Home > The Lean Post> How to More Effectively Change Mindsets through Coaching
The Lean Post
Sharing how the world is making things better through lean.

How to More Effectively Change Mindsets through Coaching

by Karyn Ross
February 28, 2017

How to More Effectively Change Mindsets through Coaching

by Karyn Ross
February 28, 2017 | Comments (10)

In her many years as a coach, Karyn Ross has found an alternative to the current paradigm of changing mindsets. The Lean Post recently sat down with Karyn to hear about this new approach and the psychology behind it.

Can you describe to me the prevailing paradigm of changing mindsets in coaching?

In my experience working with a variety of organizations, large and small, mostly focused on services, the paradigm is that if we want people to “do things” differently, in the new, “lean” way, we have to change their mindsets first. So, in an effort to convince people to change their minds, we create long training classes with information about why they would want to do the new thing, and all of the possible benefits. Then we send people to those training classes with the expectation that once they’ve completed the training, their mindsets will be changed and they’ll automatically start doing things differently.

Something about your voice tells me that that doesn’t work.

Not in my experience at all. In general, what happens when people come back from training is…nothing! They continue on with the same behavior they had before! They don’t actually “do” anything differently. Even if people think the ideas presented are very good and could be beneficial, most don’t have the ability to suddenly change their behavior just because they’ve heard about an idea.

Why do you think that is?

A couple of reasons.

The first is, we think that if we tell someone to do something and they say, “Yes, I’m going to do it,”, that the person really is going to do it! Just because we told them to! Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way. Changing behavior is difficult for most people. And it doesn’t matter what job grade or title a person has. We’re all human beings and doing things in new ways makes us feel uncomfortable. 

Second, as human beings, we’re creatures of habit. We get used to doing something the same way and that creates neural pathways in our brain. When we act habitually, our brain makes us feel comfortable and happy. When we feel comfortable and happy we feel like we “know” things, and face it, who doesn’t like to feel that way? And how many people really enjoy being unhappy and uncomfortable because they feel like they “don’t know”?

So, what is your remedy?

I use the opposite paradigm, which is that I have people do things differently first. Once they’ve acted in the new way and have personally experienced the positive results, they change their own mindsets.

For example, let’s say I’m working with a leader and I’d like them to learn how to “go see for themselves” and the benefits of going to the gemba. The first thing I’ll do is schedule our coaching times together at the gemba, not in the leader’s office, saying “Please meet me in this area, and here’s what we are going to look for.” After we’ve gone to see together, and the leader has had the new, eye-opening experience, I’ll follow up with a quick bit of theory, right then and there.

How do you help people over the feeling of being uncomfortable?

I’m going to use the words “challenge” and “nurture.” Together, they’re the basis of my coaching philosophy. When I work with someone to change their behavior I know that they’re going to be uncomfortable. So, I first “challenge” and push them to move outside of their comfort zone. Then, I stay with them (often standing right beside them!) as they try out the new behavior. That’s the “nurture” part that’s so often missed by many coaches. When our coachee is in the uncomfortable learning zone, we, as coaches, need to be right by their side for support and encouragement as they practice the new behavior under our watchful eye. If we “challenge” people to act differently, but don’t then “nurture” them while they practice the new behavior, we’re leaving them on their own to “sink or swim”. In my opinion that’s very disrespectful. People who are in the uncomfortable learning zone need to “borrow courage” to act in new ways. And the person they borrow that courage from is their coach.

What’s the most important piece of advice you can give to other coaches?

Remember that the people you are coaching are human beings. That they’re going to feel uncomfortable when you “challenge” them to do things in new and different ways, and that you need to care for and “nurture” them along as they gain the confidence that can only come from doing.

The views expressed in this post do not necessarily represent the views or policies of The Lean Enterprise Institute.
Keywords:  coaching,  culture,  learning
Was this post... Click all that apply
40 people say YES
32 people say YES
28 people say YES
30 people say YES
Related Posts
10 Comments | Post a Comment
Dennis Gawlik February 28, 2017


I really like this approach.  In doing things differently, how does one add creativity into the equation so that 'we are thinking out of the box'?

Reply »

Karyn Ross February 28, 2017


Thanks for your question. When people 'do' things, they gain understanding and knowledge from each experience. As coaches, we can then help people develop their ability to combine those learnings in new and different ways - which is what creativity is all about. Frequent, daily practice helps people learn to 'get' ideas, then turn them into 'reality' - what I call 'practical creativity'. And, even better, over time, using this approach, people develop a 'creativity habit'. And that's great for customers and for organizations!


