In the first ever interview for TheKaiZone, it was my great honor to catch-up this week with one of the co-authors of the new book, The Toyota Way to Service Excellence: Lean Transformation in Service Organizations, Karyn Ross.
About the Author, Karyn Ross
Karyn is uniquely qualified to write what I am sure will become THE book on Lean for services, having spent her entire career in the service industries. She is a consultant, a coach and accomplished Toyota Way practitioner who has successfully taught Lean for services across all levels in service sectors as diverse as financial services, HR, transportation and retail. And if that’s not enough, she is also one of the most thoughtful and personable Lean thinkers I have ever had the good fortune to meet.
If you like what you hear – and I am sure that you will – you can reach Karyn on her website at KarynRossConsulting.com. Email her at Karyn@karynrossconsulting.com. Or connect with her and follow her posts on LinkedIn.
The Book: The Toyota Way to Service Excellence
I’ve read nearly every book on the shelves of the Lean Book Shop, and I can say unequivocally that the Toyota Way to Service Excellence is simply the best book ever written on the topic of Lean for service. And there is no close second place. The text is a must-read for service professionals of every level, whether you are an executive, manager, consultant, or frontline worker who deals with customers every day, this book will forever redefine what it means to achieve service excellence.
Please use the above links to view the book on Amazon.com.
Audio: A Conversation with Karyn Ross
Editor’s Note: The audio quality at the beginning of our conversation was a bit poor, so the recording starts a minute or two into the discussion. I have included the full conversation in the transcript below.
Transcript: A Conversation with Karyn Ross
Joel: Welcome to TheKaiZone, Karyn! It’s a real honor to have the chance to catch up with you about your new book, The Toyota Way to Service Excellence, which you co-wrote with Dr. Jeff Liker. Before we get into the book, can you give the listeners a brief bit about your background?
Karyn: My first exposure to Lean was actually from Masaaki Imai’s book, Kaizen. I began by applying what I read in the book for the problems at our branch while I was working for a payroll processing company. We had a need to improve the services we provided to our customers, and I was no expert, so I actually started teaching people just by reading books one chapter ahead. That’s what I did, and then one day I met Leslie, the real Leslie Henckler . . .
Joel: Oh, I didn’t know Leslie was a real person!
Karyn: Leslie is a real person, yes, and she was my first Lean teacher. She actually had come from Kodak and was taught by Shingijutsu and Pascal Dennis and a variety of those folks. When she found out what I was doing, she was in Rochester at the head offices of Paychex. You can see how much we knew about process improvement, we didn’t even know that anyone was doing this. When she heard about what I was doing she said, “do you think you might want someone to help you?” And I was like, “that would be fabulous,” and I made way more progress with a teacher. 9 months later I met [Dr.] Jeff [Liker] and after a while he said, “well OK, I’ll teach you, too.”
Joel: Wow, what an opportunity.
Karyn: I know! I always tell people that on my mother’s side, I’m Shingijutsu and on my father’s side, I’m the Toyota Way.
Joel: That is quite the pedigree, Karyn!
Karyn: After I left Paychex, I went on to lead Lean transformation at Zurich Insurance in their HR Service Center Operations. Zurich and Farmers have 35,000 North American employees, so that was fabulous . . . payroll, call center, all of those kind of things. Eventually, an insurance company hired me away from them and I learned the whole insurance business. So, anything that has to do with payroll service, HR services, that’s really my first love. If you have any questions or any needs or thoughts about that, please ask me because that’s where my heart really is. I’m a girl from the gemba, you’ll notice my Skype handle is GembaGirl. I’ve never lost that. I never lose that feeling of that connection to customers or that horrible, sinking feeling in my stomach when I saw a red light on the phone because I thought, who’s unhappy about something now? It wasn’t a good life for customers and it wasn’t a good life for us!
Joel: Certainly not. So then, what I’d like to do is start off with the first question around your personal mission. To people who study Lean and are familiar with the literature, I think we all have a sense of why you might have written this book, but I’d love to hear from your own perspective what was the need – and what was your personal mission – for why this book exists at this time from you and Dr. Liker?
