Lean Leadership: A Dialogue with Jerry Bussell

Executive Summary

Jerry Bussell is president of Bussell Lean Associates, a lean advisory service for CEOs and their executive teams. He is also executive advisor to Underwriters Laboratories’ Center of Continuous Improvement and Innovation.

 

Jerry recently retired as vice president of operational excellence for Medtronic Surgical Technologies. Prior to this position, he was vice president of global operations at Medtronic Surgical Technologies.

 

Jerry has more than 30 years of operations experience with high growth companies. He served as director of manufacturing operations, managing director and senior director during domestic and international plant start-ups and initial public offerings. He has worked for divisions of Bristol-Myers Squibb, Allergan Inc., and Kraft Inc.

 

Jerry holds a bachelor of arts from St. John Fisher College and an MBA from Baylor University. He is a founder and past chairman of the Jacksonville Lean Consortium. He serves as past chairman of the Board of Governors for the Shingo Prize for Operational Excellence. He has served as a trustee of the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce and the vice chairman of the Jacksonville University Athletic Association. In 2005, Jerry was inducted into the Shingo Academy for his outstanding contributions to operational excellence. He is also a member of the Association for Manufacturing Excellence’s Champions Club.

 

Jerry received the prestigious Medtronic Wallin Leadership award for transforming Medtronic ENT’s traditional manufacturing operation into a nationally recognized model of lean manufacturing. Under Jerry’s leadership, Medtronic ENT was recognized as one of Industry Week’s Best Plants in North America in 2002, received the Shingo Prize in 2003, and received a Shingo Silver Medallion in 2009. In addition, Jerry is writing a book entitled Anatomy of a Lean Leader. He resides in Jacksonville, FL. 120

 

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Author: Thank you so much for taking your time to speak with me today. You have won some amazing awards in the realm of operational excellence and lean manufacturing. How do you define operational excellence?

 

Bussell: People have different interpretations since the term operational excellence is somewhat nebulous. I was very heavily involved in the Shingo Prize for operational excellence. And what we tried to do there was work with the Shingo team to create a standard for excellence so we could understand what we’re measuring ourselves against. So when I think of operational excellence, I think, first of all, of principles, and Covey has said principles are timeless, selfevident, and inarguable. Principles are things that you can anchor everything to. And then whatever you do with systems or tools, they will come back to those principles. It’s really the “why” behind what you do.

 

The Shingo model has identified ten principles of operational excellence. It starts with customer value. You want to do the best job possible delivering value for your customer. And how you do that is you show respect for people. As a leader, you lead with humility, and you seek perfection. We’re never going to achieve perfection, but we’re going to shoot for it and that’s how to achieve excellence. We’ll show that we have quality at the source. We’ll utilize lean principles like flow, i.e., we’ll try to make value flow and not have waste in between. We’ll embrace scientific thinking. So much of achieving excellence is being able to make sure things are going correctly and that when you have a problem, you can solve it. And that everybody across your whole enterprise is engaged in solving problems. This isn’t something that a few people are doing; this is embedding it into your culture. And so you really have to focus on the process. You have to think systemically, not to fix something in one area, but see the whole. And you want to create constancy of purpose.

 

People want to know what the purpose is. They want to understand that you’re doing it for a much bigger reason. When I worked at Medtronic, it was to alleviate pain, restore health, and extend life. Well, I could get very motivated to do that. But in order to do that, I have to be part of a very successful business. You have to make sure your business is working well to achieve that. So it is not just an issue of putting tools and systems in place, but it’s understanding the purpose and putting together the right management systems and engaging your culture in making sure that everybody’s aligned within your organization at an enterprise level so you can get results.

 

It’s a big paradigm shift for people that are trying to achieve operational excellence. The big shift is to realize there’s a strong relationship between the principles, systems, and tools. Everything should be anchored in the principles and if you buy into these 10 principles that we set out in the Shingo model, that gives you a standard to strive for. You have to have a standard that you’re shooting for, and you have to keep raising that standard. And if you keep raising that standard, you’re constantly striving to move towards perfection, and it’ll allow you to achieve excellence. And the business management and the systems you have end up driving the behaviors. So you have to make sure that all those systems are tied back to the principles.