Reply »

Robert March 17, 2017
1 Person AGREES with this reply

Wow thanks Karyn. This is an excellent breakdown of "HOW" we can facilitate creativity on a large scale within an organization. We connect our IDEA program directly into our Toyota Kata's at the cellular level and it has been very successful as IDEA's are realized by "DOING" experiments towards a target based on what was learned. It's great to see that scientific thinking, creativity & behavior are not only for the special few but can be the output of systems that focus on the correct principles and coaching practices.



Reply »

Karyn Ross April 01, 2017

Hi Robert,

Thanks for your comment! You are absolutely correct! We can put them all together and create the services and products our customers want now and for the long-term!


Edgar A. March 01, 2017
2 People AGREE with this comment

Karyn, that's a great discussion on coaching. I got my "uncomfortable" coaching session with my Japanese sensei 20 years ago. I was newly minted manager, and my sensei was our managing director who recently retired from a big conglomerate.

One day, he called me and asked me to make a one-page report showing our weekly production progress (output and FPY) showing a table and a chart. I thought I knew everything what to do, so I said, "fine!" and went back to my desk to work on it. The next day I showed him my report. He told me, "your font size is too small, and the title of the report isn't centered." So I worked on revision, and came back the next day. He told me, "looks good but the columns in the table don't coincide with the chart!" So, I revised my report and showed my MD for the next 6 days! Finally, my MD taught me a lesson: "Edgar-san, you have a brain to think, whenever you do something, think about what the other person - me your boss, or a customer - needs or wants out of your work. 

Eversince that day, I make it a point to reflect on what others want or need from my work. I was humbled, a bit humiliated inside though. But that was the defining moment in my career. 

Reply »

Karyn Ross March 01, 2017


Thank you so much for sharing your story! It is often hard for us - as workers and coaches - to really think about the needs of others! But that is what 'service' is all about - putting others first! Helping people work through 'being uncomfortable' so that they learn and grow as people is a great gift to give and recieve!


Reply »

Dana Botka March 06, 2017

Great post, Karyn.  I completely agree.

In my project work with the State of Washington, usually to improve the usability of high-volume customer documents and online content, I:

- Have teams focus on the real-life business problem caused by an unclear instruction or explanation to citizens.

- Arrange for them to observe usability testing, so they actually witness typical customers struggling to understand the form/document we're working on.

- 'Train' them in User-Centered Design principles - not by sending them to a training, but by having them write the revision with me, as a group.

It's one thing to provide a training and send an enthusiastic group back to their work stations.  It's another to reinforce what they've learned by showing them how to apply new principles to a real-life situation.

Loved your article!

Dana Botka, Olympia, WA

Reply »

Karyn Ross March 08, 2017

Hi Dana,

Thank you so much for your excellent comment - and work you are doing!

I'm looking forward to visiting the State of Washington and presenting on March 20, 2017.

Hope to meet you there.


Reply »

Owen Berkeley-Hill March 13, 2017


Your post is good, very good, as far as it goes.

Back in the 90s, Peter Senge (The Fifth Discipline) exhorted organisations to become Leanring Organisations or die. As far as I could tell, no one made the connection between Lean, kaizen and being a Learning Organisation. Certainly, Peter Senge did not.  Can an organisation be serious about Lean if the leadership does not encourage learning through kaizen?  Is the typical future leader, coming off the MBA production lines, taught to be a good coach, one that encourages learning? From my experience, they tend to be a bit self-centred, with a view that the learning budget is an easily axed option.

When you talk about coaching, I suggest you make it clear that your first "coachees" (Wasn't he an Apache leader?) are the leadership team and not some enthusiastic middle or junior manager, trying to introduce Lean while the big boys play golf.

In 2017, the link between Lean and Learning, sadly, is still not apprecited within large parts of the Lean commuity. For example, kaizen is still not seen as the way of improving the people (through learning) who improve the product and the processes that make that product. If it was, then every Lean organisation would keep track of the number of improvements done by every person every year (err... including those with titles begijning with "Chief"): between 10 and 20 might suggest that your Lean journey might have some traction.

Reply »

Karyn Ross April 01, 2017

Hi Owen,

Thanks so much for your thoughts! I think we can go one further than learning organization...I like to think of it as a 'creating organization'! We're actively teaching people how to be creative and then turn their ideas into reality using Toyota Way/lean principles so that customers get what they want now and for the future!

Also, while it may be ideal to start with senior leaders, that's sometimes not possible. In that case, in my opinion, it's more important to start! No need to wait to help people improve their creativity and problem solving capability, and no need to wait to make things better for our customers.


Reply »

"What Did I Transform Today?"
Please include links as plain text URLs only. Do not copy and paste directly from a web page or other document. Doing so may pick up additional HTML that will not function here.
URLs will be converted to functioning links when your comment is displayed on the site.
Here's an example:
See this article for more details: https://www.lean.org/whatslean