continuous improvement or leadership quotation that inspires them. What quotation inspires you, Jeff?

Jeff:  Obviously, coming from Toyota, we have a rich history of quotations and what have you. I look at Taiichi Ohno, the founder of TPS, Toyota Production System. He had a lot of famous quotes.

I think the one that we try to incorporate into our vision, into our mission, as we go out into these different countries and talk to associates and train associates, and that quotation is, “No problem is a problem.” In other words, there’s always a problem that’s out there.

That’s the genesis of continuous improvement. Because if you say that there are no more problems, then that’s a problem, in and of itself, because then you’ve stopped your continuous improvement efforts. You’ve stopped looking.

You’ve said, “We’re as good as we’re going to be.” That’s the gist of what Taiichi Ohno was referring to.

Ron:  That’s an excellent quotation and I definitely love the wisdom of Mr. Ohno. Let’s get into the teeth of the interview now, Jeff.

Much is, obviously, written about how Toyota leverages, what we call, Lean or Toyota Production System in a factory setting. But what about the front office? Do the same principles apply?

Jeff:  Absolutely. In fact, probably one of our biggest challenges when we first started this journey, 10, 12 years ago, and that is that the comments that we would get is, “Well, that’ll work on the factory floor, but in our environment, in the knowledge worker’s environment, that’s not going to work.”

We said, “It’s problem solving. That’s what we’re trying to teach here. You may have to look for it a little bit harder than you would on the factory floor. It may not be as visible, but it’s there. You may have to take a different approach.”

That journey has allowed us to look at problems from a customer’s perspective, taking the voice of the customer and then back‑tracking through the process to find out, where is the problem occurring? What’s the point of occurrence, if you will?

In other words, what are we trying to deliver to the customer? Is the customer satisfied? How can we improve that customer experience?

If they’re not satisfied, if there’s no value for the customer, then let’s go back through the process and find out, where is that non‑value occurring? Can we eliminate it? Or, can we minimize it?

That’s the approach that we’ve taken the last 10 or 12 years or that’s the approach that has come out of it from all this continuous improvement in the Lean journey that we’ve been on. The fundamentals are the same as what we do on the factory floor. It’s just that the process that we go about identifying it is a little bit different.

It’s a little bit harder. You have to really look for it than you would maybe on the assembly line, but problem solving is problem solving whether it’s at PDCA or here at Toyota. It’s practices, but it’s critical thinking. That’s what we’re trying to develop our associates into is problem solvers.

Ron:  Can you share maybe a specific example of a time when improvements were made by the front office? What was the problem? How was it approached and what was the result?

Jeff:  Let me just think about this for a second. We have a lot of administrative tasks, to put it kindly, that are transactional.

Transactional are probably the easiest things that you can do to make improvements. I remember when we first started out, when we went to our service center, we have a big mail room. In the mail room, there’s a lot of visualization that takes place, but we were doing so many tasks. We were crisscrossing associates back and forth from delivery to receive mail, stapling stuff, and unstapling stuff.

Just to watch, it was like watching the “Keystone Cops,” to be honest with you.

That’s not to say anything against the associates, but we just didn’t have a standardized process in place. We were like, what worked today, maybe it didn’t work the next day.

That’s where we started, “Let’s look at the mail room. How can we make improvements?” Associates who do the work are the ones that are best at identifying how they can improve their work because they want to make improvements. They know what’s wasteful and what’s value‑added.

What we ended up doing was we took some duplicate mail documents, for example, and created a flow process and put that in place.

What we did was we would take checks, for example, and we would just write check on it. Then we would route it through the service center to see what the timeframe was from receipt of that check, for example, that mail document, to its final destination.

Each person that touched it would write their name and the time that they got it and the date, so there was a date stamp on it. We found out that sometimes, things would come in the mail and it would take a day to two days before it got there.

We deliver mail multiple times during a day. That was a concern for us, obviously, especially when you’re dealing with funds. How can we make that improvement? That was an eye opener for us, is all the number of times that it touched people and the time that it took to get to its final destination.

Obviously, from that, we were able to make some huge improvements, reduced the times from a day or two days down to just hours. That was a tremendous improvement.

We streamlined the flow of mail as it came into the mailroom, we put up Kanban ‑‑ I’m sure your audience is aware of Kanbans ‑‑ in here and they were color coded. We set up delivery carts and placed priority importance on those delivery carts and on where they would be wheeled throughout the building.

There were a lot of improvements that came out of just that process improvement space.

Ron:  In that example, who lead the improvement initiative? Was it like a Lean expert, which is a general team member? How did you go about that?

Jeff:  The first thing we did was we set up teams. Then we trained them, obviously. We gave them some basic skill sets and then what we did was we basically went down to the gemba and said, “Let’s see what we’re doing here.”

We did some observations. The teams that we had, they all had team leaders. Then they would come back. We would map the process, figure out, “Is that right? Is this wrong? What does policy and procedures say?”

Then we’d go back down the gemba, map it out again, so there was a constant “Genchi Genbutsu” at the gemba that was going on until we defined what the process was and then we stood back and said, “Where can we remove the waste?”

These were associates that were doing it. I was there. I was maybe a facilitator or just overseer and leading them in the right direction, but we were all learning in the process, especially the associates.

But the associates were involved. They were doing the work. They were making the changes. They were documenting the results and they actually delivered the final presentations, the report‑outs, if you will, to senior management and made the changes.

Ron:  Just a random question, you mentioned Genchi Genbutsu, which for those that don’t know that means, quite literally, to “go and see” for yourself with your own eyes at the gemba, or “the place” the work is done.

One thing that we come across from time to time is companies, when they might have associates who get a little bit annoyed when Japanese words are used. Now, obviously, Toyota is a Japanese company, but you, obviously, have a lot of non‑Japanese associates. Do you ever run into an issue with, “Oh, I wish there weren’t so many Japanese words”? Or, is it just not an issue for you guys?

Jeff:  Actually, it’s not an issue for us. We’ve done a good job of defining the terminology over the years. Associates get it here at Toyota.

We’ve done a better job of actually putting some of the words into practice over the last couple of years. You could throw out these terms of kaizen and genchi genbutsu, and all this, but here, associates understand what they mean.

In the beginning, a lot of our teams were actually called a lot of these terms. They would say the “Kaizen Boys,” or the “Kaizen Girls,” or the “Team Genchi Genbutsu.” A lot of the terminology was actually used as team names in the beginning.

Ron:  Jeff, what are some of your current day challenges when it comes to continuous improvements and how do you plan to overcome them?

Jeff:  Some of our challenges, obviously, are getting all associates involved. I say that because we have vision and mission statements for the group that I had. To put it succinctly, what we try to do is get as many associates engaged in adding value or creating value for our customers.

That’s basically what we’re trying to do. Right now, we’re doing a good job, but we’re not at 100 percent. In other words, not all associates are engaged. By engaged, I mean participating in kaizen activities, whether it’s as an individual or whether it’s part of a team.

What we want to try and do is get as many associates and we would love to be able to have a hundred percent, but we don’t force it. A lot of this is associates who are excited about doing process improvement.

We continually look at ways to improve that culture, to grow and sustain kaizen and continuous improvement for the long term. Probably our biggest challenge is getting more and more associates involved.

Ron:  I know this is going to sound like a commercial for Gemba Academy and I truly don’t mean it to be, but you guys have been a customer of Gemba Academy’s for several years now. I’m just curious if you could maybe share. How has that…?

I know it’s helped you because you’ve told me that, but can you give an example of how online training or virtual training can help organizations like Toyota?

Jeff:  For us, we look at Gemba Academy and the online courses and, you know this, when we first started, you did not have the library as such that you have today. We looked at the courses online as both a benchmark for us to see what’s out there and to look at the format of a video facilitation as opposed to a textural facilitation.

Of course, in a perfect world, the classroom advantage may be the best type of learning, but logistically, it’s not feasible for us. But with the video series that you have, it is a lot more value‑add than creating some documents and texts or static e‑Learning courses.

There’s a lot of value in the format itself. Of course, the accessibility and availability of the courses on the Internet is especially valuable for us on an international basis because associates can access it.

We also use a lot of the courses for advanced learning. We have an internal certification process and we use some of the advanced learning for those candidates as they move up, so that we don’t have to create our own learning.

There’s a lot of value there with the interview series that you’ve added and, of course, a lot of the Gemba visits that you’ve added over the last couple of years. Those series, in and of itself, are very valuable to see best practices, see whose doing what, what’s working out there and you start to create that network.

That’s a real valuable addition to the Gemba Academy archives.

Ron:  Thank you for that. What’s incredible for me to hear, and I’m sure for many of our listeners, here’s the guy from Toyota talking about learning from other organizations. What always struck me about Toyota is your humility and your willingness to learn from others, that you don’t know everything.

Sometimes, people think, “Toyota, they’re so great. What do they have to learn? They’ve already made it.” But, obviously, you guys are still improving yourselves and trying to learn from others. That’s excellent.

Jeff:  Thank you.

Ron:  Jeff, we’ve come now to my favorite part of the show, which we’re calling the “Quick Fire” segment. Basically, this is where you get to share your personal thoughts and wisdom, which you’ve already been doing. But, now, we’re going to really focus in on Jeff. Are you ready?

Jeff:  Absolutely.

Ron:  When you first started down your continuous improvement journey, what was holding you back from being successful?

Jeff:  For me, obviously, there’s a lot of budget stuff and those types of things were holding me back. Language is tough. We’re in multiple countries with multiple languages. For me, I always, “How am I going to deliver this on a global basis?”

That’s challenging because the assumption always is that everything’s in English. This is the way that the US does it. That wasn’t the approach that we wanted to take.

We knew that there are a lot of associates out there who were thirsty for anything about Toyota. Here in the US, we take it for granted because we have all the…We have robust IT platforms and we have access to all kinds of resources.

But in other countries, they don’t have that. For me, it was, “How can I deliver this content without sacrificing any of the substance?” if that makes sense at all. It’s still a challenge today because a lot of our associates, in some countries, they don’t have access because of regulations within their country.

That’s a challenge for us. How can we get that material to them so that they’re on an even playing field with associates in other countries? That has probably been one of the biggest challenge for me, personally, was whenever I think of an idea or delivering something or facilitating a workshop or a content, I always stand back and I say, “How can I deliver this in another country where English is not the primary language?”

It’s a different type of mindset to have when you’re always looking at it from a global perspective.

Ron:  Jeff, what’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

Jeff:  The best advice I’ve ever received and it’s hard to think back all the years that I’ve been here, but I do a lot of traveling and a lot of my traveling is international. For me, the best advice I got was to travel light and how to…once you get to the hotel. I hang all my shirts up in the bathroom, turn on the shower, get the steam going, so I get all my stuff steamed and cleaned.

That’s one aspect that I don’t have to worry about for the week that I’m at the hotel.

I try to be comfortable when I’m traveling. Really, over the last five or six, seven years that I’ve been doing a lot of international travel, it’s really helped me a lot. I have access to phone numbers. I have alternative routes. I have standard documents that tell me when I take the trains, do this, do that. I try to make myself as comfortable as possible, almost like I’m at home, when I’m traveling.

Ron:  That’s the Lean thinker in you. I do the same thing with my shirts. I hate ironing, but they’re all wrinkled in your suitcase, so throw them up and crank that shower up on hot and close the door. In 20 minutes, your clothes are unwrinkled. It’s an incredible tip and advice for folks out there that do travel.

Jeff:  I know and your audience is probably thinking, “What are these guys talking about, traveling and putting shirts in the bathroom and stuff?” But I’ll tell you what, from a business perspective, after 15 hours on a plane and you open up your luggage when you get to the hotel. No matter how you put your shirts in the luggage, they’re wrinkled.

To be able to put them in the bathroom…You can iron them all or you can send them back down to the laundry and pay the costs for that. But doing that and having all those shirts and my suits, everything, come out nice and straight and pressed after putting them in the bathroom with the steam shower, it’s a load off your mind.

You hate to go to work or show up at a meeting or a dinner or something like that and your shirt looks like…You look all disheveled.

Ron:  [laughs] That was a productivity habit, but let’s dig in a little bit more. Can you share one of your maybe personal productivity habits, maybe electronic habit or something like that, that others might benefit from?

Jeff:  I’m a big journaler. I don’t know if you’re aware of the journaling aspect, but I like to write everything down like a diary. I’m a big journalist. I have a journal. I have one book where I document everything, whether I go to a meeting, or whether it’s an idea, or whether it’s a list of books I want to read. I put everything into one notebook, if you will.

Ron:  Is it you literally write it or you type it?

Jeff:  I write. Some things are still left unsaid and writing things down, for me, is still the easiest. I enjoy that as opposed to typing it. If you type it, then you’ve got to have the instrument in front of you. You’ve got to have the computer, or whatever, the Word document in front of you. It looks so standardized. For me, writing things down, that’s un‑standardized. I’ve gone off the map on that.

I believe in journaling. I’ve been doing it for probably 10 years now. You asked me earlier about some advice and that was an advice actually that I got from some our executives over the years is they carry around one book and everything that goes on during the day, they write it down and they review it, do some reflection at the end of the day, prepare their to‑do list for the next day, and move on.

That’s the way that I operate. I find it very easy, very effective, and very efficient. That’s probably one of my productivity habits.

Ron:  This is going to be a tough one for you, because I know you’re a major, major reader. But if you could only recommend one book related to continuous improvement or leadership, what would it be and why?

Jeff:  That is tough, because I am a voracious reader. Sometimes I don’t read word for word. I look at the table of contents, and I go to chapters that I think are important, and I read those chapters. Some books I’ll read cover to cover.

Believe it or not, I’m not a big fiction reader. I like nonfiction. I like true stories, biographies, things that, to be honest with you, are going to help me, either grow as a person, professionally, or personally.

I read a lot of those types of books. Over the years, I’ve read a lot. Just recently, I read a lot of…Karen Martin just came out with the “Value Stream Mapping” book, which is good. Before that “The Outstanding Organization,” which I thought was really a good book.

But to change the topic a little bit, probably one of the best books I’ve read recently was “The Exceptional Presenter,” a book on presentation. I’m always trying to improve my presentation skills.

One of the reasons I read that book…what I learned from it was to organize your thoughts, and to be able to think clearly and rationally, and to be able to present that to your audience. The tips that are in that book are fantastic tips, actually things that I wasn’t aware of as a presenter. But I thought that was an excellent book.

From that book, I’m currently reading “How to Deliver a TED Talk.” I’m not sure if you’re familiar with the TED forum.

Ron:  Oh yeah.

Jeff:  There are some fantastic topics. If you ever go online to TED, and just look at some of the presentations and the skills. If you’re trying to improve yourself, those are the things that I’m interested in.

For me, Exceptional Presenter was one of the best books that I’ve read, probably in the last six months or so.

Ron:  It’s funny. First of all, Karen Martin’s a good friend of Gemba Academy and of mine. In fact, Karen’s coming here this week to our studio here in Fort Worth. We’re going to shoot a little interview. But we actually interviewed Karen recently about her Value Stream Mapping book, so it’s a small world.