 

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Author: Quite a bit is known about lean leadership on the shop floor but not much at the executive level. You have a great deal of experience in leading lean transformation. What is lean leadership and why is it important to building and sustaining a lean culture?

 

Bussell: Everything starts with principles, and if you think of Toyota leadership, it comes down to two things: respect for people and continuous improvement. Lean leaders see people with four dimensions: body, mind, heart, and spirit. They really see them, and they value them, and they believe that they’re a tremendous resource. The big struggle is in a lot of the business schools the leader is portrayed as the superstar, as being somebody so special that they are on top. And this mindset reinforces the top-down management style. In order to be a lean leader, you have to serve people.

 

So you have to invert the pyramid, and realize it is people that deliver the real value and they are the ones that the customer is willing to pay for that value. And those are the people that in the manufacturing organization, design the new products with their hands, not the VPs. The people who sell the products, not the VPs of Marketing and Sales, but the actual salespeople that deliver the value to the customer. They are the people that produce the product. So they’re the money-earners, and they’re the closest ones to the customer.

 

So that’s what the senior management has to focus on. Senior managers have to realize that they’re at the bottom of the pyramid, and what they’re trying to do is create strategies to give those people what they need so that they can execute the overall business strategies through these people.

 

The really great lean leaders that I see, CEOs, put other people first. And they realize that if they serve people and they focus on the people, they will be successful. And they develop leaders underneath them that operate in the same fashion. In many organizations where I talk to people, the senior leadership doesn’t realize what they’re creating with these functional silos. When we set up all these silos within organizations with all these VPs, they tend to have competing objectives. And what happens is all the people in the organization begin to forget who the real customer is. They treat those VPs as if they’re the customer. They’re not the customer. We’re working for our customer that pays for our goods and services. So instead of focusing everybody on the customer, these executives create a situation where they’re focused on what they want to achieve, and they’re not looking at the overall good. So what you’re doing is, you’re not optimizing the whole, you’re optimizing different points within the organization, which is why organizations can’t align people.

 

The other thing a lean leader does is demonstrate consistency of behavior modeling, not just saying people are important, but demonstrating through that person’s behaviors. People follow your behaviors. People just want to know three things: Do you care about me? Can I trust you? And are you committed to excellence? If people don’t see that in your behavior, they’re not going to believe you. And these behaviors should be tied into principles. And the whole principle is: “Value the customer.” Another principle is respect for people. And humility, again, it’s not what you say, it’s what you do. If you give people your heart and you show people through your behaviors, they’ll do anything for you. But you have to show you care, you sincerely care. 122 The Journal of Applied Management and Entrepreneurship, 2013, Vol. 18, No. 1 The Journal of Applied Management and Entrepreneurship, 2013, Vol. 18, No. 1

 

Everything has to come back to your principles. And what people see of senior leaders in a lot of organizations, is that when push comes to shove, if they have to make a number or a difficult decision, when they get into these gray areas, they compromise. People are looking for their leaders to have a moral compass, a true north-- because leaders need to be anchored in the right things. It’s hard, and it’s a big commitment because of the pressures of quarter-to-quarter numbers, but there are people that have the courage, and the big thing, is the courage to do the right thing. And you don’t do the right thing sometimes; you do the right things all the time, based on the right principles. And those are the type of leaders that we need.

 

Author: What would you define as the core characteristics of lean leadership?

 

Bussell: I look at leaders that are purposeful. I look at people that are respectful. They really care about people. I use the term “probity.” It’s an arcane word, but it’s really complete honesty that they show towards people. I am looking for people that are continuous learners. Many of the senior executives in corporations, I look at them. They’re brilliant people, far more brilliant than I am, but I see often that it becomes a case of arrested development. They learned everything that they’ve learned in the first 15 years, and they try to look at things as being the same, and apply the same solutions. The beauty of what we do with lean is we have the mind of a beginner. We look at a problem and we try to look at it like a beginner, objectively. I don’t know anything. Let me get all the facts, let me analyze it, and then let me come up with the best options, and then let me put together an improvement plan going through a Plan-Do-Check-Act (PDCA) process, so you’re doing it scientifically. You really need to make sure you’re solving the right problems and approaching it correctly.