Karyn: I’m going to start with the motivation that Jeff and I had to write the book was really twofold. First of all, we spend so much of our time in the mechanistic Lean world, right? And both of us getting questions and just hearing things about people talking about Leaning out processes. “How are we going to do this to reap short-term financial rewards?” And that’s not the purpose of the Toyota Way. So, that was one thing, we were overwhelmed by mechanistic Lean. Secondly, we both got so many requests for, “Can you recommend a good book on Lean in services?” And although there are some out there, we really couldn’t. So, in not being able to recommend anything, we decided, why don’t we just write one ourselves?
For the deeper purpose, I never say that I am a Lean practitioner, I say that I am a Toyota Way practitioner. And the reason that I say that is, although the Toyota Production System has a variety of tools, the underpinnings – the two foundational pillars of the Toyta Way, Respect for People and Continuous Improvement – are really the reason that we wrote the book. To bring people back to those two foundational pillars.
My own personal mission statement is Help People Improve the World. And when you think about that, helping people improve the world is really what the Toyota Way is about. Think about Toyota. What they’re doing is helping people through making alternate ways of mobility. Their mission statement anymore isn’t even about making cars. I wrote a blog a couple of days ago about the Toyota Way being an alternate dispute resolution. It’s a way to bring people together to work collaboratively to solve problems for customers. And when you think about it, service is actually about taking care of other people. How do we serve customers? How do we serve the people who work internally? A perfect example is that nobody wants a defect on their paycheck; you don’t want your fabulous employees to have that problem!
Helping People Improve the World. Although you can say that it’s my own personal mission statement, I think that Jeff would agree to that when we wrote this book what we really wanted to do was to refocus all of the people who are doing Lean – not only for services, because this is really taking off in services but for people in manufacturing, too – to really remember that the purpose of this is not just short-term financial gain. It’s not leaning out processes. It’s not using every tool. It’s not reducing headcount. It’s really about making things better.
Joel: I heard you say in your personal mission statement that you prefer to use the term Toyota Way as opposed to Lean. For those who might not understand the difference, can you explain why it is that you prefer the term Toyota Way instead of some of the more popular terminology in the world of Lean?
Karyn: The reason that I prefer Toyota Way is because then it really does refer back to Respect for People, which I say and we talk about as challenge and nurture. How do we challenge people to go beyond what they know now and to develop as critical thinkers and creative problem solvers so that we solve the problems for our customers? Then, how do we continuously improve? To continuously improve doesn’t just mean how do we continuously improve our internal processes? But, how do we improve lives for our customers? How do we improve the lives of the people that work for us? How do we improve the community? So it has a much broader purpose. I’ve met many, many, many, many, many, many mechanistic Lean thinkers who think that we can lean out processes, that we can simply remove waste, that we can just divide up things, that we can find specific root causes, and that we will actually make things better by doing so. I don’t believe that’s the spirit of the Toyota Way, so I want to differentiate and have people understand what I do is actually help people improve to make things better. I am not just going to come in and teach you a set of tools because, ultimately that is going to fail in the end. And when that doesn’t work, you’re just going to go on the next flavor of the month.
Joel: Speaking of that perspective, the book stresses over and over that it doesn’t provide a mechanistic answer and that, if you really want to succeed with the Toyota Way, there is no recipe to simply follow. There is no mechanistic approach that the book can provide. But, in connecting back to what customers might be wanting, my experience tells me that’s what people want. People want, “just tell me what to do and let me go do it.” Or, “show me the benchmark or the best practice and I’ll go implement it.” Did you have any conflicts as you were writing the book between writing the book your customers might want and writing the book that you knew that they needed if they were going to succeed?
Karyn: Absolutely not! I will tell you that neither Jeffery nor I had any conflict about that at all. In the beginning chapters about purpose, there’s a Taiichi Ohno quote. It’s a great quote and it says, “People don’t come to Toyota to work hard. They come to Toyota to learn to think.” And what Jeff and I wanted to do, because what we see is happening is that people are taking the mechanistic Lean tools from manufacturing and are saying, “how can we just plunk these things down in services so that we can lean out service processes and look for short-term financial results?” – and that’s not the book that we wanted to write. It’s our role to help the Lean community learn how to think and learn how to be creative. In our writing we need to follow – and we do follow – our own precepts of Respect for People and Continuous Improvement. The real Leslie Henckler, who we do talk about in the book, the very first thing she taught me was there is only one answer. When anyone asks you a question and when anyone wants help, the only answer is, it depends. Every situation is different. That’s why we need to go to gemba and see for ourselves and deeply understand. If every situation is different, and the only answer is it depends, then we need to learn how to think so that we can help other people learn how to think, which is the Respect for People part. So we had absolutely no conflict. And there’s many books out there. If you really want to learn about tools, if you need to know how to do kanban, there there’s lots of books out there. Buy the Toyota Way Fieldbook. It will help you out immensely.