But something else that many people don’t know, and I don’t think you know this, Jeff, but that book that you referred to, “The Exceptional Presenter”, that and there’s another one called “Presentation Zen.” Those two books were probably the most impactful books that influenced the way Gemba Academy courses have been developed and delivered for the last five years, because we learned from those books very early on about how to tell a story and how to get content out.

I’m very happy to hear that you found that book. It’s been incredibly valuable for Gemba Academy as well.

Jeff:  Actually, I just purchased that Presentation Zen book. I bought the second edition, because he just updated it. But the author, I think he’s done a couple TEDx presentations. I’ve seen him on there.

Ron:  Yeah. Garr Reynolds is his name.

Jeff:  He’s out of Japan.

You’re actually right. How to deliver a presentation and how to speak to an audience and just how to do your slides, that’s why…earlier when I talked about the value the Gemba Academy doing these videos presentations for your learning is so much more valuable than a static screen with a bunch of bullet points on it.

That comes from The Exceptional Presenter and Presentation Zen, how to deliver the content. Why should somebody speak and say exactly what’s on the screen? You’ve learned that, as you’ve just stated. I didn’t know that, and I think that’s probably the understated value of your video series.

Ron:  Thank you. Thank you for that.

Jeff, last question. Imagine that you’ve recently been hired as a general manager of a company that’s struggling with quality, productivity, poor morale. They’re just a mess.

You are hired because of your continuous improvement experience and your past success. As it turns out, the CEO that hired you is giving you complete operational control and trusts you to right this ship. With this said, what would your first week on the job look like? What would you do, and why?

Jeff:  Obviously, the first thing I would do is get to know the staff. Obviously, you want to know who’s working for you. What are their skill sets? Those types of things. You want to start to get people on board with your thought process. That engagement is key from the beginning.

I think understanding who my resources are, who’s my staff, is important. That would probably be one of the first things that I do, and that’s just from a personality perspective. But then what I would try to do is ask, is there any voice of the customer? Who’s our customer, and what are they saying about us or about what we’re delivering?

Then as a subset of that, what are we delivering to the customer? What is it that we produce? Is it a product? Is it a program? Is it a service? Those are things that I would look at.

Then I would try to find out in the first week, what’s our standard? Do we even have any standards? Are they documented? If not, then that would start the process. The first thing we have to do is look at our standards, and if they’re not there, then we have to create those standards. We have to document those standards, because from that is where you start to make your continuous improvement.

If you don’t know what’s going on, then you can’t make improvements. You can’t move to a desired state or a future state or an ideal state, if you don’t know what the current state is. And so, that’s where I would start in that first week. I think that would probably take up a good portion of that first week.

But it goes back to talking about Lean. It’s understanding and drafting the current situation. Your approach may differ from organization to organization, but I think from a Lean journey perspective, understanding the current situation is key to making any type of continuous improvement efforts. And so that’s how I would start in that first week.

Ron:  You mentioned Mr. Ohno earlier in the interview. My favorite quote from him ‑‑ I believe he said this ‑‑ is, “Without standards, there can be no Kaizen.”

Jeff:  He’s got a lot of good quotes.

Ron:  [laughs] Indeed he does.

Jeff, thank you so much for coming on to the show. I know you’re extremely busy. Why don’t we wrap things up, Jeff, with you just giving us some final words of wisdom? Then, why don’t you tell people how they can connect with you via social media.

Ron:  My final words of wisdom are that the Lean journey is a lengthy process. I think the key, for us over the years, has been to create an engaged culture. As I stated earlier, our mission is to get as many associates as possible involved in creating value for the customer.

And so however you go about that, it’s going to be a big plus for the organization, either way you look at it. You’re going to have continuous improvement efforts. You’re going to have efficiency. Productivity is going to improve. If you keep that mindset, and you move in that direction of creating value for the customer, you have to define who the customer is, nothing but good can come from that.

Those are my words of advice for anybody out there who is starting a Lean journey. You’re going to run into obstacles. You’re just going to have to step back and try and find a way around or over or through those obstacles, because they’re going to be there in whatever form you can imagine.

That would be my advice that I would give anybody that’s starting out on this journey. If you have any questions, I’m not on any of the Twitters and Facebooks and stuff like that. You can simply email me. Jeff_Miller@toyota.com.

Ron:  Are you on LinkedIn, Jeff?

Jeff:  No, I’m not on anything.

Ron: That’s probably why you get so much work done. [laughs]

Jeff:  I guess I’m still a simple person, especially when it comes to efficiency. If you just email me, then I only have to look at my email. If I’m on Facebook and Twitter, then I’ve got to make sure. I have to keep going to all these different accounts to see who may be communicating with me.

But I guess sometimes the old school may be the best school, or maybe I’m just outdated. But if you just simply send me an email, I get my emails, and I’ll respond.

Ron:  Jeff, thanks again. Hopefully I can get back out to Torrance, and we’ll do some more videos out there at the Toyota facility out there in California.

Jeff:  I look forward to it, Ron. It’s a pleasure working with you and knowing you. I mean, Gemba Academy’s comes a long way since we initially signed up, and it just keeps getting better every year.

Ron:  Thank you again, and take care, Jeff.

Jeff:  All right, Ron.

[music]

Presenter: Thanks for listening to the “Gemba Academy Podcast.” Now it’s time to take a free no strings attached fully functional test drive of Gemba Academy’s School of Lean and Six Sigma over at Gembaacademy.com. Gain immediate access to more than 500 Lean and Six Sigma training videos free of charge at Gembaacademy.com.

What Do You Think?

In what ways does lean apply to the factory floor AND the office environment?

GA 027 | How Our Brains Impact Performance with Ron Pereira

Play

Press the play button above to listen to the episode. If you’re reading this via email or RSS click the image below to listen to the episode.

GA27_Brain_KaizenWe really changed things up in this episode. Instead of hosting, it was my turn to be the guest and answer all the questions. Our own Steve Kane hosted and we discussed why  lean is a people-centric methodology, and how brain chemicals like oxytocin play a big role in a Kaizen Culture.

To hear the podcast just press the “Play” button at the top of this post. An MP3 version is also available for download here and a downloadable PDF transcript of the interview is available here.  

Visit Us at the AME Conference This November & Save 10% on Registration!

10-JacksonvilleMachinesToolsBannerAdSeries298x248NetworkingIf you plan to attend the upcoming AME conference November 10-14 be sure to stop by the Gemba Academy booth to say hello.

While I’m definitely biased I think you’ll find we give away some of the coolest “swag” at the conference!

We also plan to host an after hours “networking” event on Tuesday evening… free food and drinks!  More details to come on this.

Finally, if you haven’t registered for the conference and plan to be sure to use the coupon code GEMBA10 in order to save 10%.

AME is definitely our favorite conference to attend so we hope to see you there!

In this episode you’ll learn:

  • Ron’s background and how he got into continuous improvement (3:27)
  • Ron’s favorite quotation (6:15)
  • What Gemba Academy’s upcoming Culture of Kaizen course is all about (7:03)
  • Why “Respect for People” should really be “Respect for Humanity” (9:16)
  • What endorphins, dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin, cortisol have to do with performance (10:50)
  • Why this concept is only now being discussed in the lean community (21:53)
  • What “Respect for People” means to Ron (23:30)
  • Aesop’s Four Oxen Fable and what it has to do with the phrase “Kaizen Culture” (25:04)
  • The best advice Ron has ever received (26:13)
  • Ron’s personal productivity habit (27:41)
  • Ron’s final words of wisdom (33:28)

Podcast Resources

Download a Free Audio Book

If you enjoy listening to podcasts chances are you’ll also enjoy listening to audio books.

And if you’ve never listened to an audio book today is your lucky day since you’re able to download a free audio book over at our favorite audio book provider – Audible.

Simply click this link to claim your free audio book.

Please note you will need to sign up, which includes providing your credit card, but if you’re not happy with the service you can easily cancel the subscription after downloading your free audio book before your free trial expires.

Subscribe & Never Miss New Episodes!

300px-BlackLines-Podcast-Removed-2

Click to Subscribe in iTunes

If you enjoyed this podcast please be sure to subscribe on iTunes. Once you’re a subscriber all new episodes will be downloaded to your iTunes account and smartphone.

The easiest way for iPhone users to listen to the show is via the free, and incredible, Podcast app.  You can download it here.

CLICK HERE to subscribe to the Gemba Academy podcast on iTunes. You can also subscribe via Stitcher which is definitely Android friendly.

Full Written Transcript

GA 27 | Ron Pereira

Announcer: You’re listening to Episode 27 with Ron Pereira.

[music]

Announcer: Welcome to the Gemba Academy Podcast, the show that’s focused on helping individuals and companies achieve breakthrough results using the same continuous improvement principles leveraged by companies such as Toyota, Del Monte, and the US Department of Defense.

Now, here’s your host, Ron Pereira.

Ron Pereira: Hey there, this is Ron Pereira with Gemba Academy. I’d like to welcome you to another edition of the Gemba Academy Podcast.

As always, thank you so much for taking time to listen to the show and for watching our videos over at gembaacademy.com. Now, today’s episode is a little bit different since…I’m actually being interviewed for the first time.

Steve Kane, our Direct of Sales and Marketing at Gemba Academy, comes on and actually takes over the role as host, and I’m the guest. I go through all the same questions that all of our other guests have gone through.

It was really fun, and really the point of the discussion today is about something that we’re covering in pretty great detail in our new Culture of Kaizen course that we’re developing. An important aspect is our brains, which sounds a little bit weird, like brains and Lean, but there are actually a lot of important things that we need to know about various chemicals in our brain, like dopamine.

What is that? Why does that have an important impact on how cultures are created within organizations and even within our families and communities in general?

We walk through that a little bit. It was really fun and interesting, because I had never really had to prepare for some of the quick-fire questions. I hope you’re going to enjoy this show. I do want to say that it’s early October 2014 right now when we’re recording this.

We have partnered with AME. We’re happy to say that we are offering a 10 percent discount to anyone that wants to sign up for the AME Conference that’s coming up in mid-November, 2014.

To get all the information, the best thing to do is go to our show notes, which is gembapodcast.com/27. Again, 2-7, gembapodcast.com/27. You’re going to go ahead and get all the information for how to save 10 percent on registration for that AME Conference. We are going to have a booth there again.

We are also, we’re working on and planning it right now, going to do an after-hours networking event there in Jacksonville. It’s going to be on the Tuesday of the conference.

It’s going to be free drinks and food. All the Gemba Academy team is going to be there. We would love to have everyone listening to this that comes to the conference come and hang out with us and spend some time networking.

Again, go to gembapodcast.com/27 for the show notes. That’s enough from me. Let’s get to the show.

[music]

Steve Kane: Ron, thanks very much for coming on the show. Tell us where you’re calling from today.

Ron: I am in Keller, Texas at our studio here. It’s great to be on the show, Steve. [laughs] It’s fun being on the different end of the microphone today.

Steve: It’s a new thing for me, as well. Ron, share with the audience a little bit about your background and how you first came to learn about continuous improvement.

Ron: I guess I first started to explore continuous improvement back at Motorola where I first worked out of school. I worked there building cell phones.

If anybody remembers the StarTAC, the famous StarTAC, that little, I think it was one of the first flip phones ever made.

Gosh, I remember being in the new product introduction area, and we were sneaking a look into the cages and all that where they were all stored. I first cut my teeth on, mainly, I would say, it’s more Six Sigma slanted tools, control charts. There are a lot of Lean things that we were doing, but designing experiments and different more advanced statistical type stuff. I did that for a while.

After that, I moved to Nokia, the big competitor of Motorola. That’s actually where I went through formal Six Sigma training, Green Belt, Black Belt, Master Black Belt, so forth. We were pretty much a Six Sigma house. There was a little bit of Lean sprinkled into our training, like you see in most traditional Six Sigma training.

But I knew there was a lot more, I started reading and buying books. I stumbled upon this website called gembapantarei.com. I had no idea who this guy was named Jon Miller. Clicked around and came to find out he had a consulting company called Gemba Research.

We actually brought Gemba Research into our Nokia facility. They helped us do some value stream mapping, training. That was the big buzz around that time was value stream mapping and flow and pull, and all this stuff.

That’s where I first met Jon Miller, our partner here at Gemba Academy. That’s really where my lean training I guess, formal training started. Then, I started following John closely, all of his writing and reading his work. Then, I started a blog.

Jon and I actually became pretty good friends. One thing led to another. We ended up making a video around 2008 kind of time frame, on stuffing envelopes, and so forth. That’s how all of this Gemba Academy to fruition is meeting Jon at Nokia there.

I did work at another company after Nokia as a Director of Continuous Improvement, then, right before leaving the corporate world for Gemba Academy. I don’t know. That’s my history in a nutshell.

Steve: Can you share with us a quotation that really inspires you?

Ron: I’m going to drop some incredible knowledge here. This is probably the most incredible philosopher of our time, Steve, that’s been here for us. is Yoda from Star Wars.

It’s one of my favorite quotes of all time. Yoda told young Luke Skywalker, he says, “Do or do not. There is no try.”

Steve: Love it.

Ron: I love that quote. It’s really how I try to live my life. It’s how I try to teach my kids.

I tell my kids that, “You never say you can’t do something. Instead you just say, “I presently struggle with.” Just having that mindset that there’s really nothing we can’t do if we try hard enough and put enough effort into it.

Steve: Fantastic. You’re working on a new course, “The Culture of Kaizen.” What’s new in this course, and how is it different than the existing “Kaizen Way” course?

Ron: I’ll tell you. This course is really, really exciting to me. Something that it’s taken me a long time. I’ve been practicing lean for gosh, 15 some years, and continuous improvement even just in general longer than that.

I’ve learned every tool there is to learn. Maybe not every tool, but I’m pretty knowledgeable on the various tools of Lean and Six Sigma. I’ve had some incredible teachers over the years. It hasn’t been until really running my own company here at Gemba Academy, that it’s really come to me that lean really truly is about people. Some people are like, “Ah duh,” But it really is.

It’s something that no one really talks about, including Gemba Academy. We do talk about respect for people and so forth, but they’re just words, “respect for people.” Like, what does that mean?

It’s why one of the questions that we have here in the podcast. That’s why we ask. The Kaizen Way course is a great course. It really talks about Kaizen events, and how to facilitate change.

There is some kind of philosophical stuff, that Kaizen is a way of life, and it’s a mindset, which it is. We do kind of touch on that, but we don’t get into the people side of things. That’s what this Culture of Kaizen course is all about. We’re just really getting into, “What makes people tick?”

It doesn’t matter if you work in a factory, or a hospital, or a call center, or you’re a stay-at-home mom. It really doesn’t matter. We all have certain things about us, our bodies, our brains. That’s something that we’re going to really study in this course and talk about is some brain science stuff, like what makes us tick. That’s what different about this course.

Steve: Great. On the respect for people side. I listened to the Lean Round Table recording that was hosted by Paul Akers at FastCap. You mentioned the respect for people being a bad translation. Can you talk to us about that?

Ron: Yeah. This is again something that I learned from Jon Miller. Jon, as many people know, was actually born in Japan and raised in Japan.