 

It is about persistence. You just can’t give up. This is not easy work trying to improve a business, but if you stay the course, after awhile you’ll see tremendous progress. And it’s not about persuading people to do things. A car salesman persuades somebody to buy a car. It’s through influence. And when you influence people, you give them the why you want to do it, and you show them that you’re capable of doing it. But you show them not by talking; you show them through actions. And you give them a good reason why they would want to change. And you set a structure up throughout your organization that reinforces that change. You really get people to learn how to solve problems. Continuous improvement is all about problem-solving. You have to create a standard and then you’re constantly solving the problems and making sure your system is working.

 

In addition, you need somebody who can see the whole. They have that ability to see complexity, from the strategies, all the way down the organization; and they can align it. And then at the end of the day, this is all terrific, but you have to get results. But what you focus on is the processes so you get the right outcomes. If you do the right things, you’re going to get the right results. But you have to get the results. It’s about performance.

 

And finally, you have to be courageous. You have to be able to take prudent risks and be enough of a visionary to say “If we go do this, we’re going to be able to achieve a vision.” You can’t just live in the present. You have to look at those disruptive things that can come along and  you have to have a bold vision of where you’re going to be three or five years from now. And if something disruptive comes along, you’re prepared.

 

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Author: What are the critical success factors of creating and growing lean leadership as an organizational key competency?

 

Bussell: I think trust is absolutely critical. I think getting people to understand what the principles are that you really believe in, and making sure that they accept the principles up front, i.e. that they’re committed. And understanding what they want to do. Are they people that really want to serve people? If it is fulfilling for you to serve people and what you want to do in terms of career, then it’s a good fit. If it isn’t, then you need to go do something else.

 

It is very much a mentoring process. So what I try to do with other leaders is, they need either me there, and often, you need to bring an outside coach in who will work with them, and help them get through some of the issues they need to overcome so they can grow. I think one of the best ways to be able to develop lean leaders is the whole A3 process. How we can use the PDCA or DMAIC A3 approach to solve behavioral problems? Why wouldn’t we use the same methodology? So when developing lean leaders, it’s laying out, what are the struggles you have? Looking at their current situation and then deciding, what are our options, and what kind of countermeasures can we put in place for you to grow and develop?

 

I think this is a big mindset change for lean leaders and the people that work with them. And you hear this from Toyota in that their greatest lessons came from their failures. You learn more when something doesn’t work out because you get a deeper insight into it and you grow. For example, Thomas Edison had 10,000 experimental failures in a given year. Like Edison, we experiment and we try things. We don’t want to impact the customer or hurt our employees, but we’re not afraid of failure, because we think failure is a great learning opportunity and deepens our insights. So what I would always ask people when they experience a failure is what did you learn from that? And what would you do differently? And that to me is very key in terms of the whole learning experience. People come out of schools and they’re expected to get “A”s in everything. What happens is people won’t take prudent risks. Leadership development is saying, “Okay, try it. Go try it”.

 

There is no perfect plan. Everything is changing so rapidly. Go do something. Try something. If it’s got 70 percent, go do it. And you’ll learn something, and you’ll improve the plan. Think things through and the perfect way to demonstrate that is through the A3 thinking process. And many people think the A3 is just used to solve problems, to report on projects. The real value of the A3 is it teaches you how to think correctly. And it allows you to coach people to understand how they’re looking at things so you can ask good questions.

 

My belief is the real lean leaders are not people that have the answers; it’s being able to ask the right questions because we’re trying to deepen the learning and the understanding of the people that we’re coaching. So it’s asking those open-ended questions that get people to think deeply. Lots of people want to get the answers really quickly. It’s making people think so deeply that their brains hurt. That they really have to wrestle with it and then they come back,  and they show you what their thought process is. Because what we’re trying to do is teach them how to think at that level and you’re coaching them so that they can replicate that with the people that work for them and use the same coaching technique on how to think through things. And understand how everything ties together, how things are aligned and what the purpose is behind that. And for me that is what we’re trying to do from a leadership standpoint.