Joel: I actually wanted to ask you about that. When I walk around my office or any of the offices I’ve ever been in, I see more copies of the Toyota Way Fieldbook than I see copies of the Toyota Way. That may just be because those people are close to the action and that’s the more usable version. But, maybe I am looking ahead a little bit, can we expect a Toyota Way for Service Excellence Fieldbook at any point?
Karyn: I’ll talk to Jeff about that! I’m not sure because I think the Toyota Way Fieldbook that there’s a . . . in thinking about how to really do Toyota Way instructive, there’s a lot of, I believe, same application. We need to be creative, but you can do things in almost the same way. I actually never worked in manufacturing. I only come from services, and I read the Toyota Way and the Toyota Way Fieldbook and all of those books, and it all translated perfectly.
Joel: Sure it does. What I am angling at is that I am so into the first book that you wrote that I want the sequel already.
Karyn: Then I am going to ask Jeff and we’ll see what we can do for you!
Joel: Speaking of Jeff, Dr. Liker wrote the central model that’s introduced at the beginning of the book – the 4P model – obviously from the original Toyota Way which I believe was back in about 2004, if I am remembering correctly. There’s a quote in your book that says over the last 12 years we’ve spent a lot of time evolving and refining and updating that model. What I’d really like to understand from you is, can you talk about some of the major adaptations that have happened to the 4P model, specifically in its application to service processes and organizations?
Karyn: Sure. One of the things that you’re going to find in the book that’s different than the original Toyota Way is that a number of the sections, the process section and the people section, are divided into a macro level and a micro level. The macro level talks about, organizationally, leadership. On that level, what are the conditions we need for the Toyota Way. On the macro level, how do you organize? Do you organize around value streams? Do you organize in silos? All of those kinds of things. On the micro level, how do you have a team structure? The same for processes. On the macro level, we have the large process principles like flow or pull or leveling. Down there on the level where people work, we have visual management and standard work and how do you integrate those two different layers?
When Jeff wrote the Toyota Way, there’s a lot in the Toyota Way that does talk about tools, and that talks about what you are doing down there on the front line. There are some things about leadership. Probably 5-10 years ago, there was a lot of talk in the Lean community about, “why does Lean fail?” and that it fails because we don’t have leadership. The whole movement, everybody went crazy around hoshin kanri. How do we get things going from the leadership level? So, the pendulum swung the other way. In this book, what we have done and what is different from the original Toyota Way is to really look and say, in order for this to work, you actually need both of those levels. You need leadership to set a vision and a purpose and a direction. So, your hoshin kanri level and think about the macro-organizational processes for the company. At the same time, you need all of the people who are doing the work to be aligned. How do we actually, creatively, put all of this together to serve our customers? Because ultimately, we are making services and processes for customers. I think that those two things together are really a wonderful adaptation.
There’s also a lot of influence and discussion of Toyota Kata. That’s really the way to tie your top and bottom together.
Joel: I’ve never heard it put that way, but I completely agree with you.
Karyn: Figure 9.13 in the problem solving chapter, I think is really a wonderful way to tie this all together. It really shows how everything goes together from top-to-bottom and horizontally. And how coaching – that link, coaching – ties the organization together and then you get the linked improvements coming up. I think that’s the biggest change and I think it will be really, really helpful for people.
Joel: That’s extremely insightful. Do you think we’ll continue to see an evolution of the model over the next 12 years as much as we’ve seen in the previous 12 years?
Karyn: One of the things that I am going to say that always impresses me about working with Jeff is that, you might think that somebody with as much knowledge and so much experience would think that they really know everything and stop learning. He’s my role model for learning. He is so busy and he is always thinking, how can I improve? How can I know more? How can I do better? If Jeff Liker – who has been doing this for so long, and has taught so many people so many things – if that’s the way his thinking is, I need to improve my thinking in that way.