His parents were missionaries over there. He speaks and understands the language at a deep, deep level. Basically, he goes way over my head sometimes when he’s talking about all the characters of the word and really breaking them down.

The gist of it is it would have been better translated as respect for “humanity” instead of “people.” I think there’s a very important difference there.

Humanity is all of us, our whole being. And then everybody around us, not just the people we work with, our suppliers, our customers. The people that we meet in a grocery store, that’s humanity. That’s really what Toyota and these original thought leaders, they’re really getting at. It wasn’t meant to just be the people that you work with in the cubicle next to you.

Steve: Right. You mentioned something about going into the way the brain works in this new culture of course. Can you tell us a little bit more about that?

Ron: Yeah. This is what has probably got me the most excited. I can safely say that Jon Miller and I, we have worked together on really all of our courses here at Gemba Academy, and obviously, you and Kevin Meyer also help us in reading the scripts, and seeing what we are up to. But something that Jon and I are really diving into here is how our brains work and the various chemicals, and so forth.

Because in the end, all the tools of Lean and Six Sigma, they’re very important. We have over 600 videos here at Gemba Academy talking about the tools, because you do need to understand the tools and how to do that.

But in the end, if you don’t know how to work with people or influence people, I don’t care how good you are at value stream mapping, you are going to be a colossal failure. You will not sustain any kind of excellence. No one will follow you, you will be a terrible leader.

And so, what we are really doing is we’re almost taking a step back and covering something that I don’t think it’s ever been covered within the Lean world, is the various chemicals in our brain and what they do to us, and how they’re triggered and the various emotions that people go through, and what happens when you do certain things to certain people.

What’s going on inside of their brains? And then, once we understand that, how can we leverage that and use that to our advantage to build this culture of Kaizen. In the end, there’s a lot of discussion of this type of topic in this course.

Steve: Right. What are these chemicals and how do they impact us?

Ron: We’re going to go into far more detail in the course. I’ll just give an elevator speech here on the podcast.

The first one is endorphins, and endorphins exist to mask physical pain. I don’t say they necessarily have a lot to do with what we are doing, and we’re building a culture of continuous improvement.

But it’s important to understand what they are. When you go on a run, if anybody’s a runner and they’re starting to really struggle, and the next thing you know the pain is overcome by this euphoria or this runner’s high they talk about. That’s endorphins, that’s an endorphin rush covering your body and allowing you to push through that pain.

We also have endorphins when we laugh. If there’s ever been a time when you are cracking up, somebody is killing you with a joke or something, they keep going and you are just losing it. You’re laughing so hard and you’re like “Oh gosh, please stop, it’s starting to hurt.”

It’s hurting because the endorphins are starting to go away, and now the pain of you laughing in your chest and what not is really starting to impact you. Yeah, that’s endorphins.

Steve: Wow.

Ron: The next one is dopamine, and dopamine is what we get, it’s that feeling of accomplishment. You get a dopamine rush if you have a to-do list. I know you’re big on your to do list, and when you have a to-do list and you get to cross something out, you feel good, right?

Steve: Right, absolutely.

Ron: That’s dopamine. Dopamine is being released in your body when you do something that makes you feel good. My kids play sports, and so my daughter Brenna is a stud little soccer player and she scores the winning goal, guess what?

I actually get a dopamine rush when I see my child succeed. If you’re watching your favorite team play sports, and they win, you are going to get a dopamine rush. Another one about dopamine, you’ve got to be careful, and we cover this in great detail in the course.

It can become addicting, and this is bad, right? Probably the one that we are all familiar with is our smartphones. We carry these little blocks around in our pockets and our hands, and I don’t know, Steve, if you’ve ever been driving and your phone is in your pocket and it buzzes. You get an immediate feeling, right?

You’re like “Oh, what is that, who is that, who’s trying to get a hold of me?” And you’re tempted to pull it out and check it, but you being the former policeman, I know you would never do that while you’re driving.

Steve: Never, never.

Ron: But that’s dopamine. You get this dopamine rush when your cell phone buzzes in your pocket, so it can be addicting and that’s not a good thing, obviously.

That’s where you’ve got to have a balance with dopamine.

After dopamine is serotonin, and they call that the leadership chemical. Serotonin is pretty fascinating, and it’s released in a number of different ways. One of the most common ways as it pertains to the culture of Kaizen is when you give public recognition to someone.

I always like to think of when you do a Kaizen event, at the end of the event, when the team comes together and they give their report out to the leadership team or whoever it might be.

And they do a great job, and the leadership team claps and says, “Great job.” Giving this public praise, these Kaizen event team members, serotonin is actually flooding throughout their body, and that makes them feel good. Dopamine and serotonin are actually called neurotransmitters, and so, they actually make our bodies work, to be honest with you.

They connect cells within our brains, and so forth. That’s why they’re both this feel good neurotransmitter that make us do what we do on a daily basis. That’s dopamine and serotonin.

The next one is oxytocin, and oxytocin is actually a hormone.

It gives us, someone say this is the best one at all, that it makes us feel good. It makes us feel safe. It makes us feel loved, and allows us to trust people around us. It’s the warm and fuzzy feelings, feel good moments in our life. That’s oxytocin. Now, oxytocin is actually the easiest way to trigger this and release it in someone else, is to actually touch them physically touch them.

That’s why if you have kids and your child falls down, they skin their knee, what do you do? You run up and you go to hug them.

You say, “There there, that’s OK” and you’re patting their back and all that. It’s a natural reaction to comfort them, but it’s also releasing oxytocin in that child’s body. They’re starting to feel safe, and they’re starting to feel better from skinning their knee. I’m a big baseball fan, huge baseball fan.

My Texas Rangers, they stunk this year, let’s be honest, but I still love them. The pitching coach for the Rangers, his name is Mike Maddux. When the pitchers are doing badly, which unfortunately happened a lot this year, he goes out to the mound to talk to them. If anybody has ever watched a Texas Rangers baseball game, they’ll notice that Mike Maddux does something.

I don’t know if any other pitching coach does this. He actually takes his hand and he puts it on their shoulder. He grabs the pitcher’s shoulder, and he’s talking to them. He’s almost shaking, moving the pitcher a little bit.

I’ve heard him say that he does this sometimes to feel the tension throughout their shoulders, but I don’t know if he realizes this, what he’s also doing is I can guarantee that he is releasing oxytocin in that pitcher, which is, again, calming them down, making them feel more comfortable and more centered, hopefully, able to pitch better.

Yeah, that’s oxytocin. The last thing I want to say about oxytocin, which is very important, is that it can actually strengthen our immune systems. It’s not just a feel-good thing, it can help you be healthier if you have a healthy amount of oxytocin running through your brains and then our bodies.

It also helps us become better problem solvers if you have a lot of oxytocin. It only makes sense, right Steve? If people are walking around an organization and they feel good, and they feel comfortable and trusted and able to experiment and make mistakes, they’re going to be better problem solvers, right?

That’s oxytocin. The last one that we talk about in the course is what they call the big C, cortisol. We save this one for last, because it’s probably the most serious of all, and it can be the most dangerous of all, especially, as it relates to building this culture of Kaizen. Cortisol is released in someone when they are stressed out, or they have anxiety, or they’re scared or nervous, paranoid.

Cortisol is like in the African safari, if these gazelles are out in the middle of the field, and all of a sudden they hear the rustling in the bush, and it’s a lion coming out to eat them. The first gazelle that sees that is going to have a burst of cortisol throughout their body, its fight or flight.

The other gazelle didn’t even hear it, but they saw their friend is freaked out, they’re also going to get a cortisol release, even if they don’t know why, just because their friend is.

That’s why if you see someone in your company who’s stressed out, or they are worried, or whatever, that can be almost contagious. That’s why you have the so-called bad apple, where someone has a bad attitude, that attitude can be spread throughout the organization all through this cortisol.

The most dangerous part of cortisol is that it is actually in oxytocin inhibitor. In other words, if you have enough cortisol running through your body, your immune system can actually be compromised. That’s why some people who are always stressed out and they never feel good, they get sick.

It’s cortisol, that’s doing this. Yeah, those are the main chemicals. There are a few other things that tie into the course, and how those same chemicals how habits can be formed, and other characteristics that we get into. For me, it’s some really fascinating stuff, and I’ve really enjoyed researching it with Jon to create this.

Steve: Great, I’m actually looking forward to learning about this, and watching the new module. Ron, why do you think the Lean community hasn’t focused on this before now?

Ron: That’s a good question. We are part of that community, so we are pointing a finger back at ourselves. The easiest answer is that tools are easy to teach. I can teach anybody how to do 5S, I can teach anyone how to draw a value stream map.

Even some of the more common problem solving methodology and what everybody sees these days that are really popular and really good. But at the end of the day, they are cookie-cutter. Do this, do this, do this, and good things are going to happen.

Which is fantastic, but unfortunately, again, we come back to the point of I don’t care how good you are at value stream mapping, or whatever it is. If you understand why people aren’t on board with you, or you don’t understand what makes people happy or sad, you’re not going to be really effective. And so, I don’t know. I think dealing with people is hard. At the end of the day, the human person is a complicated being.

Steve: Sure.

Ron: And so, it’s not easy. I think it’s a natural evolution for Gemba Academy. Again, we’ve covered the tools at great length and it’s time that we got back to the roots of what makes continuous improvement successful, and that’s people.

Steve: All right, Ron, well it’s time to switch gears a little bit. We’re going to go to the quick fire section of the podcast. Are you ready?

Ron: I am.

Steve: I’m sure you never heard these questions before, but here they come. What does respect for people means you?

Ron: It’s funny, I was preparing for this earlier, and I don’t normally prepare. But these are tough questions, and this first one is something that obviously I am passionate about.

For me, respecting people really just comes down to one thing, and that’s really caring about people, and giving a damn about people. And my wife will yell at me now for saying this.  If my kids are listening, don’t say that. But that’s really what it’s all about, Steve. It’s about caring about people. And if you do that, again, it doesn’t mean that you’re always nice or whatever.

We’ve heard all those answers before, but it just means genuinely investing in people and caring for people, and treating them like their brain is so important to you.

I don’t mean brain science things, I mean their ideas and the things that they can bring to the table. These companies that just look at people as a cost or an expense on the P & L, they don’t get it and they probably never will. I don’t know, that’s what respect for people means to me, caring about people.

Steve: Next question. When you hear the phrase “Kaizen Culture”, what comes to your mind?

Ron: I’m actually going to take a little bit different angle on this than some of our previous guests have. The thing that I think about, when I think about this Kaizen culture, Kaizen is like Aesop, who wrote the fables back in the day.

There is the famous fable of the four oxen. The gist of it is when they are out and being attacked, those four oxen all back their tails together. When the lion or whatever it is is attacking them, the lion always faces the horns, he can’t kill any of the oxen. But eventually, something happens, a fight or whatever, and these oxen get mad at each other and they all go their separate ways.

Eventually, the lion is able to easily kill each of them on their own. As the old saying goes, we’ve got to hang together or we’ll all hang separately. To me, that’s really what a Kaizen culture is. It’s one that sticks together, and fight together, and wins together and loses together. That, to me, is what a culture is all about.

Steve: Great. Ron, tell us, what’s the best advice that you have ever received?

Ron: I actually mentioned this in the podcast about my father, the podcast where we talked about Dale Carnagie’s “How to Win Friends and Influence People.”

My dad, who was a professor at the University of Manitoba for many years, extremely educated, he used to always tell me and all my siblings that we had to get that stupid piece of paper, that’s what he used to say. The degree or whatever, he said that’s important, because it’s going to help you get your foot in the door.

But at the end of the day, it’s all about people. He said the people that are able to work with others and influence others, he said it’s human engineering is what he used to tell me.

He said those are the people that are going to succeed in life. I’ve seen, and I know many highly, highly educated people. I’m talking about some of the best schools in the world. And you know what? These people struggle. They’re either always unhappy, or they’re complaining about everything, or their businesses aren’t that great. I don’t know, they never find any peace.

What I find is that these same people really struggle to work with others, and that’s what it’s all about, is your ability to work with others. Unfortunately, that’s not taught in many MBA schools.

Steve: Right. The next question, can you share one of your personal productivity habits that others might benefit from?

Ron: Yeah, my favorite habit is that I work standing up now. I’ve done that since we built this new studio here about a year ago.

Before that, I did sit at the desk, and I tried standing up in the past, but I couldn’t get it to work. I gave it another go, and I just fought through it. It was hard, Steve, I know you stand up, as well. It’s hard in the beginning. Your legs hurt, and your feet hurt, and you’re constantly pivoting left foot, right foot. But now, I can’t stand to sit down. And so, I would really encourage anyone to give that a shot.

And again, realizing that first two to three weeks, it’s going to be painful. You’re going to want to quit. What we did here when we built a new studio is we bought some new desks, some new stand up desks. They said “Do you want a chair?” And I said “I don’t even want a chair.” I don’t even have a chair I could sit in if I wanted to, that’s been a fantastic improvement for me.

Steve: If you could recommend only one book related to continuous improvement or leadership, what would it be and why?

Ron: It’s not your traditional lean thinking book, there’s tons of good ones out there. But one of my favorite authors as Malcolm Gladwell, and he wrote a book called “The Tipping Point.”

It’s probably one of my favorite books of all time, and it’s all about how epidemics are started, good and bad. The book actually starts with the story of hush puppies, the shoes, and talks about how back in the day hush puppies were very popular, but they eventually got out of style and nobody wore them anymore. And then, a group of teenagers, or somebody in New York City, they started this deal where they started wearing them.

Next thing you know, this epidemic of wearing hush puppies tipped, and hush puppy sales shot through the roof. That’s how something tips. But there is bad ones, as well, in the book they talk about a young man, I believe it was a young man who lived on this island.

I can’t remember where it was, it’s been a long time since I read the book. But his girlfriend did him wrong, and he was very upset. She wrote a letter, and then he committed suicide. I think it was the first suicide that they ever had on the small island. But then what happened was, some other young people were not feeling good, and they did the same thing.

And so, this epidemic of committing suicide tipped, and so, there’s good tipping points and there’s bad tipping points. I think, for us, from a continuous improvement perspective, obviously, we want to get our cultures or whatever to kind of tip, to get to that point to where everyone is thinking this way, doing it. It’s just a way that we work.

It’s not longer a program or an initiative, or “Here comes the Lean guys or the Six Sigma police,” or whatever. Everyone is on board, and this thing is tipped. That’s why it’s one of my favorite books of all times.

Steve: Now, I have a hypothetical for you. Imagine you’re a lean thinker. You were just hired into a company as a General Manager. You were brought into improve processes and improve the way the company is working.

Your senior leadership staff, they’re not really as excited or enthusiastic about Lean thinking as you are. With this being said, what do you do and why?

Ron: I thought a lot about this. I hate to do this, but I’m going to steal a little bit of an answer from one of our past guests, and it’s Matt May. One of my favorite people in the world, Matt May.

When I asked him this question, he talked about the importance of empathy and really empathizing with the people that you’re dealing with. I know in this situation, this hypothetical situation, with these people not on board, there’s a reason why they’re not on board. It’s not that they’re probably bad people or negative people, or don’t want to see the company succeed.