 

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And that is where I see the richness of it from a personal standpoint. The fact is that I saw people when I was at Medtronic, that were at an associate level that were able to think so deeply about things that it was profound, because they went and got the facts. And you could see their mind working, and you were teaching them, showing them respect and letting them use what the people refer to as the eighth waste… their minds. It was engaging their minds. I’ve said we want everyone, everywhere, every day doing this. We don’t want 20 or 30 people. The more we can arm people with the “thought ware”, then they have this tremendous capability and you’re unleashing their potential. What we’re doing in most organizations is telling people what to do rather than getting their pull This allows you to get the pull from the people.

 

They’re saying, “I’ve got this. I want to go do this”. Almost like a conductor. “Do I start playing my instrument now?” “No, hold off for a second, we’re going to bring you in at a certain point.” What you want to do is know that you’ve got everybody engaged, and they know the score they’re playing, and they know when they’re supposed to come in. But you’ve got everybody looking at ways that they can be proactive versus being reactive. They take the responsibility versus you trying to go out there and tell them what to do. They take ownership because you’re not telling them what to do, you’re asking them the right questions to get them thinking.

 

Author: Can you provide some examples of strong lean leadership?

 

Bussell: I had a person that worked with me--his name is Emmanuel Dejarric, and he was somebody who began the journey with me. Emmanuel really demonstrated and set an example as the plant manager of the Jacksonville plant. He would make sure that he went out to the gemba everyday, he would walk the gemba, and say good morning to everybody. He got to know people and would always ask them” is there anything you need?” He led by example. And when people would say, well, I brought this up and that hasn’t happened, he would just give them his extension number, call 8463. And he would address their problems immediately when they called. And he would get the value-stream manager, whoever it was, and he would show people that if they had an issue and they brought it up, it would get addressed. He followed up on everything. And he set the tone for the other leaders in his organization.

 

People were very open to come to him because they trusted him. He built trust because he showed the commitment to putting them first and solving their issues. And it was something at the very basic level of an organization that set the foundation. So the people would come forward right away and they were not afraid to bring up issues because they knew if something wasn’t right, it would get addressed. And then he would engage his people.

 

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The other thing that he did was make sure that we were getting feedback from the organization and we were holding the leaders accountable. He wanted to come up with a lean way of doing 360 feedback. So he worked with his team, and what they did was they took green and red index cards. And he handed out all these index cards to the people in the value-streams. And he asked the people to write on the index cards, two things that I’m doing very well and that you want me to do more of. And on the other index cards, write down two things that I could do better. This was done anonymously by the 20 to 30 people in the value-stream. Those cards got collected, they went to the HR manager, and his boss at the time was plant manager, would sit down on each one of the managers, and look at the themes. What were the two things that that person was doing well? What were the two themes that that person had to get better at?

 

That value stream manager would then create an A3. In the A3, they would highlight the current situation, look at different options, and then say “okay, here’s how I can do more of the things that they really like. I’m going to reinforce that. And here’s what I’m going to commit to do in order to change my two behaviors to do the things that will help me become better and demonstrate it through my behaviors. And I’m going to hold myself accountable.” Then each person would take the A3 and put it in their office area, and they would weekly bring their employees to talk about it, to show their level of commitment to changing the behavior and serving them. And after a 90-day period they would re-poll the employees anonymously, come back, and if those same themes came up, they would continue working for improvement.

 

Now that particular management practice spread from a pilot to other areas of the organization. And that’s a great way to build trust and keep commitments and have people bring things up and know that action will be taken. When you bring something up, you know it’s going to get addressed. And because if he went around to check a problem, he was going to get hold of the value-stream manager. It was going to go on a card to say we’ve got to fix this issue. So it was something that got followed up on. And this was all done as a system, and those cards would go into our visual leadership room, and would be followed up.

 

I find that a really strong trait of lean leaders is they build a system. W. Edwards Deming said if you can’t define what you have as a process, you really don’t know what you’re doing. So building a system and a process so you could have that feedback, from a lean leadership standpoint, that was something that was very tangible that was able to create accountability and transparency. And then begin to build trust. That respect for people and that trust allows organizations to go ahead and do things very quickly rather than having to be tied down by the bureaucracy of getting decisions.

 

Author: What advice do you have for someone who wants to grow in lean leadership?