Joel: It’s good to know that he practices what he preaches.
Karyn: Absolutely! 100%!
Joel: Good to know! Transitioning a little bit, where I’d like to go next is to really focus on the service excellence piece of the book. I once had a mentor of mine say to me that if you want to know the difference between practicing the Toyota Way in manufacturing as opposed to service, think about the fact that no one ever has to ask a car, after it’s done being assembled, how it enjoyed its manufacturing experience or its time on the plant floor. Whereas, a main goal of any service process that I’ve ever seen is a good customer experience. What I really want to know from you is, when it comes to applying the Toyota Way, are there differences in the way that we need to think about service processes in particular that are not necessarily applicable to traditional manufacturing processes?
Karyn: As I said before, I actually never worked in manufacturing.
Joel: Which is a huge advantage!
Karyn: I actually think it’s very unusual. However, everything I read and everything I had to learn from was manufacturing based. I never felt that I had to make an unusual translation. What I think is that the Toyota Way is a management system. The principles of the Toyota Way, Respect for People and Continuous Improvement are a way to manage. Then, there are principles like flow and pull and leveling. Those things absolutely, I believe, can be applied across all services.
Often time, service people don’t think so. They will say, “How can we level anything? Customers call us at all kinds of times, so how can we know that?” However, if you work in a call center and you actually spend some time on the floor and you look at the data, what you actually find out is, roughly, more customers call Monday at 9:00 AM and fewer customers call Friday. Then creatively, we can apply the principles. Here we go again. We didn’t write a recipe book. I think that all of those principles are unbelievably applicable.
One of my favorite stories in my own work doing this was working with a call center who couldn’t figure out why they had so many abandoned calls at noon hour. When we actually looked, we found that they let half of their people – 50% of their service reps. – out to lunch at noon. The west coast of their operation, they came online at noon. If someone had a problem with a paycheck or a benefit, the first thing they did when they got to work was call. So this was a perfect, creative load-leveling thing. Don’t let so many people go for lunch at that time. On Monday at noon, just staff a little bit more. You have to think about it in a creative way.
On the other hand, what you’re saying, of course, that the experience is very important. Here are a couple of things that I think are a little bit different and we want to focus on in services. In manufacturing, we are not making value with our customers usually in the moment. Since we often do that in services, again, think of somebody calling in to a call center. The person who answers the call is actually making value with the customer who, in general, is a supplier as well as the customer because they are supplying what needs to be made into value. What is really important is that the customer service rep. who answers the phone is able to do quick PDCA because they need to solve a problem immediately. I assure you, what a customer does not want to ever, ever hear is, “I can’t,” from the service rep. No customer wants to hear that! They want to hear what you can do for them. That’s really the basis of our own customer experience. In my opinion, Lean in services – Toyota Way in services – so that we’re actually teaching people Respect for People to challenge them to become critical and creative thinkers, that is unbelievably even more important in services than it is in manufacturing because you have your customer on the line while you’re doing it.
Joel: In some ways, it really increases the pace of improvement because you can’t really say, “hold on, I’m going to go think about that back at my desk. I’ll get back to you when I have a solution to try.”
Karyn: Correct. So when you talk about improvement kata and coaching kata, it’s really important that people actually have a habit and a routine. And when they have to do the fast thinking of helping a customer, to kick into that routine. So instead of saying, “I’m sorry, our system doesn’t do that,” or “I’m sorry, you didn’t pay to have this product or service – that’s only if you choose the more expensive package.” If we don’t have service reps who can automatically be running problem solving with the customer, we’re going to run into trouble. Improvement kata and coaching kata to setup those habits are unbelievably important to setup those habits in services.
The second thing that I will say is even more important in services . . . In manufacturing you can see what you’re creating going down the line. In services, things are happening in people’s minds and behind their computer. The only way that you can actually see is to have good visual management. I would say in services, it’s actually more important to have Toyota Way and to have those Lean tools because that’s really going to help us see. And in helping us see, it makes us who do the service work feel like less things are happening randomly. Because service workers often feel like everything is random, but probably most of it is not actually random. Now, you can see it. And when you can see it, like my friend Joe from National Taxi & Limo says, “Now you see it, now you do it.”