They’ve probably been, back to their brain chemicals, they probably have cortisol dripping through their veins everyday. They don’t feel good. They’re not happy to be there. Really, trying to understand that, and trying to understand, “Why don’t you feel good?” Forget lean at this point. It’s back to that people and that human relationship, respect for humanity.

It’s trying to really understand what’s going on with these folks, and why are they resisting. Why are they scared or nervous? That’s probably what I would start with is just really trying to understand at a human level, “What’s going on with these folks?”

Again, once I got them over that, I would pop-in some Gemba Academy videos, and we’d be off and running, right?

Steve: Right.

Ron: But before that, before we start watching any videos, or reading any books, or going to any conferences, we’re just going to talk. We’re going to try to understand each other, and try to understand what’s going on at the human level.

Steve: That’s great. Ron, it’s time to wrap up here. Maybe you can share some final words of wisdom, and let people know how they can get a hold of you.

Ron: My final words of wisdom come from Sir Winston Churchill. He famously said, “To never, never, never give up.” To me, I guess what I’m passionate about is learning. I don’t mean come to Gemba Academy and learn from us. Yeah, sure. We want you to do that.

I don’t ever want to stop learning. That’s why I’m so excited about this course. I’m learning so much about things that I have not known in the past.

Again, Jon knows a lot about this brain science stuff. He’s been teaching me, and I’m reading. I’m fascinated to constantly learn new things. I think that’s what makes people tick. If you’re not learning, you’re probably slowly dying inside. I would encourage everyone. First of all, don’t ever give up, discontinue some improvement battle.

You may be by yourself. Maybe you’re the only one who believes in your company. Don’t stop. If anything, do it for yourself. Maybe you’ve got to get out of that company eventually, but if you stop learning yourself, you’ll let that cortisol or that bad energy kind of overtake you. Then, it’s going to impact you for the rest of your life.

That’s my final words of wisdom. As far as getting in touch with me, gembaacademy.com. That’s the easiest way. Just go over to the contact page. That will eventually get over to me.

Then from a social media perspective, probably, the best one to use for me is LinkedIn. I do have a Facebook account, but that’s really more for family and close friends, that sort of thing. I keep that a pretty small list. LinkedIn is the best way to get me. It’s just Ron Pereira, P E R E I R A. Yeah, that’s it!

Steve: Ron, thanks so much. It’s been a great time talking to you.

Ron: Thank you. Great job, Steve.

Announcer: Thanks for listening to the Gemba Academy podcast. Now, it’s time to take a free, no strings attached, fully functional test drive of Gemba Academy’s School of Lean and Six Sigma over at gembaacademy.com.

Gain immediate access to more than 500 Lean and Six Sigma Training Videos free of charge at gembaacademy.com.

What Do You Think?

What are the important elements of a Kaizen Culture? Is it brain chemistry or something else?

GA 026 | How to Conduct a Gemba Walk with Michael Bremer

Play

Press the play button above to listen to the episode. If you’re reading this via email or RSS click the image below to listen to the episode.

MIchael_Bremer

Today’s guest wears many hats. Michael Bremer is a blogger, author, and President of the Cumberland Group. He is also an AME volunteer and the Co-Managing Director of the Chicagoland Lean Enterprise Consortium Group.

In this episode we explore why Gemba Walks matter and how to make the most of them. Hopefully Michael’s advice will take your Gemba Walks to the next level.

To hear the podcast just press the “Play” button at the top of this post. An MP3 version is also available for download here and a downloadable PDF transcript of the interview is available here.

Visit Us at the AME Conference This November & Save 10% on Registration!

10-JacksonvilleMachinesToolsBannerAdSeries298x248NetworkingIf you plan to attend the upcoming AME conference November 10-14 be sure to stop by the Gemba Academy booth to say hello.

While I’m definitely biased I think you’ll find we give away some of the coolest “swag” at the conference!

We also plan to host an after hours “networking” event on Tuesday evening… free food and drinks!  More details to come on this.

Finally, if you haven’t registered for the conference and plan to be sure to use the coupon code GEMBA10 in order to save 10%.

AME is definitely our favorite conference to attend so we hope to see you there!

In this episode you’ll learn:

  • Michael’s background and how he came to learn about lean (3:32)
  • The two quotes that inspire Michael (8:55)
  • Michael’s definition of a Gemba Walk (11:25)
  • Why you should do them (13:02)
  • The problems people encounter during them (15:13)
  • The three steps to a successful Gemba Walk (16:51)
  • Why there should always be standard work for your Gemba Walks (21:38)
  • Roughly how long your walks should be and how often you should do them (24:48)
  • What “Respect for People” means to Michael (31:43)
  • What comes to mind when Michael hears “Kaizen Culture” (36:44)
  • The best advice Michael has ever received (38:04)
  • Michael’s favorite personal productivity habit (39:54)
  • Michael’s final words of wisdom (51:45)

Podcast Resources

Download a Free Audio Book

If you enjoy listening to podcasts chances are you’ll also enjoy listening to audio books.

And if you’ve never listened to an audio book today is your lucky day since you’re able to download a free audio book over at our favorite audio book provider – Audible.

Simply click this link to claim your free audio book.

Please note you will need to sign up, which includes providing your credit card, but if you’re not happy with the service you can easily cancel the subscription after downloading your free audio book before your free trial expires.

Subscribe & Never Miss New Episodes!

300px-BlackLines-Podcast-Removed-2

Click to Subscribe in iTunes

If you enjoyed this podcast please be sure to subscribe on iTunes. Once you’re a subscriber all new episodes will be downloaded to your iTunes account and smartphone.

The easiest way for iPhone users to listen to the show is via the free, and incredible, Podcast app.  You can download it here.

CLICK HERE to subscribe to the Gemba Academy podcast on iTunes. You can also subscribe via Stitcher which is definitely Android friendly.

Full Written Transcript

GA 26 | Michael Bremer

Presenter: You’re listening to Episode 26 with Michael Bremer.

[background music]

Presenter: Welcome to the Gemba Academy podcast. The show that’s focused on helping individuals and companies achieve breakthrough results, using the same continuous improvement principles leveraged by companies such as Toyota, Del Monte and the US Department of Defense.

Now, here’s your host, Ron Pereira.

Ron Pereira: Hey, there. This is Ron Pereira with Gemba Academy.

I’d like to welcome you to another edition of the Gemba Academy podcasts. As always, thank you so much for taking time out of your day to listen to the show and for watching our videos over at Gembaacademy.com. We definitely appreciate you.

Today’s episode is going to be pretty exciting. I have a gentleman named Michael Bremer on show. Many of you are familiar with Michael’s work. He’s a blogger and author. He’s done some really good work across the Lean community.

Today, what we’re going to talk about is gemba walk. Michael’s recently an e-book that he talks about, focused on how to go about doing gemba walks, really, at kind of the shop floor level, the supervisor level, not just from kind of an executive level.

I think you’re going to really enjoy this show. We talk about what gemba walks are, the different types of walks and how to go about them yourself.

Now, Michael is the president of the Cumberland Group out of Chicago and he goes ahead and talks a little bit about that business and what he does on a day to day basis in the episode. But Michael is also a pretty key volunteer for the Association for Manufacturing Excellence or AME.

As many people know, AME puts on a massive conference each year. This year, the conference is going to be in Jacksonville, Florida, from November 10th through the 14th.

Gemba academy attended the conference last year, we had a booth. We’re going back this year. In fact, we have two booths put together this year, just so that we have a little bit more room. If you are planning to be at the AME conference this year, please stop by to say hello. We’ll have lots of goodies to give away and we’d definitely love to say hello.

I also want to say that AME and Gemba Academy are working together this year. We’re happy to say that you can get a 10 percent discount on the price of admission to the conference by using a certain coupon code.

What I wanted to do is, if you’re interested in going to the conference, if you haven’t signed up yet, be sure to go to Gembapodcast.com/ame. Again, that’s Gembapodcast.com/ame, and the coupon code is going to be there as well as all the information that you’ll need to kind of get signed up.

Again, it’s a fantastic conference. I think it’s probably one of the best if not the best Lean-thinking-centered conferences in the world, so be sure to check that out if you’re interested.

The show notes for this particular episode can be found over at Gembapodcast.com/26. That’s 2-6, so Gembapodcast.com/26. All right. Enough from me. Let’s get to the show.

[music]

Ron: All right, Michael. Well, thank you so much for taking time out of your day to come onto the show. Where are you calling in from today?

Michael Bremer: I’m calling in from Chicago my favorite time of year. It’s fall. It’s just beautiful outside, a great day.

Ron: Very nice, very nice. Your Bears are off to a good start I guess, right?

Michael: [laughs] Yeah, the Bears had an amazing win yesterday.

[laughter]

Ron: All right.

Michael: It was the luck of the draw. It could go either way.

Ron: Exactly, exactly. All right, Michael. Why don’t you start things off by telling us a little bit about your background and how you first came to learn about Lean thinking?

Michael: My background’s a tad eclectic. I’ve been involved in this field of performance improvement for more than 30 years. Originally with a Fortune 30 company that no longer exists, but it’s not my fault.

Ron: [laughs] OK.

Michael: I was given the responsibility in the 1980s of creating a company-wide improvement effort under the productivity banner for Beatrice Foods. When I was doing that, I spent time with a guy named Edward Deming and Joseph Juran.

Ron: [laughs] Yeah, OK.

Michael: I only wish that I could spend time with those guys now because I certainly learned a lot when I spent time with them at that point in time. Now I know enough to really learn a lot. [laughs] Now it was pretty fabulous.

I started doing that in the days of total quality management and really became introduced to Lean in the mid-1990s through some degree of Womack’s writings, but we were doing some work with Pratt and Whitney. Pratt was one of the early adapters of some of the Toyota Lean methodologies, so we learned about kaizen.

At that point in time I thought Lean was kaizen and just the rapid improvement team sort of thing and then just gradually came to have a deeper and much more holistic understanding of it over the last I guess 20 years now.

Ron: OK, so what are you up to these days?

Michael: I’m doing a couple of things. We manage a consortium group here in Chicago called The Chicagoland Lean Enterprise Consortium. It’s a group of manufacturing companies. We do no consulting with them, but we facilitate their learning from one another and had that for about five years.

I almost feel like a proud father when I go in and look at these organizations, how well they’ve progressed today versus where they’re at. We’re talking about starting one for service organizations. I’ve had a couple of large service organizations in Chicago that have approached us with the idea of doing it there.

We still continue to consult, although at the age that I am right now I’ve not been promoting that a whole lot. A lot of what we’ll do is, if an organization would like to take its improvement activities IT and take it up to the next level of maturity to elevate what it is they’re doing, that’s the focus of a lot of our writing, a lot of our work, and certainly a lot of my passion today.

It doesn’t take a whole lot of time but what does an organization need to do to elevate its level of improvement maturity. We’ll still do that.

Ron: Now I also understand that you are pretty involved with AME and their conferences. Is that right?

Michael: I am. Sometimes my volunteer work for AME almost seems like a part-time job.

Ron: [laughs]

Michael: I’ll give them 20 to 25 percent of my time. One of my personal responsibilities is I’m in charge of the AME Manufacturing Excellence Award programs, and we’re just finishing up that cycle. We had 15 people that applied for the award this year. We did 10 site visits, and four of those companies ended up being manufacturing award recipients.

We’ll be recognizing them at the annual conference that’s coming up in Jacksonville this November the 10th to the 15th. I’d say some people call it a Lean conference, but I really think it’s more about performance excellence. What does an organization need to elevate again its level of improvement effectiveness?

The key thing about AME is much of that is practitioner-to-practitioner learning. We allow consultants to do some things on Monday and Friday during the conference in workshops, but the presentations that take place during the week are all from practitioners.

Then there are also tours. There’s a ton of activity that takes place during a conference, and anybody that wants to learn more about this I’d encourage them to find out more about AME. It’s a great organization.

Ron: Well, Gemba Academy, just a small plug, [laughs] is going to be at the AME conference this year in Jacksonville. We did a double booth this time, so we have a little bit more breathing room. We definitely hope all of our listeners check that out.

Just to help drive people to that website, and we’re not compensated at all for this — we just want to drive people to the website because we think it’s a great conference — just go to Gimbapodcast.com/AME. That’s going to bring you right to the Jacksonville AME 2014 Conference page there.

I’ll tell you the one that I’m most excited about. There are obviously tons of great speakers, but Simon Sinek is one of my favorite guys. I don’t know if he would [laughs] call himself a Lean thinker per se, but golly, his “Why?” video, that famous TED Talk video, is one of my all-time favorite videos. I’m so happy to see him.

Michael: He’s all about engaging people and more meaning in the work activities that people do, which totally fits with what we’re trying to accomplish from a Lean perspective.

Ron: Yup, so we’ll be there. I’ll come find you, and Michael, we’ll make another video or something. [laughs]

Michael: That sounds great. We’ll actually have an award booth in the exhibit area this year for the first time.

Ron: Oh, great.

Michael: We’ll definitely have time to chat. We’re going to be staffing that with some of our assessors that are doing this. It’ll be fun. It’s a great conference.

Ron: Very good, very good. All right. Well, Michael, what we like to do at the beginning of all of our episodes is have our guest share a quotation that’s maybe focused on leadership or continuous improvement that inspires them. What quotation inspires you, Michael?

Michael: There are actually two of them that I could talk too quickly. There’s my favorite all-time quote. I’m not certain if it’s attributable to Satchel Paige, who was a pitcher in the Negro Leagues for many years, or to Will Rogers. I’ve seen several sources attribute these words to both of those individuals.

The quote goes, “It isn’t what you know that gets you in trouble. It’s what you think you know that just isn’t so. [laughs] That whole idea just seems to mesh so much with the things that we’re doing with Lean and performance improvement. It really does go down to the words that Shook and Rother used in “Learning to See,” and it’s much more than value-stream mapping.

A lot of this is letting go of how you think the world works and seeing what it is that’s really going on. In that quote so much captures that. Then there’s a guy named Thom Hartmann, who’s been president of a couple of business units. He’s done a number of things for Autoliv. It’s a company that is at least at a Toyota level of improvement effectiveness, and Thom has a quote. It’s a formula for success.

What he shared, it’s so simple. If I can get more people adding more value — and more value in the way their skills, their capabilities, their collaboration, their general knowledge — so more people adding more value and doing it more frequently, Thom’s formula is that equals a perpetual improvement machine.

Again, that captures very much what it is that we’re trying to do with these activities of developing as many people as possible to actually live a more fulfilled life, in many ways, and to be able to contribute more at work, and hopefully have a better life outside of work.

Ron: Nice. As I mentioned in the intro, you haven’t heard that yet, but the intro to this episode, Michael, we’re going to focus on gemba walks, and just really explore that. You’ve written an e-book focused on this topic that I’ll explore here in a little bit, as well.

Why don’t we just start at square one here, so to speak? Tell us what is a gemba walk, and then perhaps explain how it’s different than the old school method of managers simply walking around through the office or the factory.