 

Bussell: One of the things that I feel very strongly about is that it’s very important to get a sensei. That sensei or mentor can be somebody that already exists in your organization. A lot of leaders need somebody from the outside that isn’t tied to the politics of the organization. They can step back and look at it objectively and they’re able to speak honestly. To get somebody to really be your coach, who’s going to help to challenge your thinking, and help you think through things and not get so encased in all the obstacles that you are encountering. Someone that can  help you keep your head above water. So it’s very important to get somebody who has been there and has gone through the learning, so that they can coach and mentor you.

 

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What I did early on was use people like John Shook. I was very fortunate to get somebody who, any chance I could get; I would go see him so I could spend time with him. I could pick up the phone, and if I was struggling, I could have somebody ask me those tough questions. The thing is that a lot of times you’re doing the right thing, but everybody else around you doesn’t really quite look at things the same way. So it’s having somebody come in once a quarter and spend two days with me. And not tell me anything, just ask me questions. So I think that is very, very important to get somebody, whether internal or external, who is going to really challenge your thinking, and make you think more deeply.

 

Author: There has been a great deal of discussion lately about “real” lean vs. “fake” lean. What is a “real” lean culture and how can it be built?

 

Bussell: Real lean culture starts with the principles. Fake lean is really doing tools and implementing kaizens (“changes for the better”), but not engaging the people. In other words, fake lean is doing things to people versus doing things for people and with people and with a purpose.

 

So I go to many places and they say” we’re doing lean”, and I go in, and I see them doing some tools, and they have a few systems, but that isn’t what lean is about. There isn’t a line to the overall company’s objectives and they are not engaging all the people in the organization. In other words, the people that are solving the problems could be black belts, or they could be a SWOT team and if those people went away, the whole thing would fall apart. It’s not inculcated into the culture. You want everyone, everywhere, every day to have the wherewithal to solve problems. What I see is episodic improvement where there isn’t real lean. Where I see real lean is where I see problems being solved and improvement happening every single day.

 

Now here’s something that we all gained a big insight in the last three or four years. I’m always out working with other leaders like myself, and learning from them, and talking to them and meeting with them any chance I can. And what we’ve realized is that we have to reverse the way we approach lean. You want to spend 80 percent of your time on small improvements, and 20 percent of time on projects. This perspective is completely different than what we’ve been doing, to a large extent. And what happens is those 80 percent you work on are taking small bites out of bigger projects. In other words, they’re aligned overall, but you’re working it every day. When you have time, you’re taking those little chunks of it and you’re improving little pieces of it, so you have everybody working on these things constantly. It’s a constant pulse. You can feel the pulse. If I go into an organization, I can feel the pulse of continuous improvement.

 

And then you have these other 20 percent that are the bigger projects, so you have activity going on constantly. And it’s all lined up through Hoshin. The other thing I see, an example I always give that I always find staggering. Autoliv, the air bag manufacturer in Ogden, Utah, the last time I was there was a year ago. I mean, just one of the finest implementations as you talk about real lean. And in a given year with 800 people, they implement 90,000 improvement ideas. That is staggering. Now, were all of them ones that were big breakthroughs? No. What that did was it created a whole mindset that if they saw something and it needed to be improved, improve it right away. So it turned them from being reactive to where they constantly had their antennas up, and were looking for the small things. So that kept the flywheel turning. It’s very hard to get the flywheel turning. And once you get it turning, you need to keep pushing every single day. And you want to get it to the point where everybody’s got their arms around this wheel, and they’re just turning the wheel versus a few of us pushing it as hard as we can to keep it going.

 

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So if I can sum it up in real lean versus what they call fake lean, or “lean light” is that I see pull, not push. I see the employees pulling. And by that I mean they’re doing the improvements, they’re constantly pulling on the leaders. “Come on, we’ve got to go, I need help with this, we got to keep going,” versus in lean light, I see the leaders trying to push this thing down on people every day and try to push projects. That’s when you’re doing real lean, when you have pull. They’re holding the leadership accountable. This is when leaders swing from telling people what to do to serving people and knowing that their value as leaders is to help them, by giving them everything they need, so they can be successful.

 

Author: How can a lean culture be grown and sustained across an entire enterprise?

 

Bussell: You need somebody that is committed to make transformational changes. This isn’t transactional leadership, this is transformational. So you have people that really see the possibilities of being a transformational leader, where they can take and really do things that will make substantial improvements and bold improvements.

