When I was asked recently who inspired me the most in my career, I had a really hard time narrowing it down to one person. Inspiration has come to me in the form of teams that work through struggle, good and bad managers, individual people and even through illness. So, I will start with one person in this blog, but be sure there will be future blogs to highlight others!
I’ll go back to my early learnings in Lean. I remember the first Lean Enterprise Institute (LEI) Summit I went to fondly. I was one of a very few women there. I was used to that because I had been working in a “boys club” kind of environment and was normally the only female or one of a couple of women in the leadership settings. (I am pleased to say that there is a healthy balance of women represented today. Tides are a changing!)
Jim Womack and John Shook both shared their journeys at the Summit and why Lean Management Systems, not just process tools, were so important for executives and leadership teams to utilize. Their points centered on mission, communication, leadership, the people doing the work, and yes, you guessed it, right at the center was the customer!
I drank the Kool-Aide. I loved this thing called Lean and wanted to learn more. I attended Lean Transformation Summits for my own development annually and took advantage of other coach and Lean System trainings from LEI, the University of Kentucky and the Murli Group throughout the years. I am thankful for all of them. They have all inspired and guided me in many ways.
Now, back to my first LEI Summit and John Shook! For those who don’t know, John worked for Toyota for 11 years and was, in fact, the first American Manager at Toyota. When I met him, John had already shifted to “sharing the love of Lean” to the masses through LEI. John and Jim Womack, the “Father of Lean”, compiled the culture and data learnings they had bringing the Lean Systems to American companies. Amazingly, the struggles and successes they worked through were the same with which I was dealing. I had learned Agile first, but our organization struggled with measuring activities rather than outcomes. We did not have the maniacal focus on the customer yet. Or, maybe worse, we thought we did via the smart people in the room making customer decisions, but those people (including me) didn’t have the same demographic background or reality that our actual customers did.
John and Jim always preach, “Customer First”. We had to flip our model and run customer focus groups, start surveys, and really listen to our customers. Sometimes that is hard. The first time you do this it is brutal in many situations. Think about a customer that has bought a high-end product. This could be a financial service, a car, or even a medical procedure. And something goes wrong. The credit card doesn’t work at the point of sale, the brand new car won’t start, the medical procedure was botched and must be re-done. Now, think of all the people at those companies who are mobilizing to resolve the problem. Think of the hours and cost to remediate the problems. Now, think about the customer or patient. Think about the emotional toil they have gone through, and with the medical issues, the physical impacts our defects can have.
I have heard so many executives almost brag about how fast they remediate problems for customers. Whether they are machine defects, financial impacts, or even medical impacts. Shouldn’t we understand the true customer expectation that the credit card works the first time and every time they want to use it. The car runs. The medical procedure is over with and you can get back on with your life?
Don’t get me wrong, I love good fast service when there is an issue with something in which I have invested. But why do we have those defects in the first place?
We have them because we haven’t created a clear mission, or North Star, on which everyone in our organization can focus. And not just created, but clearly articulated the mission throughout the organization so it becomes part of everyone’s DNA to deliver that value to the customer. We too often measure activity and celebrate the successes of “being really busy” instead of measuring outcomes. We don’t go to where the work is to see what is really happening at the front lines. We don’t listen to our customers and our frontline associates/team members to see and hear what is actually happening.
Lean flips our model. It teaches executives and leaders to see and hear. John taught me that.
A few years back I took an executive team to a LEI Summit for their next step in development. I absolutely LOVED a quote by the CFO during the lunch when it really “clicked” for her. She stopped the conversation and said, “I just got it – it’s about the think!”. We all stopped as she joyfully shared that she just realized it was about the people and the way they think every minute of every day while they are at work.
So, here is a call to action: let’s get our leaders and people to realize “it’s about the think” to prevent problems happening in the first place, and when they do, that we need to enable them to think of multiple countermeasures rather than going with the solution that “they’ve seen/used a million times before.”
When we think of inspiration, we think of those who drive us to do things differently to make ourselves and our world better. We emulate the behaviors of people we meet that display the things that we want to become. I have always had a love for learning and transferring those learnings to others. It is how we pull each other up the hill and move this world forward in a better way.
I feel blessed to have forged a strong friendship with John that allows me to bend his hear with my ideas and share a beer here and there. In fact, attending the LEI Summits has really become more of a social and volunteer event for me over the years where I enjoy sharing my own learnings. My favorite part of them, however, is still always the time that John carves out for me. John and Jim have inspired Amanda and me to launch this thing called “The Edgehill Learning Collaborative” a local give back that spans Lean Operating Systems, Agile, Design Thinking, Product and Change Management. What we call the “Lean Eco System”.
There are no silver bullets, but when methodologies are joined together purposefully they can end human suffering at work.