Michael: Yeah, the old Tom Peters thing of just management by walking around. I actually think the intention of management by walking around was do what we talk about in gemba walks, but I don’t think at the time they had really thought through how to give that much structure or focus. They were thinking, “If you just went and you looked, you learned.”

What a gemba walk is, of course, the expression, it’s another one of these Japanese terms. I try not to use too many of those.

Ron: [laughs] Gemba’s a good one, though, Gemba Academy and all that. [laughs]

Michael: It fits with another Japanese term called Genchi Genbutsu. I looked at a Toyota website as we were writing the e-book. On the Toyota’s website, it defined this as going to the source to find the facts, to make correct decisions, to build consensus, and to achieve goals. That’s a pretty comprehensive statement. That’s actually not a bad way to live life.

I love the slang expression for this, though, which is to get your boots on and go see the reality of what it is that’s really happening. A gemba walk is really helping us to avoid making assumptions about what it is that we think is happening, things that we only know from a distance, and going to see with our own eyes so we’ve got a deeper understanding of what it is that’s really taking place.

Ron: That’s what it is, but why should anyone do them?

Michael: When I wrote the e-book, I’ve had this good fortune to have met many people around the world. One of the people that I shared what we were writing with was Dr. Jeffrey Liker, who of course has written a lot about Toyota and Lean. One of the things that Jeff was saying to me as to why do one is he thinks the way a lot of people do gemba walks is it actually is like the old management by walking around.

People go out. They want to set some direction with challenging targets, and so they want to go out and share that, and they do want to see more effectively what it is that’s happening. But the people that do this the best actually elevate what’s happening there, and I think it’s a key reason for doing a gemba walk.

You want to be able to go out, and you want to teach associates, the people that you work with, to develop their ability to perform and to fix, and to improve their processes, and to be more comfortable coming forward with things that it is we need to improve.

If you’re out there having these conversations, it’s an opportunity to build trust, which is very difficult in organizations throughout the world. It’s not just a North American problem. Most organizations, there’s not a lot of trust between the people that are doing the work and the people that are leading the organization.

As leaders, it takes a lot of tenacity and a lot of discipline to elevate what it is you’re doing to the level of a Toyota. The discipline with which they go about doing this is simply amazing.

The gemba walks are one of the things that, as you’re out there getting in touch with reality, you’re in a position to be fine-tuning what it is we need to do. After the walk, a lot of what happens when people don’t sustain the gains, is they’re not adjusting what we at Cumberland call the support system, so the way we do planning, the way we measure performance, the way we communicate.

If I go out and get this firsthand feedback from what’s happening inside my organization, I can adjust those support systems so that they’re more in alignment with what it is that we’re trying to accomplish, and make it happen.

Ron: What kind of problems do people typically encounter during these gemba walks?

Michael: It fits some with what we’ll talk about with, “What does an effective walk look like?” The first thing is there’s no clear purpose. I just decide I’m going to go on a walk. [laughs] You’re waltzing through the park, and, “Oh, that looks nice.”

There’s different walks. I can be doing a walk to look for waste. I can be doing a walk to look for, “Do people really understand what’s going on?” I can be doing a walk for coaching purposes.

A first line supervisor would typically do a very different walk from what an external executive’s doing when he or she is coming in to visit a plant and see what’s going on there.

Problems arise when people think there’s one type of gemba walk. We just go through and we do this. Another problem might be that people try to do too much in one walk. That you’ve got all this stuff that it is you want to accomplish, and you want to change the world.

This is one stroll through the organization. It’s a small step, as Neil Armstrong said in stepping on the moon. But that step was the product, or the end result, of many steps that had been taken prior to that.

Gemba walks, as you do these, you gain experience. You’re in a better position to do a more effective walk each time that you go, and so not trying to do too much as you’re out there.

The biggest problem is the lack of a clear purpose, and why we’re doing this. What are we hoping to accomplish?

Ron: Give me an example of what a well done gemba walk could look like. Maybe start at a front line supervisor. What’s it look like?

Michael: We say that there’s three steps, so before the front line supervisor is going out, just defining a purpose for, “Why am I doing this walk?” Let’s just say that there’s two purposes that the supervisor might be exploring.

The first purpose might be a waste walk to go and find where are we doing things that create waste inside the organization, so you work the classic Eight Wastes.

Another, a little bit more focused, is to just get an understanding of standard work practices of what it is that’s going on inside the organization in terms of standard work, and do people really understand what that is.

It’s a waste, but it’s a different perspective on what it is that you’re doing. Determine, “Why am I doing this walk?”

When I’m doing the walk, I really want to go through and have no judgment. I simply want to understand and start to have conversations with people.

You want to go see with an open mind. I want to go with as few beliefs as possible, understand what it is that’s happening. When I see what’s going on, I want to be talking about asking “Why are you doing it this way?” to develop a deeper understanding. I’m probing.

A lot of people who jump right to define whys, but sometimes you want to understand the whats first, so that a very well framed, humble question. “What is it you’re doing? What are the performance metrics that it is you’re working toward?”

Then I can go to the whys. “Why are those the metrics? Why is this happening? Why are you doing the work this way?

Ron: Very Simon Cynic-y whys I would say.

[laughter]

Michael: Absolutely, totally from that.

There was a neat story that Dan McDonald who was working for a large Fortune 50 company at the time shared with me. They were doing a gemba walk. There was a plant manager was doing the walk. They’re going through, and they’re looking at an old line manufacturing company. What they see is that the people are taking the parts they’re working on and they’re grinding it to make to make it fit. They simply ask, “Why are you grinding this?”

The answer is, “I’m grinding this to make it fit.”

Another why is, “Why didn’t it fit?” There was never a clear answer, so they left a couple of questions with the folks on the line for operator and the supervisor. They came back at the end of the day to revisit it again.

Since they work in the Five Whys, until they did the walk the next day, they didn’t discover the root cause, but what they found was the specifications that they were working for, the drawings that they were using to do this particular part, were 40 years old.

What had happened is there had been sort of this tolerance stack-up that had taken place over the years. So for 40 years whenever the operator would get a piece that didn’t fit, they grind it to make it fit. Now they’re doing tack time so it causes them to miss their tack time.

Nobody ever asked why. A lot of what it is, the supervisor can do is you go and all of a sudden you see these things and you just whack yourself in your head and say, “Oh, my gosh. I had no idea this was going on.”

You see that. The third component to doing the walk is showing respect for the people that are there. Because you’re there doing the walk and you’re the manager, let’s just assume for the moment that you’re smart. What you want you want to do though is not show how smart you are. You want to be developing the people that you’re working with. You want to be improving their critical thinking skills. So if you can ask these questions and show respect as you’re doing that, you can really help the people that you’re working with to develop their capabilities.

The third component of the walk, so we can prepare for the walk, I’m actually doing the walk and the third step is there should be a periodic debrief after the walk of assessing how it is we’re doing. In the case of a first-line supervisor, what that person should be doing is she should be meeting with her leader and the other first-line supervisors periodically to talk about the effectiveness of their walk.

What are we doing well? What is it that we can improve? What is it that you’re learning? What are you doing that’s allowing you to more effectively engage with the people that are in your area? And begin to share that knowledge and get more people operating that way as they’re doing it.

Ron: What about standard work, Michael? Should there be some standard work developed for these gemba walks?

Michael: Absolutely there should be standard work for doing the gemba walks, but the more important standard work is there should be standard work that the people are doing [laughs] that I’m going to be observing.

Just think about it. If you want to go through and do a gemba walk, and let’s just say you’re going to do a daily walk, and I go through and I see what’s going on today. I go through a different section to my operation tomorrow, and I’ve got people that are doing the work in varying ways.

I’ve learned that people do the work in varying ways, and that’s a neat insight. But in terms of improving and stabilizing what it is that were going on, there’s so much variation that’s taking place in an environment like that from the different ways that people operate that being able to do a highly effective gemba walk is a challenge because there’s so much variation.

With all that variation any changes that it is that you’re talking about doing, you have no idea of what the impact is going to be in the changes that are made because of all the other variations taking place, if that makes sense.

Ron: Yes.

Michael: I think in early walk if you start see that we have ineffective standard work practices, it’s more important to start standardizing the work that people are doing than it is to be doing gemba walks. You really want to stabilize the processes.

Once you’ve got the processes somewhat stabilized, you can take another tool, another thing that it is that we’re doing, these gemba walks, and I can begin to use those elevating further increasing the effectiveness of what it is that we’re doing.

There’s a best practice for doing just about anything. Best practice in Company A may differ from what Company B is doing given their level of maturity, given their situation, given their market. But within those organizations, we want to continually strive to find what is the best practice for doing this? I determine the best practice by going back and having a clear purpose on what it was we were talking about.

Very much with Mike Rother’s writing in Toyota Kata, what’s the target that it is that we’re trying to accomplish? It’s great language for doing a gemba walk. I could take Mike’s Kata language and use that for doing my gemba walks.

What’s the target we’re trying to hit? How am I going to measure if we’re progressing toward that target? With the gemba walks it’s the same thing. What’s our target? How are we measuring our progress of whether we’re doing this effectively or not? And what is it we need to be doing to elevate the walks across the board?

Once I get the processes somewhat stabilized, there’ll always be some stuff that comes up that you start to look for the exceptions. At O. C. Tanner, and certainly at Toyota, there are exceptions that happen all the time. It’s just in an organization like that that the abnormalities that arise on a daily basis are much fewer than happens in most organizations. Most organizations the entire day [laughs] is a set of abnormalities that take place in individual problem solving that happens that one after the other. These elite organizations have done a lot to stabilize the environment.

Ron: One question that I had is, I know that there’s never going to be a one-size-fits-all, but do you have any suggestions for how long a gemba walk should last and how often they should be done?

Michael: It is situationally dependent, so let’s talk about two types. If I’m the first-line supervisor, I probably want to do two or maybe even three walks during a shift. I’ve seen some places where they’ll go through and they’ll do this even on an hourly basis. But I say most of the time if I’m doing them two or three times a day, I should be pretty in touch with what’s going on.

What I’m doing is I’m establishing this pattern. People know that I’m going to be coming through the area to look and see what it is that’s going on. I would do a walk like that probably in about 15 minutes.

You scope how much can I get done effectively in 15 minutes? I may not be looking at the entire operation. I might be looking at pieces of the operation on a walk. Or if I’ve got just one cell that I’m responsible for as a lead person, then I’m doing that walk. It might a 10-minute walk to quickly go through and see what is happening.

For example, one of the things that they’ll do once a month in their walks is they’ll look at their operational equipment effectiveness, the OEE metric, their first pass yields of the equipment it is they’re using. They don’t look at that daily, though.

I think the first week of the month, that’d be one of the activities that I do on my walk when I’m doing the walk. By walking the second week might have a slightly different focus of what it is that we’re looking at, but I’m doing it quickly.

If I’m the plant manager, I’m probably going to spend an hour. I would hope that they’re doing that walk at least once a day. I’m probably covering quite a bit of the facility that it is that we’re in. It might take me a week to get through an entire large facility. But the plant manager is going through to get a deeper understanding of what it is that they’re tapping into things that are going on.

An external executive that’s coming in from the outside instead of spending an hour or two hours inside a conference room where they’re looking at financial results, which is sort of the traditional model. Instead those outside executives really should be spending time walking through the facility to get a deeper understanding of what’s really happening in the organization. Those walks could be an hour or two depending on the size of the business.

Ron: I remember from past lives and other companies that I had visited, there was situations where these executives the closest they came to the Gemba was that Power Point doc at the end-of-month review. If they showed up for one time a year, it would be this huge shock [chuckles] to the plant that the big boss was walking through.

Gosh, if these people would just take the time to visit the places where value is added, businesses would just thrive. I’m convinced of it.

Michael: There was a great story that Steven Spear wrote in his book. He was originally changing the rabbit. I think he changed the title to “High Velocity.” The story that’s in there is powerful.

What you had at the Toyota Georgetown plant is you had a supervisor that had come to work for that plant that previously had worked for General Motors. The President of Toyota at the time was Fujio Cho. Fujio was coming to the Georgetown plant to do a visit.

The supervisor, knowing how the typical General Motors executive came to visit, was in the process of trying to find the perfect car so that if they stopped by his area, he could show him a car that had no defects. He wanted to fence this car off. Of course, he’s trying to get his people to go through extra scrubbing and get the area all cLean and that sort of stuff.

His manager came over to him during the day and saw that he was doing this, and he had this car with ropes around it. [laughs] He asks the question, “What’s going on?” The guy explained the story that I just shared.

The manager said, “That’s not what Mr. Cho is going to want to see when he comes through.”

The guy looks at him and says, “What’s Mr. Cho going to want to see?”

The plant manager closes his eyes, turns in a circle, and randomly points at some car somewhere in the line. He says, “He’s going to want to see that one.”

[laughter]

Michael: The guy is sort of shocked. He told the guy, “Why would he want to see that one?”

He said, “He’s going to want to see that one, and he’s going to want to know everything that’s wrong with that car. Then he’s going to want to know what are you doing to address the issues that are there?”

They turned around from having this perfect car in this pretend world. The thing at GM, is we all want to pretend like the world is working the way we wish it existed.

The other thing that’s going on there is you as a manager are responsible for getting these problems fixed and not bothering the people above you with these problems you are trying to get fixed. It’s a simple statement, but that’s the culture that’s there.

What this guy didn’t realize is, “Wow, here at Toyota they want to know what’s really going on. Isn’t that a novelty?”

What he did with the car is he took this random car that they had selected and they put Post-its all over the car where there was a scratch, or where there was a blemish, or whatever was going on with the automobile. When Fujio came through and saw that, he spent a bunch of time talking about this car and talking about what’s going on to resolve the problems that it is they’re coming up with.

You just want to bang your head against the wall and say, “Why would somebody want to operate in this pretend world when if we knew what was really going on, we could do so much about it and make so much happen.” I think those people want to do the right stuff.

Ron: It’s fear. That’s why. Let’s be honest. It’s fear. So many of these traditionally-run companies, if you make a mistake, you get a trouble or you get reprimanded of some sort so whereas a Lean-thinking company, and Toyota is not the only one out there, as you know. Pull the cord if there’s a problem. Stop the line, almost celebrate it for doing that versus being in trouble.

Michael: Absolutely.

Ron: Michael, let’s go ahead and transition now into what we call in a quick fire section. This is where you get to share your personal thoughts and wisdom, which you’ve obviously been doing but we’re focusing a little bit on Michael now, OK?

Michael: OK.

Ron: The first question is, we talked a little bit about this already in this conversation, but we Lean thinkers spend a lot of time talking about the importance of respect for people, but it can be hard to put your finger on what exactly does it mean. What does respect for people mean to you, Michael?

Michael: It really means trust. One of the job responsibilities I had when I worked for Beatrice Foods. I had done this improving thing, and then they promoted me to the director of the information systems group. I had had some IT experience when I worked for McDonald Douglas when I was in college and going to school and they found out I had that. They said, “You can be the director of information systems. You know about the suburban stuff. This organization needs to be fixed.”

