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What I Learned From My First Keynote Speech

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I gave my first keynote speech last week at the Siouxland Lean Consortium conference, and honestly it was much more challenging than I thought it would be. The audience did not seem to be as engaged as I had hoped, and I was surprised and perplexed that tmy actual delivery was different than it was during my practice runs prior to the event. Although I am typically hard on myself, I believe that my assessment of the gaps is relatively accurate. I will find out more when I receive official feedback from the participant survey.

In the spirit of humility and continuous improvement, I have reflected on the experience as well as some initial feedback I received. My conclusions are summarized below. I welcome any comments offering additional insight or advice!

High-level takeaways:

  1. Keep the topic simple. The main premise of the talk was that continuous improvement is not only most effective when we do it with people, but also when we realize and apply the knowledge that it is something we do for our people – it helps to make not just our work better but also our selves. I believe I over-complicated this main message by tying it to some more theoretical aspects of behavioral psychology, which drowned out the main takeaway. There is only so much people can absorb during a one-hour talk, and I did not consider this as carefully as I should have.
  2. Focus on the audience’s interests. I downplayed my unique experience of working directly for Toyota, because I did not want to come across as ‘superior’ or an ‘expert.’ However, during the Q&A portion of the event, all of the questions indicated the audience was curious to learn more about what Toyota was like. While I had good intentions in not wanting to appear as a self-proclaimed expert, this motivation was not driven by what participants wanted but rather my own need. It seems that people generally are quite interested in learning what it was like working at Toyota.
  3. Don’t create content in a vacuum. I knew better, but nonetheless I did not review the specific content of my talk with anyone else to obtain feedback. Instead, I created and practiced the speech on my own. My past experience has repeatedly shown me that soliciting and incorporating the input of others has always resulted in a better outcome.

More tactical takeaways:

  1. Provide an outline document for the audience. Although I provided a worksheet with some key takeaways and questions for participants, I received feedback that an outline would have better helped the audience follow along and provide a future reference of the key concepts.
  2. Refer to notes as needed. To learn how to give a speech, I mainly referenced TED talks. I noticed that the speakers did not refer to notes during these talks and so I thought that I should not either. However, I failed to take into account that TED talks are generally only about 20 minutes long – my talk was 45 minutes and it was very difficult to remember the key points and stories I wanted to tell. Referencing notes when needed would have helped trigger my memory of what came next.
  3. Get a good night’s sleep! This is a difficult one to know how to countermeasure. I struggled to fall asleep the night before as my mind kept looping through the talk. Any advice on this is particularly welcome.

Overall, even though it was difficult, I am glad that I had this experience. I will take the lessons learned and apply them in the future. I am sure my next talk won’t be perfect either, but I know that it will be better.

New Year’s Resolutions – Hoshin Kanri Style

Recently, I had the pleasure of presenting a webinar with KaiNexus on the topic of Hoshin Kanri strategy deployment and how to apply this concept toward achieving personal goals.

In the  webinar (link here), you will learn:

  • Grasp the basic concepts of the Hoshin Kanri strategy deployment process
  • Contrast the Hoshin Kanri approach with other strategy and goal-setting methods
  • Learn how to use the Hoshin process for personal goal development and execution
  • Gain actionable understanding of how you can apply Hoshin Kanri in your own life

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What the 10 Toyota ‘Attitudes’ Mean to Me

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When I worked at Toyota, I was instructed to memorize the company’s 10 Attitudes. Even now that I have moved on to another company, I find myself drawn to these core values. The following examines which each of these Attitudes means to me personally.

1. Customer First – Always provide satisfactory products and services

It is no coincidence that this attitude comes first – without customers, our business does not exist. We should ask the question “How does this benefit or impact our customer?” when considering improvements or other process changes. Look beyond pursuing just ‘customer satisfaction’ and aim for ‘customer delight’.

2. Challenge – Aim at high target with brave and creative spirit

It take courage to face goals that are higher than we have ever achieved. Frame these challenges as not inconvenient obstacles but rather as opportunities to adapt, improve, and innovate. A creative approach is imperative – we should not limit ourselves by only considering incremental improvement, but also by seeking way to transform how we do business.

3. Kaizen – Continuously pursue evolution and innovation

A willingness to adapt to changing conditions and a thirst for continuous improvement are hallmarks of a sustainable business. We are never more in danger than when we think we are good enough. Like the motto for Lexus, we should never stop ‘pursuing perfection’. Kaizen is the vehicle on the journey to our destination of True North.

4. Genchi Genbutsu – ‘Go and see’ reality, and ‘attempt’ to know the truth

As a quality engineer at Toyota, if I had not gone to see a quality issue with my own eyes, I lost credibility to speak about it. You cannot understand the situation based on second-hand knowledge, but must go and see yourself, with the mindset of question and discovery.

This was evidenced to me when I was working on an issue where a supplier had repeatedly neglected to weld a bracket onto a sheet metal part that was a critical sensor mount. Curious, I went to the assembly line to see where the bracket was used, only to discover that it was not. It turned out that Engineering had moved the sensor to a different location on the vehicle. Instead of investing in a costly countermeasure, we were able to change the specification and remove the bracket entirely. This was all due to the firsthand knowledge gained by going to the gemba.

5. Shitsujitsu Goken – Be time & cost efficient, and work with sincerity

We function as stewards of our company’s resources, and we should use them judiciously. For example, when I book my travel, I try to do so as cost-effectively as possible. I don’t need to stay in a 5-star hotel when a 3-star is perfectly adequate. The money spent may not be mine personally, but I strive to treat it as if it is.