I would say those two things are way more important, in my opinion, in services than in manufacturing.
Joel: I can’t underline that point strongly enough. Specifically, about the visual management. In my experience having gone from manufacturing to a service dedicated environment, the number one piece of resistance I see from the folks that I work with is, “I can’t go to a gemba because my gemba is in my head or on my computer. What am I really going to see there?”
Karyn: I would say then, absolutely, so how do we make it visual? I have had fabulous success in call centers and payroll centers. “How many terminations?” Unfortunately, sometimes you are working in a process where people are terminating people. Make a visual board. “How many do you have now? How many do you have next hour?” It’s a great job for the manager to come around and go to gemba and ask and write it on the board and see. We can find lots of things to make better in that situation.
Joel: Sure we can. To build on the service approach, I want to talk about a pictorial and some discussion that was early in the book around the different types of service organizations. The book proposes a model where it takes 4 broad categories of services based on the degree of tangibility of the service and the degree of customization if I am remembering correctly. How do the 4 types of services impact the way we think about implementing the Toyota Way principles? Or do they have an impact?
Karyn: I actually think they do. Just think about it from your own experience. I was on a plane this morning. When you fly on a plane, you don’t take anything home. The only thing I have is my service experience. What was it like at the gate? Were the people nice to me while I was going through security when I was at the gate? Did the plane leave on time? Did it get me there safely? Because that’s the most important thing in flying! So, what was my experience? All I have there was pure experience.
When you go to a restaurant, that’s a service business as well. When you are at a restaurant, you actually have two things. You have the whole experience of the wait staff, what the atmosphere of the restaurant is like. But then you also have, was it a good quality product that you got to have? In a restaurant, your service has to be fabulous and your food has to be really fabulous. When we think about how we’re going to improve, if we’re in a service business that also has a product, we need to worry about both of those things. I was at a new restaurant in my town that opened up last week and I am going to say that the service was a little confusing. It’s a fast-casual restaurant, and it’s a little bit backwards. My husband and I had our little stick that we had to take to the back to get food and we forgot our napkins. The food was fabulous. I don’t know if I would go back though because the service and the process was confusing.
You have to concern yourself, if you’re in that kind of industry with both the product that you’re producing and your service experience. On the plane, you have to be focused more on every, single interaction of that service experience. Can I say that one or the other is easier of those types? I can’t. But you have to be very cognizant of, “which kind of industry am I at, and what should I focus on?”
The other thing I am going to say based on this . . . Because there are 4 quadrants, so we can think of something like McDonald’s, which is a fast food provider. They are providing a very standard experience, but they are also providing a product. Then we can think of eating at a really fancy, four-star restaurant where people expect a very luxury experience. In my experience, people now, no matter who they are, expect a luxury experience for a coach price! If you go into a fast casual restaurant or a McDonald’s, nobody expects to see cheap, plastic seats anymore. Everybody expects that they’re going to have this fabulous experience.
What I am going to say is that I think the Toyota Way in service is unbelievably important at the moment because right now, service is a differentiator for everybody. How are you going to use those principles , whether you have a product and a service experience, or just a service, to make your – whatever it is – unbelievably luxury for that coach price.
Joel: I’m just curious, since you said it. How much off-the-record consulting do you do when you have those sort of experiences out in your own personal life?
Karyn: <laughing>. He just looks at me and he knows and he just says to me, “You’re not going to ask to speak to the manager, are you? You really don’t need to speak to the manager, do you?” And then he’s always like, “Oh, I know you’re going to speak to the manager.” But it’s funny because he’s actually exactly the same way. He is a professor of Asian studies and he was going to China. He was taking a group of students and they were in O’Hare Airport. He was at Wolfgang Puck, and he texted me, “there is a flow problem at Wolfgang Puck and I think this is what they could do to it!” So, I text him back, “oh, you could ask to speak to the manager!”
Joel: That’s too funny! I had a friend from high school who had owned a restaurant. I didn’t speak to the manager on that date, but I happened to run into him not very much longer at a local grocery store. And it had been 15 years probably since we had talked last. And immediately I went up to him and I said, “Listen, Joey, I have some great ideas how to fix your restaurant. I was there. I went to the gemba.” And when I started talking all these funny Japanese words, he goes, “Yeah, I’ll call you.” But I never did get the call back.