My problem was I was a technical idiot at that point in time. The IT world changed so much from what I knew. I never realized what control manager I was. Now I had 100 people that are working for me. I had 10 direct reports. I totally needed to trust these people. It was funny, because to the old manager, the IT department was pretty much operating as the police organization. We place things. We were Dr. No. We would tell people, “No, you can’t do that. Here’s the reason why.”

When I took it over, we could guarantee with 100 percent reliability, we would not give you what you asked for and we will give it to you late. [laughs] My mission was to turn that around. I had a vision of where I wanted us to end up, but I had no idea of how to get there. I shared that with the people that were my direct reports. Of course, this was before I knew about gemba walks and that sort of thing, but I did know something about performance improvement.

I really just went around, trying to get an understanding of what people were doing and the problems that they were wresting with. I really had to trust their judgment. Within two years, we totally transformed this thing into an organization where our customer community hated us, wanted nothing to do with us, to where people were coming and knocking on our doors.

I think there was one thing that I did that was pretty powerful that I don’t know if this good manager or bad manager, but I told my direct reports that if a customer called me with a complaint, that when we had our staff meeting, we had a weekly staff meeting at that point in time, I was going to embarrass the person who had this responsibility.

That may not have been a mature manager. I would probably do that differently this day that I did it then. What I wanted them to do is I wanted my direct reports to start talking to our customers. After I embarrassed two people over two weeks, I never ever got a complaint call from many of our customers.

I didn’t do it in a demeaning way. I focused in what she was. What I really wanted to do was to get them talking to the customers. That’s what they did. When they started talking to our customers, of course, they learned, our customers learned. Our processes began to work much more effective. It was one of the most important things that we did in making this shift.

Ron: Knowing what you know today, if you had that same situation instead of, say, embarrassed would not be too respectful, what would you do different in that situation?

Michael: I would do the five Ys. I would do the five Ys of why did this happen, what’s going on here, get them to start working down and thinking more critically about what it is that’s going on. That would have been a more mature way to have done it.

Unfortunately, I had done a number of things at Beatrice that had worked pretty well, and I worked with quite a few people throughout the organization where things had gone well. I think my staff gave me some space and allowed me to do some silly things. [inaudible 35:32] to figure it out together.

Ron: What’s interesting about that situation, sure, you can say, you shouldn’t embarrass people, that’s not being good. I think on the flip side, sometimes, there’s this misconception that respect for people means that, “We hold hands, stand in a circle, hymns together, and things like that,” where your people were not doing what was respectful to their customers, meaning communicating with them, talking to them.

Something needed to change and to jolt at them somehow into action for them to ultimately be respectful to their customers, meaning communicating with them, talking to them. Something needed to change, and you jolt at them somehow into action for them to ultimately be respectful to your customers, right?

Michael: Absolutely. “Jolt” is a good word, because “jolt” was really what I was trying to cause to happen. Whatever it is that we do, you can always think of better ways after you’ve done it. It worked. We had a couple of people that left shortly after I came in. The feedback from the rest of the team was, this is a good thing. Man, [laughs] I couldn’t believe how good these people were. They were outstanding.

Ron: Great. Michael, when you hear the phrase “Kaizen culture,” what comes to your mind?

Michael: People get anxious when you use the word “culture.” Sometimes, we try to directly go after changing the culture. Really, what the organization’s culture is culture are the things we do, the way we operate. If I have a Kaizen culture, what I have, I love the strict definition of the word “Kaizen,” which is improvement. If I got a Kaizen culture, what I’m doing is I’m creating an environment where we’re improving all of the time.

To me, what a Kaizen culture is I got an organization that really realizes there is no one best way to do anything that even taking our manufacturing excellence toward recipients. They’ve reached a certain level of excellence that it is they were recognizing, but they still have a journey. If they didn’t do anything else to change for the next three years, their competitors are going to catch it.

That Kaizen culture realizes that indeed, this is a journey, we’re learning, we’re constantly trying to do a better job of walking the [past way of doing the journey, but we’re open to learning. I think in a Kaizen culture, there’s a lot of humility with the leadership team to create that space for the people to go.

Ron: Michael, what’s the best advice you’ve ever received.

Michael: [laughs] It’s funny. This is another Beatrice experience. I went into a meeting with the executive team in an important project for the organization. It was really one of the first big significant projects that I had led. It was one solution that we believed in. We thought it was a good solution, but we got pushed back from the leadership team on what it was that we were recommending.

I was thinking the leadership team was resisting this change. I was putting the burden on them rather than accepting what my responsibility was for the situation. After that was over, my manager came to me. I’ve learned a lot from it. I’ve remembered it ever since.

He said he didn’t want to see me to ever come into a meeting again where I had only one solution. He said there is always three ways to do something. When you’re getting this resistance in a meeting like this, there certainly could be some resistance to change, but another thing that’s going on is that you’re getting feedback.

You need to listen to that feedback and understand it and not do this in a confrontational way. It really changed the way that I approach everything. It changed me. From my professional life, it changed my professional life to where I was much more flexible. I think as I worked with people, it’s much easier for me to listen to people who had their ideas to see what it was that could be learned. I think I’ve done a better and better job of doing that over the last 30 years, doing this.

Ron: What about a personal productivity habit? Do you have any that others might benefit from?

Michael: That’s a challenging question, it is much easier to get advice than give advice. If you go into your room and you asked people, do they have a goal, most people will say, “Yeah, I got one.” Then give the second half of the question, you say, “Is it written down?” My experience in doing workshops is most people do not have written goals of what it is that they would like to accomplish. When you don’t have that, what happens is you — it’s easy to waffle. As time goes by, it’s easy to rationalize. Your goal gets a little bit sloppy as you justify whatever is transpired during the last 30 days, the last six months, and the last year.

Writing down what it is that I’m trying to accomplish, I’ll typically have two or three longer term goals that I’m working toward at any given point in time.

Ron: What’s interesting about that is that I recently interviewed our mutual friend and my business partner, Kevin Meyer. Kevin is big on writing. In his case, he likes to write three of his most important tasks for each day, but he says that at least for him, apparently there’s lots of brain and science behind this, which I have read a little bit about, that writing something literally triggers a different part of your brain than, say, typing into your electronic notepad, if you will.

There’s something, I don’t know, some dopamine levels or whatever that are released when you actually write something down and then actually achieve that goal that’s been written down and cross it out.

Michael: It really does. It provides a focus. That’s just the daily goal of what it is you’re doing there with what are the key three things I need to get done today, because it’s so easy to get distracted with what is going on, and do something that you think is meaningful. Occasionally, it’s appropriate to shift from what you’re three were, but every day when it is inter-shifting from what your three were…

It’s just so easy to let this stuff drift. I’m just amazed at the discipline that elite organizations have for what it is they’re trying to accomplish. I think writing it down, as you’re saying, for a variety of reasons, is a good idea.

Ron: This next question, I want to change up a little bit. We’ve talked about gemba walk earlier. You have written an e-book. I want you to just tell us a little bit about that. Then the second part is, in addition to your e-book, can you maybe share one of your favorite continuous improvement or leadership books that you’ve read along your journey?

Michael: I could. It’s funny how we wrote this e-book, because when you do a Google search on gemba walk, there’s a bunch of stuff that comes up. I got a lot of respect for the writing Jim Womack has done and some others. Jim’s got his book that he wrote about doing gemba walks. We were running a workshop for A&E, that organization we were talking about earlier.

One of our consortium companies was hosting the workshop. We had a bunch of people from around the country that were coming in to do this. When my partner, Brian, and I were putting it together, we looked on the web to try to find something we could use to tell people how to do a gemba walk, because when you read the Womack book, it works for the external executive that’s coming through to see something, but it does not work for what a first sign supervisor would be doing or daily walk activities.

We couldn’t find anything. We wrote this e-book. It’s only about, I don’t know, 60 or 70 pages, but we ended up writing it so that we could give people a tool that they could use for doing the walks. There’s half a dozen different types of walks that it is that you could be doing, depending on the walk you’re doing, what are some questions that are appropriate to address, those three steps that I walked through on preparation of doing the walk and debriefing the walk. Of course, in the e-book, we get into more detail are how do you make those things happen.

Just giving people a structure and then you can take that, and you can create what it is that you need to be doing, but you get a running start from what we’ve laid out in the e-book. We had a couple of people who review people. We needed more people that read it, reviewed it, especially if they liked it, but the feedback from those folks that have read it has been very positive, both those that post it on Amazon and people that have just told me about it.

Ron: We’re going to go ahead and link to where folks can go and check out that e-book at Gembapodcast.com/26, 2-6. If you’re interested, go ahead and check that out.

The second part, Michael, is in addition to that, what is one of your favorite single continuous improvement or leadership books out there.

Michael: It’s one of my leadership books I think I would point to. I just went back and looked at this. I probably read this maybe 15 years ago. It’s Nelson Mandela’s autobiography. It’s called “A Long Walk to Freedom.” It’s a large book. One of the things that impressed me the most about Mandela was this person had been clearly discriminated against.

He was in prison for 25, 30 years. That’s a chunk of one’s life. When he came out of prison, I’m so amazed that this person came out of prison as a holistic person. As I started to learn about Mandela probably 20 years ago, I think that autobiography had come out around then, I just wanted to read about it to learn more about somebody that could survive such a trauma like that.

When you look at that, the qualities of this guy as a leader, he’s got a ton of humility. He is willing to listen. Even when he goes and he writes about the violent acts that they did, he wasn’t them to do crazy violent acts. There was a rationalization. One can argue with it or not. There was rationalization that went there for what it was they were doing. His longer term goal, of course, was to get freedom for his people.

Clearly, he influenced making that happen. I like reading about people that are like the Mandela one. I forget the one about Ghandi. The Ghandi biography was also a very, very powerful book when you look at people that are just strong. When you think about performance improvement like Lean, it’s amazing how few companies are truly elite in terms of doing this.

So many organizations do it, but the way they do it is very similar to where everybody else is doing it. Company A implements Lean or TQM or Six Sigma or whatever. A competitor in the industry, Company B, is doing the same thing. They both do get somewhat better.

When you do these things, you almost always get somewhat better, but I don’t get better enough to different from what my competitors are doing. The last book that we wrote was called “Escape the Improvement Trap.” It was really about that conundrum of “We got better. Why didn’t anything change?” You didn’t go nearly far enough.

The thing I like about books like the Mandela one, what we’re asking people to do here isn’t all that complicated [laughs] but it is not easy. It’s hard. It takes a phenomenal amount of discipline. I find a lot of inspiration from reading books by competent people, what they did to be able to make that happen.

Ron: Michael, the last question I have for you is, I want you to imagine that you’ve gotten back in the industry and you were hired as the general manager of a company. This company is needing to definitely improve their processes and way of working but unfortunately, once you’ve gotten on board, you’ve quickly discovered that many of the senior leaders that you’re dealing with and really, some of the front line folks as well, they just aren’t as enthused about your Lean-thinking mindset and ideas as you are.

With this said, Michael, what would you do and why?

Michael: I would do a lot of listening, which is certainly different from what Michael would have done when he was 20 years old. Michael in his 60s would listen. I would start with our customers. First of all, I would go and do visiting with the customers to get a feel for what’s really happening with this organization in the market place, what it is that’s going on.

When you come back into the organization, it will be pretty natural for people to feel that way. Some strangers then brought that if the organization gets better, the stranger is going to take all the credit. They’ve been trying to do the right things. The old leadership or leader wouldn’t allow them to do it. It would be very common, I think, to find degrees of what it is that you’re talking about.

A lot of what it is you need to do over this first 30 to 60 days is listening, not judging but going through and getting and understanding, probing and starting to show some recognition that you hear what it is that people are saying.

I think then they’d begin to build some credibility. There’s going to be a myriad of stuff that’s there. You need to start to figure out a way, how can we get a handle on starting to work on some quick changes that there is that we can make that are going to make some difference in the day-to-day basis of what it is that’s going on, that idea of starting to work towards some degree of process stabilization.

The other thing that you need to start tearing over the first couple of months is to begin to formulate a vision of where it is we’re trying to go, but it shouldn’t be your vision. What you need to do to get that leadership team on board is you need to start to work with that leadership team to jointly create a vision of where we’re going to go and try to accomplish.

Then the proof of the pudding is going to be, do you walk the talk? Are you there really? Do you deliver what it is that you say you’re going to do? Any room that you make, you better keep and stay focused. My experience is an expression that my partner, Brian, likes to use that reasonable people, equally well-informed, seldom disagrees.

The problem in that initial environment is we’re not all equally well-informed. We got a lot of biases and strong opinions. What that new person coming in needs to do is to start getting people to be more equally well informed. If you do that, then you treat people decently. They’re pretty amazing.

Ron: Yeah. Exactly.

Michael: You can make it happen. That would be my approach.

Ron: OK. Very good.

All right, Michael. Well, thanks so much. Why don’t we wrap this show up with you sharing some final words of wisdom. Then, why don’t you tell people how they can connect with you on social media, things like LinkedIn or twitter, or whatever you might be hanging out on these days.

Michael: If you really start to get an understanding of what these Lean principles are about, you see what it is that’s going on.

I think you’ll only do that through participating with organizations like The Association of Manufacturing Excellence, AME, where you can get out and go see somewhere else, where they’re operating differently from the way that you operate.

It’s almost impossible to make these changes until you start to modify your ability to see what it is that’s going on, and you go to places to do that.

My first thing to do for learning is to go out and see some other places, see some things that are operating differently, and then start to think about the possibilities.

It’s really pretty phenomenal when you do this, almost intoxicating.

One of my first experiences with Kaizen, I was doing some work for a global technology firm, pretty much when my understanding of Lean was still Kaizen’s. I’m working with the factory that’s in Louisiana, and we had done a couple of Kaizen teams.

We’d made management presentations. It had all gone well. We’re in the room. The end of the week I’m going to fly back to Chicago from Shreveport. I asked everybody that was under one team, “What did you get out of this week?” because I’m always kind of curious.

We’re going around that room and people are talking about it. We come to this one woman. Her name is Pearly. Pearly said, “I’ve worked for this company for 25 years…” and she paused. Then she said, “…it’s the first time they’ve ever asked me to think…” She paused again. Then she said, “…and I really liked it.”

It’s almost intoxicating because, when you do what it is you’re talking about here, you can see people grow before your eyes. It is a phenomenal experience of the way that this takes place. I would encourage anybody to be doing it.

I’m all over the social media. If you did just a search for Michael Bremer on Google, I typically come up several times in the first page. I’m available for people to connect with me on LinkedIn.

I do some Twitter. I’m not a regular Twitter poster. I keep getting additional people that follow me on Twitter and I wonder where they’re coming from because I might not have posted for 30 days.

Ron: They’re robots, Michael. Just breaking it to you. [laughs]

Michael: I use LinkedIn on a regular basis. I found that to be a very good site for connecting people throughout North America and to some degree throughout the globe.

Ron: Yes.

Michael: Our website in the organization is cumberlandchicago.com. Cumberland, like the Cumberland Gap. cumberlandchicago.com would get you to our website. Of course, if you did a search on Amazon on how to do a gemba walk, you’d find that particular e-book. There’s a couple of other things we’ve written.