As for sincerity, our motives must be honest and transparent. This builds trust with our coworkers, suppliers, and customers. There is no room for hidden agendas in a company committed to building a culture of continuous improvement.

6. Team Work – Priority is on your team’s performance – not only yours. By helping each other, strive to achieve the team’s target.

This value particularly resonates with me, as I used to be focused primarily on my individual performance. Over time, I learned both the value and fulfillment that comes by emphasizing ‘we’ over ‘me’. As iron sharpens iron, my team mates made me stronger, and partnering with them helped to mitigate my weaknesses. The sum of our efforts is indeed greater than our individual parts.

7. Ownership & Responsibility – Be considerate for all what you do and speak.

If the collective good is our highest priority, then we must take ownership of our personal part. Showing responsibility for your ‘stuff’ is a reflection of your character and integrity, and shows respect to our coworkers and customers. As my father used to tell me, “Your word is your bond.”

8. Humility & Gratitude – Do not forget that you are always supported by others. Always listen to others, and appreciate their comments.

Everything that I have become has been built with help from others. I believe that there is no such thing as a ‘self-made man’ – we are made by the investments made in us by both ourselves and those around us.

With the humility that comes with the knowledge of others’ contributions to our success, we open ourselves to learning from different perspectives. When I listen to others with a spirit of humility and curiosity, I find that everyone that I interact with has the capacity to teach me something.

9. Integrity – Always communicate the fact in sincere manner.

It’s tempting to put ‘spin’ on difficult or unpopular messages, whether to soften the impact or to protect ourselves from the reaction. But this is dishonesty, and does us all a disservice. No matter how painful the truth might be, we can only react appropriately if we understand it fully. Attempting to mask or suppress the truth indicates a lack of integrity. It takes courage to speak the truth, but it must be done with sincerity and respect.

10. We love Toyota!Create more Toyota fans around you, by supporting production of high quality cars at affordable prices. 

Although I still remain grateful for all that Toyota has given me, I have replaced ‘Toyota’ with the name of my current company. I consider myself an ambassador to my organization to those within and outside of it. I was proud to work for Toyota, and I am now proud to work for WestRock, and the company’s values of Respect, Accountability, Respect, and Excellence resonate with me as the 10 Attitudes of Toyota still do.

Podcast: Lean Leadership Lessons from Toyota and Beyond

 

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Recently, I was honored to be a guest on a podcast for Mark Graban’s Lean Blog. Mark’s work as a speaker, author, and consultant has had a significant impact on my continuous learning about continuous improvement. During the early days after I left Toyota, I found that there were gaps in my knowledge of how to foster a culture of continuous improvement at other companies, and listening to wisdom of the many guests on the Lean Blog podcast was a tremendous help to me. My hope is that some of the experiences and lessons learned that I share in this podcast can be of use to others.

Some of the topics covered on the podcast:

  • How I transitioned from focusing on my own accomplishments to a more collaborative approach of engaging others
  • Some of my core beliefs on lean and continuous improvement
  • What it it was like to apply what I had learned at Toyota to another company
  • The transformation experience I had of helping a struggling facility that was in danger of closing (blog post here)
  • Leveraging the power of employee ideas and the impact it can have
  • The shortcomings of project-based approach focused primarily on cost savings
  • Why lean is more of a ‘safari’ than a ‘journey’

Please feel free to share any feedback and/or comments.

Link to podcast

 

 

 

Lean Blog Guest Post – “How 200 Jobs Were Saved by Engaging Employees in Continuous Improvement”

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Have you ever wondered, “This employee engagement / continuous improvement stuff sounds great, but does it really work?” In my experience, the answer is a resounding “Yes.”

This is a story about how the right process indeed leads to the right results, and represents one of the most meaningful projects I have experienced in my career.

Link here: “How 200 Jobs Were Saved by Engaging Employees in Continuous Improvement”

 

 

A Trip to Lowe’s and A Lesson on Employee Empowerment

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A recent trip to Lowe’s reminded me of the importance of empowering employees.

One Friday afternoon, I went to the home improvement store to pick up some mulch for my yard. I spotted a discounted Azalea bush marked down from $25 to $5. It needed some TLC, but for that price it was worth the investment.

When I went to check out, the cashier apologetically informed me that she would have to get manager approval to override the original price for the plant. This prompted two questions:

  1. Why was the new price not reflected in the bar code? This would have eliminated the waste of needing the override.
  2. Why was the cashier not empowered to do the override herself? If the store was concerned about abuse of the override ability, then they could track the amount of overrides per employee, and then address any unusual high usage with the individual.

As we waited nearly ten minutes for the manager to arrive, I asked the cashier about #2. She said that the store manager had mandated that a only a manager could approve the override.

I responded, “I think that those closest to the process should be empowered to make these decisions. Do you agree?”

She replied, “Absolutely. In fact, many of the cashiers have complained about it. But nothing has been done. They only listen to customers.” I could sense her frustration.

“When you’re a leader,” I said, “remember how this felt. Treat your employees differently. Empower them to make decisions.”

She nodded. “I definitely will.”

As a leader, it’s important to listen to the voice of the customer. But the voice of your employees is also important – especially those who interact heavily with customers. Not only was this policy frustrating to the cashiers, it was also negatively affecting the customers who had to wait for the manager to perform the override. Additionally, it almost resulted in a lost sale, as I nearly decided not to purchase the discounted plant due to the wait. Not only did the requirement affect the customer’s experience, but also the business.

Listening to and acting on the feedback from your employees is a powerful way to show respect. It makes them part of the process of both improving the business and customer satisfaction. I was reminded of this principle during my trip to Lowe’s, and it is one I suggest we all make the effort to remember in our daily work.