Karyn: I know, and sometimes people just look at me like, “You’ve got to be kidding,” and that’s actually a problem. Think about it. If you’re any business, you really should be worried about your customers who are going to go to other businesses. In 2012, 51% of people actually changed service providers because of poor quality service experiences. And those people, they don’t tell anybody anymore. They just look it up on the internet. And they just find somewhere else to go. You can get basically the same insurance product at almost any insurance company. You can probably find pretty close to the same price. What is the thing that’s going to tie people to your company? It’s got to be that service because people are human beings, and we want to interact with actual human beings. Nobody likes to phone up and get the long phone tree voice recording. Our message is, “Your business is important to us. You are important to us as a customer.” If I hear that, I just hang up. I’m not that important.
Joel: Absolutely. And I can count myself in that 51% of folks, over the last year especially, in a couple of areas. We moved to a new town, and I am very saddened. Same product, but a different level of service certainly changes the whole customer experience.
Karyn: Absolutely. And then customers just switch. People who are not being very careful about that service – and it isn’t just the over-the-top, “what can we do for you?” and throw money at you – it’s that day-to-day interaction that you’re going to have. If I have to go to the bank, I want that service to be fabulous all of the time. If I go to a restaurant, and it’s inconsistent, I’m not going to go back either.
Joel: So, I am going to switch things up a little bit and ask you a bit of a fun thought exercise. At least it’s fun for me – I hope you find it fun. One of the things that people gravitate to when they talk about Lean, especially when they are just beginning their journey, is the whole concept of the 7 wastes or the 7 deadly wastes. I don’t know, maybe it’s the 8 wastes or the 9 wastes these days. If you were to start over and define the 7 deadly wastes of service organizations in particular, would they be the same 7 that we know today? And if not, what would be the big differences?
Karyn: I am going to say that this is a fun thought exercise and I’ve put a lot of time and thinking into it. And as I’ve said, I don’t transfer from manufacturing. I am going to say, I cannot think of a different waste, and I have spent many years reading other people’s ideas that actually doesn’t fall into these 7 that Taiichi Ohno and Shigeo Shingo figured out. Sometimes, people say, “what about meetings?” When you really look at a meeting, that could be overprocessing; it’s waiting. I actually think the ones that we have are fabulous. People have problems sometimes translating and understanding them in services, but I think when we help them see that, tons of light bulbs go off.
In services, I would say – just like manufacturing – the worst waste is overproduction. And people don’t see how they’re overproducing. And they’re like, “how could we overproduce?” But if you’re actually doing a quote for someone months early, you’re already overproducing. You’ve sent it to them and they may or may not want it. You’ve already spent your time. I have spent years trying to figure out other ones, other wastes, and I cannot do it. Maybe you’re more creative than I am.
Joel: I am not, but I also wouldn’t put myself on the same playing field. Everything that I have read suggested that the 7 have translated very well, and I’ve not seen anything to the contrary yet, so I was just curious.
Karyn: Yup, so that’s my answer!
Joel: And we’re sticking to it! So, I know we’re running short on time, so I want to focus more on taking these principles, and taking the knowledge and things that we find in the book, and actually putting them to use. The first topic is really a hot topic for a lot of folks. I want to talk a little bit about the consultant industry for Lean and the Toyota Way as a whole. There are really good examples, both positively and negatively, of the use of consultants in the book. There are the evil, mechanistic thinking / preaching consultants. And then there are the Leslies, which are painted in a much more positive light. For organizations that are looking to put the book’s principles into practical use, how do we need to be thinking about finding and selecting a consultant? And how do we know which side of the coin we’re getting?
Karyn: I think the very first thing is going to lead us back to our discussion on purpose. Before you actually as an organization go out to look for a consultant to do anything, I would suggest that you look carefully at what your purpose is. What is it that you are here to do to serve your customers? Remember, service is about other people. You’re here to solve the problems for the people that purchase your service. What’s your purpose? What is your purpose for the long-term? What is the legacy you want as a company to leave for the world over the long-term. There’s many companies that have been around hundreds and hundreds of years. What do you want to do in the world? What’s your vision of service excellence? So, what I am going to say is that, when you are looking for a consultant, you need to look for a consultant who is actually going to help you as an organization to define and strive you individual and specific purpose.