Ron: Yes. Again, we’re going to have links to everything that Michael and I have been talking about at the show notes, which people can find at the Gembapodcast.com/26. Then, for those interested in AME conference that we talked about earlier, that’s Gembapodcast.com/ame. Michael, thank you again for taking time out of your day to chat with us and I look forward to seeing you in Jacksonville and perhaps we can connect again and do another podcast down the road.

Michael: Absolutely Ron, I really enjoyed it. Thank you very much for taking the time to do this. I appreciated it and it was a lot of fun.

Ron: All right. Take care.

Michael: You too.

[music]

Presenter: Thanks for listening to the “Gemba Academy Podcast.” Now it’s time to take a free no strings attached fully functional test drive of Gemba Academy’s School of Lean and Six Sigma over at Gembaacademy.com. Gain immediate access to more than 500 Lean and Six Sigma training videos free of charge at Gembaacademy.com.

[music]

What Do You Think?

How do you do your Gemba Walks? What works for you and what doesn’t?

GA 025 | Defeating Complexity By Leveraging People with Kevin Meyer

Play

Press the play button above to listen to the episode. If you’re reading this via email or RSS click the image below to listen to the episode.

GA_25_Kevin

Today’s guest is Gemba Academy Co-Founder Kevin Meyer. Kevin wears many hats at Gemba Academy and has a lot of great insight into team management, business strategy, and technology, not to mention lean and continuous improvement practices.

Kevin is also a big fan of simplicity and utilizing the full potential of his employees and colleagues. I think you’ll find what he has to say both refreshing and relevant.

To hear the podcast just press the “Play” button at the top of this post. An MP3 version is also available for download here and a downloadable PDF transcript of the interview is available here.  

In this episode you’ll learn:

  • Kevin’s diverse career background (4:48)
  • The two quotes that inspire Kevin (8:38)
  • How complexity impacts businesses (10:22)
  • Why fancy technology isn’t always the answer (12:55)
  • How Gemba Academy battles complexity (14:46)
  • The qualities Kevin looks for in executives (16:09)
  • Kevin’s definition of “Respect for People” (18:18)
  • What comes to mind when Kevin hears the phrase “Kaizen Culture” (20:41)
  • The best advice Kevin has ever received (22:13)
  • Kevin’s favorite personal productivity habit (24:04)
  • A quick Gemba Academy update…stay tuned! (32:43)
  • Kevin’s final words of wisdom (37:31)

Podcast Resources

Download a Free Audio Book

If you enjoy listening to podcasts chances are you’ll also enjoy listening to audio books.

And if you’ve never listened to an audio book today is your lucky day since you’re able to download a free audio book over at our favorite audio book provider – Audible.

Simply click this link to claim your free audio book.

Please note you will need to sign up, which includes providing your credit card, but if you’re not happy with the service you can easily cancel the subscription after downloading your free audio book before your free trial expires.

Subscribe & Never Miss New Episodes!

300px-BlackLines-Podcast-Removed-2

Click to Subscribe in iTunes

If you enjoyed this podcast please be sure to subscribe on iTunes. Once you’re a subscriber all new episodes will be downloaded to your iTunes account and smartphone.

The easiest way for iPhone users to listen to the show is via the free, and incredible, Podcast app.  You can download it here.

CLICK HERE to subscribe to the Gemba Academy podcast on iTunes. You can also subscribe via Stitcher which is definitely Android friendly.

 Full Written Transcript

GA 25 | Kevin Meyer

Announcer: You’re listening to Episode 25 with Kevin Meyer.

Welcome to the Gemba Academy Podcast, the show that’s focused on helping individuals and companies achieve breakthrough results using the same continuous improvement principles leveraged by companies such as Toyota, Del Monte and the US Department of Defense.

Now, here’s your host, Ron Pereira.

Ron Pereira: Hey there, this is Ron Pereira with Gemba Academy and I would like to welcome you to another edition of the Gemba Academy Podcast.

As always, thank you so much for taking time out of your busy day to listen to this show, and for watching our videos over Gembaacademy.com. We definitely appreciate each and every one of you.

Today, I’m especially pumped up to welcome my good friend, my business partner and one of the co-founders of Gemba Academy, Kevin Meyer to the show. Kevin and I have really gotten to know each other, obviously, very well over the last really five, six years since we’ve been thinking about doing Gemba Academy, and then, starting it and now running the company.

Jon Miller has been on the show before. Jon is also the third partner of Gemba Academy.

Jon, to give a little bit of a background, some people know this, some people don’t, but Jon and I spend a lot of time on the content side of things. Golly, Kevin pretty much does everything else or has his hands in everything else, everything from managing the teams that take care of our website to doing lots of work on the sell side.

Really, Kevin is a technology expert, and he would probably shudder if he heard me say that, which he will when he listens to this intro. Kevin really is on the forefront of technology.

On the flip side, what makes Kevin such a great business partner is that he’s really passionate about the concept of simplicity and focus. We talk about this in the episode, but we don’t really pull back the curtain. I’ll give you a little insight into how Gemba Academy operates. I’m the crazy guy on the videos, and I’ve got all these ideas.

I’m constantly thinking of new things, maybe new ideas that we can explore down the road. Kevin is constantly reeling me back in, and saying, “Don’t make me say the f-word, which is focus.”

It has been such a great partnership that we push each other because we are on the forefront of innovation and whatnot, we are trying new things. But at the same point, we’re constantly coming back to, “What is our focus? How do we take care of our customers, and what do we really need to be doing today and tomorrow?”

With that said, during this episode, Kevin and I explore the evils of complexity. Kevin’s going to talk about how complexity and battling it has been an instrumental part of his career even before Gemba Academy.

Kevin’s also going to explore things like what he looked for and what he currently looks for when we hire executives here at Gemba Academy, and also, in his past life, and some of the attributes of the good leader.

The last thing — we kind of did this on the fly, we hadn’t planned to do this, but since Kevin really leads all the technology improvements here at Gemba Academy, I thought it would be a perfect opportunity towards the end of the show to allow Kevin to give an update on what we’re up to at Gemba Academy and some of the improvements that we’re going to be making from our technology.

And really, listening to the voice of the customer and respecting our customers — some of the improvements that we have coming down the road. It’s not really meant to be a sales pitch. It’s really meant, honestly, for current Gemba Academy customers, they know what to expect.

Now, all the show notes for this episode can be found over at gembapodcast.com/25. That’s two-five. Gembapodcast.com/25. OK, enough from me — now, let’s get to the show!

[music]

Ron: Kevin, thanks for coming onto the show! Where are you calling in from today?

Kevin Meyer: Actually, from the Gemba Academy West offices, which happen to be in a nice small fishing village on the central coast of California.

Ron: It’s a tough place to visit, I tell you. [laughs] No, it’s beautiful. What’s the city?

Kevin: Morro Bay, California.

Ron: Morro Bay, California. Yeah, that’s beautiful.

Kevin, I told everybody in the intro that obviously you’re affiliated with Gemba Academy, and we started this company together and whatnot, but why don’t you just tell everybody a little bit more about your background and how you maybe first got exposed to this Lean thinking stuff that we dabble in?

Kevin: It’s been quite a while. My background is actually in chemical engineering, although, I never really used it for much.

I made light bulbs for several years, wanted to do something a little bit more meaningful, I moved out to California back in the late ’80s and did medical devices for over 10 years there in Salt Lake. My exposure to Lean was actually when, as a newbie, they said, “How would you just like to transfer out to Salt Lake and run a facility out there?” At that stage in your career, you’re like, “Sure. Why not?” Without asking any questions.

When I got out there, that’s when they told me that this was a 24/7, 365-day-a-year molding operation with about 50 heavy presses that was loaded at about 120 percent of capacity and was six weeks behind schedule.

[laughter]

Kevin: What do you do then? That’s when I started calling around a little bit, and I came across an organization called AME, the Association for Manufacturing Excellence.

A couple of great guys there, Doc Hall, Dan McDonnell and some others, pointed me to Quick Changeover. It was amazing. We took the time to actually look at our changeovers, went through the classic Quick Changeover tools. In the meantime, the company is pushing me to order as many of these quarter-million-dollar presses as I could, and those had three or four-month lead times.

In that space of those three or four months with Quick Changeover, we were able to get back on schedule. By the time the first couple of presses were coming in, we were actually retiring some of our old presses. It’s amazing how fast some of these tools can work when you do them correctly and really put the commitment behind them.

Ron: Nice. Then, what did you do after that? Because obviously your last role before Gemba Academy here was at Specialty Silicone Fabricators.

Kevin: Right. I moved back out to California.

I was in Salt Lake at the time and moved back out to California, jumped into Telecom at the exact wrong time, which was around November 2000. Those of you that were around back them know that the entire market collapsed about a year later. I started with a hyper-growth adding as many engineers as we could find operation.

Within a year and actually it was on September 10th, 2001, I announced that we were closing the facility and laying everyone off. That wasn’t a fun week in my life, but after that I started and later sold a very small contract manufacturing operation, went into consulting.

One of the consulting arrangements I had was with a local company, Specialty Silicone Fabricators, that also does medical devices. Went into that and within a few months [laughs] they convinced me to come on full-time as the president was retiring. I spent eight years there leaving in 2012.

It was a great situation, because the owners gave me a lot of freedom to do whatever needed to be done. We went through a great Lean transformation at a very difficult time in the economy, which just also proved how powerful the concepts were.

Ron: Absolutely. Very good. Like you know, Kevin, you’ve listened to our podcasts, but what we like to do is start every show with a quotation. What quotation inspires you, Kevin?

Kevin: I’ll actually give you two. One I came across a long time ago, Peter Drucker’s “Follow effective action with quiet reflection, and then from the quiet reflection will come even more effective action.”

That’s something maybe I’ll talk a little bit more about later, but reflection is a very powerful tool. The other one is from Marian Wright Edelman. She’s a civil rights activist and founder of the Children’s Defense Fund. She said, “Learn to be quiet enough to hear the sound of the genuine within yourself so that you can hear it within others.”

The combination of those two is something I’ve really taken with me as I try to become more self-aware as a person and as a leader, and then, leveraging reflection to also become a better leader. I think reflection and self-awareness are probably the two most powerful tools in a leader’s toolbox.

You become self-aware. It leads to authenticity. It drives humility and a servant attitude, and that creates trust. That’s the core of the mindful leadership concept that the likes of Bill George have really started to champion.

Ron: Excellent. All right, Kevin. Really, the theme of our show today is the evils of complexity, I guess just to generalize that.

Maybe that’s what we’ll title this, [laughs] but you’ve obviously been blogging and writing over on Evolving Excellence. That’s what it used to be called, Evolving Excellence, your original blog. You’ve spent a lot of time talking about the evils of complexity. Why don’t you elaborate a little bit on how complexity can impact a business?

Kevin: I think the concept started to take root with me as I moved into more leadership roles, especially, those that had P&L responsibility.

You start looking at cost and you realize in a traditional cost accounting world that you have the three buckets, labor, material, and overhead.

Leaders are trained to look at each of those three buckets and try to reduce labor, reduce material, reduce overhead. Something that started to strike me is that the largest cost in business and pretty much in any organization is not necessarily those three items individually, but unnecessary complexity. I’ll emphasize “unnecessary.”

Complexity can be a good thing in some ways, but unnecessary complexity is obviously an evil. Especially, in a manufacturing environment, when you get down to the nuts and bolts, manufacturing and business are really not all that difficult. We just make it so. We do that by not understanding and rooting out unnecessary complexity.

Instead, we like to oftentimes just slap a technology solution on top of it without getting to the root cause. Lean teaches us to take a step back. We’re supposed to take a step back, look at the process, just observe it, deconstruct it, reconstruct it with just the value adding components. When you do that, you’ll be amazed at what you find.

Those of us that have gone through a lean transformation journey see that, how much complexity is there, how much it takes to manage that complexity. That is what translates into the overhead and so forth that you have the cost associated with.

Ron: With that said, how have you leveraged this kind of thinking in your business career?

Kevin: In some ways, it’s been a struggle. I’ll admit that I’m a tech geek. You and I were talking about iOS 8 and the iPhone 6 this morning.

I’m very close to one of those crazy guys that will go down to the Apple store, three days ahead of time, and stand in line for a phone where once I get it, I’ll have to struggle to find what the improvement was. Because I like technology.

I’ve learned that technology is often just a band-aid and we’re too quick to try to slap a technology solution onto some things. One example that I’ve seen used a lot and we used it at Specialty Silicone was we had a very complex manufacturing environment. It’s multi-site. We did semi-custom type components that went through multiple value streams and a lot of different custom processes.

Like many true Lean companies, we found a way to not use MRP and ERP to manage the shop floor. We obviously used it to manage aggregate planning, and so forth, but on the shop floor, we simplified enough that we got down to just using a handful of whiteboards. That proved very effective for multiple reasons, one being that the operators had control over the process.

By writing on the whiteboard and understanding the process, they truly understood the process. I don’t want to go too deep into it, but there’s a lot of science on how learning and understanding and commitment comes from physically writing something, not typing into a computer. Too many companies like to type it into a computer, even to have it on an electronic display, but you’re losing out.

When you actually scribble a number on a whiteboard, you start to see and feel the relationships.

Ron: You spent a lot of time talking about manufacturing, but at Gemba Academy, we’re obviously not a manufacturing company.

We’ve also spent a lot of time trying to reduce complexity in our business and how we present our product to our customers and potential customers.

I’m trying to make this into a Gemba Academy sales pitch, but I think this is an important conversation for people that are listening right now who say, “Yeah, that’s great, but I don’t manufacture anything. I’m in a service industry.” Or “I’m in health care” or something like that.

Why don’t you talk a little bit about how we at Gemba Academy have tried to combat complexity, even from the examples of our website?

Kevin: We spent a lot of time on that.

Especially, when you’re starting a new company and you’re trying to get customers, to be honest, especially, in the first couple of years, there’s a lot of shiny balls and a lot of comments out there. When you listen to the customers, you hear a lot of things and you have to work hard not to chase all the shiny balls.

Something I know you and I have had many long conversations on is the concept of focus. What are we truly providing? What provides the most value? Then, what is the most effective way to deliver it? It does shows off across multiple ways on the website. What is the easiest way to deliver the maximum amount of value to our customers?

The types of content we look at, what is the most value out there? We’re hearing things from customers. Which of those is the most valuable and how can we test for that? It becomes very difficult.

Ron: Back to the angle of complexity and simplicity and what not, when you think about this, what do you look for when you recruit executives or what did you in the past and what do you look for now at Gemba Academy as it relates to people that get this concept of how to reduce complexity?

Kevin: We need people that are very inquisitive and like to figure things out.

As I’ve gone through my career, I’ve had to recruit a lot of people at increasingly higher level manager and executive roles, including replacing me as president at Specialty Silicone. The path a lot of people take on goes along looking at background and experience and making the phone calls and seeing what they’ve done.

I’ve come to notice that probably the best predictor of executive success is someone that is very inquisitive, someone that has an insatiable thirst for new knowledge, wants to learn, and then, discover new things. It doesn’t have to be even in the field that you’re operating in, like medical devices. It’s just overall someone that wants to learn.