I actually took a group from one service company, because – Jeff calls it in the book Lean tourism – they wanted to go benchmark another company. We went to benchmark the other company, and they were shocked to find because it was the same big-box consultants who taught the other company. Actually, all of the slides they were showing were actually exactly the same slides just in a different color scheme!
When we think about – back to purpose – if the purpose is for you to develop the people who work in your company to be the creative problem solvers and to satisfy your particular customers’ needs, is that kind of consulting going to get you there? Or is it simply going to get you the short-term financial results that are going to help you today? If you want to fulfill your purpose as an organization, you need to find a consultant who’s going to understand that and really teach your people how to think. It’s all about learning how to think as Taiichi Ohno, our fabulous teacher, all taught us.
Joel: The one thing I will note in my experience with consultants is, they’re very good at the marketing and they’re very good at telling you what you want to hear. Are there one or two good ways to find out early on when you’re engaging with a consultant whether you’re getting those that are really invested in your purpose and your long-term growth versus those that are just trying to sell you on an approach?
Karyn: I would say, how many questions does the consultant ask you? Versus how much telling do they do to you? In the book, Leslie asks all sorts of questions. I would expect that a consultant would ask if they could come to gemba and see what you’re doing. If they just have a pre-packaged thing that they send to people, I would worry a little about that! I think buyer beware, just like everything else.
And also, check the record of that person or that company and see. Talk to some of the other folks who have used them, I would say.
Joel: I know I’m not the one being interviewed, but for the record I’ll also second the buyer beware and stress that with the utmost level of importance.
Karyn: Yes, buyer beware. And as a consultant myself and Jeff as a consultant as well, we were very cognizant when we wrote the book what kind of light that we’re putting people in. Taiichi Ohno gave so many wonderful sayings like, “Use your brains, not your money.” I think you really want to look for people who understand and who challenge you from the beginning to use your brains not your money. Ultimately, your company should benefit from the consultants not just the consultants benefitting from your company!
Joel: Well said! We have about 5 minutes left, so I am going to hit you with my last question. Ironically, I hit you with this question before I finished the last chapter, so it seemed to be very relevant to your last thoughts in actually writing the book. I get that the book is not a recipe and not a playbook. So, what do you say to the person who asks, “How do we take this and get started and just get our Lean efforts off the ground?” Whether that’s going to the gemba or going to get senior leadership onboard, what are the critical few things that you would recommend to get started short of giving somebody the entire playbook?
Karyn: The best thing, which is the line that the book ends with is: start. Most efforts never get off the ground because they don’t start. I didn’t have a huge amount of training. I didn’t have fancy consultants who helped me when I started. I simply was a person who was in gemba taking care of 300 customers and the customers were unhappy. I read what I read, and I figured out what to do in one small area. Start with one small problem, look at the principles in the book and say, what do we want things to look like? If things were functioning well for our customers, what would our customers want? They want this but we’re here. What are the obstacles that are preventing us from getting there? And then start working away at them. There’s no reason not to start.
If you can find a teacher to help you, you’re going to benefit from having a teacher to help you because often times there’s things that we don’t know or we can’t see in ourselves. A teacher also helps with discipline. You can practice once a month, you can practice once a week, or you can practice every day. But the important thing is really start. Is it super important to start at the top with senior leadership? Is it super important to really start at the bottom? The truth is that people start where they start. There’s going to be pluses and minuses for both of those, and there’s no ideal world or ideal conditions anywhere. Start. Find a teacher improve yourself. Improve your understanding and learning through doing, and eventually you will improve your sphere of influence. No problem. That’s my suggestion!
Joel: And I thank you for that. So, speaking of finding a teacher. We’re just about out of time, so how can people follow along with what you’re doing and keep in touch with you, Karyn?
Karyn: Anybody, please feel free to reach out to me at: Karyn@karynrossconsulting.com. I publish on LinkedIn all of the time. And anybody is free to give me a call. The most important thing I have found is that the Lean community is unbelievably generous. Please reach out to me in any way and I’m happy to help people improve the world. The more we can help people, the more we’re going to improve the world.