Then, something that aligns with that is you want to be able to learn, but also, understand that knowledge. How can you distill it, analyze it, learn to apply it becomes very important. Then, as a final step — this goes to the respect for people side of Lean that unfortunately a lot of people forget about — is the ability to teach it.

A great teacher becomes a very great leader, someone that can grab the knowledge, teach it, and teach it effectively, which means challenging people, but still being able to do it in a very humble manner.

Ron: All right, Kevin. Let’s go ahead now and transition into my favorite part of the show called the Quick Fire Section. This is what we’re going to do now. We’re going to drill into who Kevin is and what’s inside of your brain.

[laughter]

Kevin: Hysteric.

Ron: The first question, Kevin, is on that concept of respect for people. We spend a lot of time in Lean talking about that and how important it is. What does it mean to you?

Kevin: Respect for people, I think it’s one of the two key pillars of Lean, along with continuous improvement.

I think it’s the one that is usually forgotten or at least misunderstood. In the Lean transformations, I’ve been part of and that I’ve witnessed, probably the primary reason for failure is not understanding respect for people.

Respect for people means leveraging the brains of people. People doesn’t just include the ones within your organization. It’s the entire value stream. It’s your suppliers, all the way through to your customer and even the end customer. How do you leverage that knowledge?

I see way to many companies, and this is driven by our traditional cost accounting type of mindset or standards, that think of people as the cost of a pair of hands. You manage your organization based on the cost of the pair of hands and you completely forget about the brain that is attached to that pair of hands. The brain is not really reflected on a traditional P&L or a balance sheet.

I’ve seen some interesting things along those lines. In most organizations it’s not. That leads to crazy decisions of laying off 5,000 highly experienced people to shift manufacturing overseas to save a buck. What have you lost? You gained a buck, but what have you lost in value, even if it’s not on a traditional balance sheet?

I want to go one step further on that and it’s something that has impacted me. Respect for people also means respecting yourself. I think that’s critical for a leader that you have to understand yourself. Caregivers learned to effectively care for others you must first care for yourself. I think that goes for leaders and leadership as well.

Ron: That’s a great point. No one’s ever mentioned that, but if you can’t take care of yourself, then, how are you ever going to lead others?

Kevin, when you hear the phrase “Kaizen culture” or “a Kaizen culture” what comes to your mind?

Kevin: I think it ties directly into our last point. It’s leveraging people to create continuous and ongoing and never-ending improvement.

There’s a lot of Kaizen tools. How to do a Kaizen, how to do a Kaizen event, that type of thing. What I think a lot of organizations miss and a lot of training misses is the people side of it. How do you tap into the brains of people across the entire value chain to create a culture that enables improvement?

Ron: Yeah. Kevin obviously knows this, but we are working right now, as we speak, on a new course.

It’s not meant to be another commercial here, but it was Kevin’s idea. Instead of calling it “a Kaizen culture,” as Jon Miller’s book is titled — we’re leveraging John’s book heavily — we’re going to turn it around and call it “a culture of Kaizen.” You came up with the idea, Kevin. Why did you choose that?

Kevin: I think the sequence denotes the importance. You want to create a culture that leverages people. Kaizen is one output of that. Kaizen creating continuous improvement, ongoing improvement is one output of that. But leveraging people and a culture of leveraging people pays so many rewards.

Ron: Kevin, what’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

Kevin: The best advice was probably also part of my downfall, I think.

Early on in my career…and you realize that when you can look back 30 years and you can still see the look on your boss’s face, but I had my boss come up to me. I forget the context, but he poked his head in my office and said, “You know, you really need to sweat the details.”

There’s probably something I had done wrong there that was detail-oriented, because I was moving too fast. But I remember the look on his face. It had a tremendous impact on me. It’s simple advice. I’ve often received other advice more directly tied to Lean, and so forth. Sweat the details tied to me.

The reason it was my downfall is I think I took it too much to heart and I’ve become even a little bit of OCD on details, especially, when it’s travel related. I have to work hard to find an appropriate balance of what are important details. It ties into getting to know yourself, too.

Ron: Yeah. When we do any kind of company outing, we’ve got folks that help us with travel, but Kevin is always involved. [laughs]

Kevin: It’s one of my things. I can’t trust anyone else on it, because I’m the one that will look up, what is the on-time arrival percentage at some airport and make sure we have the random out of…lay over there to achieve it. It’s worked out. My wife and I travel tremendously. We just hit our 50th country.

There’re sometimes when you put far more effort into managing the details and managing a situation if something happened. I need to be more aware of that myself.

Ron: I know you have tons of productivity habits, but why don’t you share one of your favorite personal productivity habits that others might benefit from?

Kevin: Something that I started many years ago, when I started especially Silicon, was thinking about what I was going to do each day.

That came from…I had a pretty long commute, maybe not for some people, but it was about 45 minutes. It’s a beautiful commute. It’s the nicest commute anyone in the world could ask for.

We’re in a small town. There’s no traffic, which seems to conflict what most people think about California. I drove up the California Coast and then inland through vineyards for 45 minutes. I would often not even see another car. I got in the habit of completely turning off the radio, listening to the sound of the wind and just thinking about my day.

Something that I started doing was identifying three key tasks. Then, when I got to work, I’d write them down. What are the three key things I wanted to get done that day. Then, on the commute home, I would do the opposite. I would do Hansei. I would think about those three things.

Did I get them done? What happened? What influenced that? Why didn’t I get them done? Then, probably most importantly, what would I change?

I still do that. Even though my commute now is far shorter, each morning I take the time to write down three key tasks and then, in the evening, think about those three tasks. Summary to what I’d mentioned before, the act of writing them down into a notebook. I’ve tried electronic books and that kind of thing. It doesn’t work. I keep a journal now and writing down the three things.

Then, in the evening, what three things did I get accomplished and what do I need to change. If you get just three things done a day, it’s amazing how much you can get done.

Ron: If you could only recommend one book related to continuous improvement of leadership, what would it be and why?

Kevin: Coming up with just one is very difficult, because you have different aspects of leadership.

There’s “The True Lean Leadership,” “The Lean Manager,” some of those gold mines, some of those books. As I’ve gotten older, and then, to leader into my career, I’ve focused on becoming aware of myself and how that influences leadership.

A few years ago, when I was going through a particularly stressful time, both in terms of professional leadership and personal leadership, and how to handle personal leadership in a stressful professional leadership environment, struggling with that, to be honest, I came across Matthew May’s “The Shibumi Strategy.” It’s a tiny book. It’s very quick read. It’s very short business novel.

I’ve become really good friends of Matt May as a result of this. He’s got some other ones on the laws of subtraction, and so forth. “The Shibumi Strategy” is about a guy that was in a very similar situation to me and how he took a step back, leveraged some concepts like spending some time alone and thinking about things to become more self aware, and how that turned him into a better leader.

I have recommended that book I don’t know how many times and given copies to people. It has changed people’s lives because it helps you re-center, discover your trust authentic self. As I mentioned before, that authenticity is critical to leadership.

Ron: It’s an excellent book. It’s maybe an airplane and a half ride kind of read, or depending, if you’re coming from California…

Kevin: Not even.

Ron: Maybe California is half way there to Texas.

The last question I have is imagine that you got back into industry and you’re hired as a general manager of a company that needed to improve their processes and their way of working. Unfortunately, once you were hired, you discover that many of the senior leaders that you’re dealing with, they’re not quite as enthused about your Lean thinking mindset and ideas.

With this said, what would do in this situation and why?

Kevin: It’s the situation I’ve been in a couple of times from different perspectives.

I mentioned the one at the larger medical device company, where I ran the molding operation. I was going through the journey with them, I guess, and learning about quick changeover. Something that struck me was the quick early win.

When quick changeover has turned around what seemed like an impossible situation very fast, within two or three months, that got the entire organization pretty enthused on what else is there that we can leverage.

We used a lot of tools after that. Perhaps more relevant was, maybe more recently, I went into an organization and it was a lack of enthusiasm, But it wasn’t because of a negative attitude toward it. It was just a lack of knowledge.

That’s a fairly easy one to turn around, thankfully. They were simply unaware of the power and potential of Lean. Seeing examples becomes very critical and very empowering then. Something we did was we sent some of the executive staff and then people that were passionate throughout the organization on tours. There’s various ways you can do that.

I know out here in California AME puts on a Southern California Lean Tour. In fact, I heard, I think it was just last week or maybe it’s this week, where you visit several organizations that are well on their journey, a wide variety of organizations. That was very powerful. You see Lean in action and see what incredible things it can do. People come back very enthused.

There are Lean tours also at the AME conferences. There’re stories of transformation at other conferences like the Lean Accounting Summit, where real practitioners talk about their transformations. When I do that and we continued to do that, even after the organization was on a solid Lean path, but I’d always give them an assignment. It comes back maybe even to respect for people.

“I’m going to give you this opportunity, but come back and present to the staff and to the company the top three things we should do immediately and the top three things that are pretty cool that we should keep on our radar.”

Of course, we can’t do all of those things. It forces people to think and to analyze what they’re looking at, to distill it and figure out what we should be working on [laughs] .

I don’t want to turn into a plague either but, seeing Lean action is also the concept behind our Gemba Academy, give my life scenery, where we go out to real companies and see some pretty, incredible Lean things. Across multiple industries that it really sparks some thought.

Ron: Yes, very good. What’s funny about your example there, our own Steve Cain, who works for you especially at telecom fabricators, as well, tells us a story of how they first went to AME, Learn about autonomous teams and they went to, was it Daemon products the company?

Sought and action and came back and did it. That’s a perfect example of that cycle, right? Of how powerful seeing others practicing something can how it impact the company.

Kevin: Yes, we have to be sort of careful. It’s just because there’s a lot of cool things out there. You need to figure out what works best for you. [laughs] This is something for an entire plague cast maybe.

The downfalls of benchmarking, there’s too many companies that go out there try to find the best. I think they have to do those things. You have to really figure out what works for you.

Ron: Yes, exactly. Before we wrap the show up, Kevin, since we have you on here, we have tons of Gemba Academy customers listening to this right now. We didn’t plan to do this.

You got to think quick on your figure. We got a lot of stuffs on the works right now from like a technology perspective. Some of it’s well in process. Some of it’s haven’t started yet. Why don’t you give a quick update on the technical side of Gemba Academy? What are Gemba Academy customers can look forward in the coming months?

Kevin: You’re right. We have a lot in the works. There’s sort of goes back to what we talked about in the beginning of listening to our customers. That’s still trying to maintain our focus on key priorities.

I think we’ve done that especially now. We have a very large and diverse customer base. Something that might surprise a lot of listeners is almost lot of our customers are not in manufacturing. That points to the power of the Lean like you can go across healthcare, military, and consumer products. We have charitable organizations, and so forth. We’re trying to find ways to make our content more usable.

That was really gone to a large number of videos. We’re well over 650 videos right now. How we organize that and present that becomes critical to our customers.

Otherwise, it’s just simply overwhelming. We’re investing some technologies. Some are becoming online on very short order and by that before the end of the year. Ways to organize and reorganize a large number of videos plus associated quizzes and that type of thing.

Also, allow customers to individually reorganize that so that it better suits their own environment. That’s a very complex product that’s different than what’s been done before. I think it’s very exciting. It gives the power to our customers to use our material how best it’s met. Probably the second one, to stretch on this one briefly is we’ve got a very dynamic community, link community, a very dynamic group for customers.

They saw the amount of interaction we do with our customers. I think that’s what really sets us apart, how we listen and talk to our customers and put them in contact with each other. I think we want to leverage that even further by enabling those connections between customers within customers, between the public and our customers to create improvement, to dynamically create content and to create solutions for our customers.

I don’t want to go into that too much further. There’s some very exciting things along with lines that we’re working on.

Ron: Something is that, Kevin and I, it’s funny that we’re doing a podcast, because we normally talk about eight times a day every day, weekends.

Our Gemba Academy and team members would roll their eyes and we’re constantly experimenting and coming up with crazy ideas over the weekend.

Kevin: That you can drop on everyone else by Monday morning.

Ron: Yes [laughs] . One of the things that we spend a lot of time talking about is how, sure there’s a lot of people out there who are coming up and starting to make videos.

They’re just trying maybe potentially compete with us which is great. The more people in a market, they’re better. What we’re trying to do is eventually one day Gemba Academy hope to say, “You know what? They also have awesome videos [laughs] .”

Like, be known as a place where you can go to get pretty much anything you need around continuous improvement and leadership. Not just Lean either, not just six sigma just continuous improvement in general.

I think all these things that you and your team are working on are really going to take us to the next level. Of course, we’re going to keep trying to make awesome videos. We’ll never stop doing that and going back and refreshing old ones. Videos are the only aspect I think to our learning solution.

Kevin: I think it really ties into our discussion and respect for people that’s why our customers see something a little bit different in our videos is that, it’s a different style of teaching.

It’s respecting people and how their ability to learn and then apply. I think we’ll see even more that moving forward on the respectful people’s side. Then, content and how we do things.

Ron: Yes, exactly.

Kevin: I just want to throw once again that if you look at respectful people, you should look at our culture code that we created for Gemba Academy. It’s radically different than you see in other companies. We really try to practice what we preach.

Ron: Yes, and we’ll link that up in the show no tear, as well.

Kevin, let’s go ahead and wrap up. If you have any final words of wisdom that you want to share, go ahead and do that.

More importantly, once you tell people how they can connect with you on social media, your Gemba Academy website, whatever is the best way to get in touch with you.

Kevin: I think my passion’s have probably come out [laughs] . The simplicity side and the respect on people side, I really think we’re doing a little bit something different.

That’s actually my passion for Gemba Academy was giving back to an industry in the Lean world that has given me so much. That’s the reason I do this. To connect with me obviously through Gemba Academy is an easy one.

We have a team page on our website and the about section that shows how to connect with us on LinkedIn, and so forth. I still try to blog when I have time which, thanks to somebody’s project, we’re just talking about isn’t too often these days.

Ron: It’s not one of your three main things each day [laughs] .

Kevin: It’s usually the fourth. It doesn’t get active on very often. I do try to write it. The sense of simplicity, I consolidated evolving excellence into just my own personal site, kevinmeyer.com, a few months ago.

Occasionally, who knows? It might be something new there.

Ron: Yes. Fantastic. I suppose as soon as we hang up we’ll probably call each other back as we have some other things to talk about.

Kevin: We get to talk frequently, at least a few times an hour.

Ron: Yes, I think it’s good to have you on a few times a year. If anything, just keep your Gemba Academy customers updated on what’s going on, what’s going around the corner.

Anyhow, thanks, Kevin for taking the time and I’m sure we’ll chat again soon.

Kevin: Thank you.

Announcer: Thanks for listening to the Gemba Academy podcast.

Now, it’s time to take a free no strings attached fully functional test drive of Gemba Academy school of Lean and Six Sigma over at gembaacademy.com.

Gain immediate access to more than 500 Lean and Six Sigma training videos free of charge at gembaacademy.com.

[background music]

What Do You Think?

Does complexity help or hinder your life? How so?