 

When you start out, you can take it so far and believe me, I’m an average person, but that’s what I’m known for. I had all the top leaders tell me, you’re not going to be able to do this because you’re going to hit the wall. And I kept pushing and pushing for 12 years and I didn’t get as far as I would’ve loved to, but I just would never give up. You really need to get the people at the top of the organization to understand what’s in it for them if you’re really going to sustain this for long periods of time. Unless you as a leader are able to develop enough followers and disciples in terms of leaders, over a period of time, as those individuals leave and other people come in, you lose it. And it’s very unfortunate.

 

So what we usually look at is if you take Jerry Bussell, or Emmanuel Dejarric, out of the organization, it would still go on. And, that’s a real indication. And unless you have it inculcated into your management systems at some point, you’re going to have some people come in and take it in a different direction. Because they’re not going to make decisions the way you would make decisions. They’re going to move to becoming lean light. So the question is what are some of the things that I’ve learned that help you to do that? You have to imbed it into your HR systems. You have to engage your HR organization. So that in terms of the individual development plan, promotions, and anything that happens, it’s an expectation. It’s in people’s objectives. It’s in their individual development plans. You have to have these competencies in order to be promoted.

 

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Lean leadership is not something you delegate. Lean leadership is something you do. You can’t fake it, so when you see people and you go in there and they say they’re doing it, they take you to showpiece areas, as in real lean leadership, you can see the passion in the people that do it. They’re able to tell you how lean enables them. Lean is an enabling strategy. It helps to facilitate hitting all your other strategies. Because everything we’re trying to do is a process and everything we have is these problems or barriers that we have to overcome. And you can use lean to be able to consistently do it. And I really find that when you have leaders that say “show me your A3”, they don’t want to hear all the other garbage. They want to know do you feel it deeply enough that you can show them on one piece of paper what we’re doing, why we’re doing it, and how we’re doing with it. It, really is, lean reporting, it’s lean communication, it’s getting right to the point. Why would we waste somebody’s time with a hundred Power Points? That’s why I say, it’s simple to make things complex. Can you get them to understand on one A3 exactly what’s going on? You’re showing respect for them, because you’re taking them right to the essence of the problem.

 

And so with the enormous time constraints that corporate leaders have, we’re throwing them a life-preserver and they’re telling us they’re too busy treading water. They can’t show up and do lean. I’m saying this is the answer. The problem is, it’s like diet and exercise. You don’t decide to do this every single day. Once you decide to do it, it’s a lifestyle change. Well, this is a leadership style change, and this is something that, if you don’t do the right things, and you aren’t consistent, and you aren’t careful, you’ll gain back all the fat and you’ll put it back into your organization.

 

Author: What are the critical success factors for this growing and sustaining a lean culture?

 

Bussell: It is making sure that you’re embedding lean into your culture by ensuring that it’s in all of your people development systems, that’s it’s in your strategies, and it’s the enabling strategy. And it’s uncompromising. It’s saying that you don’t get to opt in or opt out, we are fully committed. If you as a leader do not exemplify these things, this is an accountability issue and we’re going to hold you accountable to it. We expect you as a leader to make sure that you are not only auditing your systems, but you are taking time out of each year, with your team to actually do this stuff. Everybody solves problems using this approach. You don’t use workarounds. You actually do it. That as a leader you show the humility to go and work on initiatives as a team.

 

I think it needs to be in people’s objectives so that, for example, they have to lead events, they have to teach other people how to lead events, that they’ve become real leaders to people that are teachers and coaches. Plus, it’s constantly reinforcing it, and if you’re doing events, your knowledge is continually changing about lean. It’s changing about our business. You have to stay up-to-date. And you can’t stay up-to-date saying the last time we did an improvement was 18 months ago. You’ve got to get out and do it, you’ve got to exercise your mind, and what  this does is it keeps you closer to what’s really going on. And being a lean leader is, I trust you, but let me go verify it, let me go see. If you have a problem, let me go see it. In other words, you want to go see it, because your mere presence, the fact that you’re out there shows people you’re interested in them. And you really care and that you really want to understand not through what people are telling you, but let me go see. I learn better when I go see, and I can send a great message to the organization, because everything we do that we think is small gets magnified in front of people. Whether it’s our successes or our failures. It just gets magnified.

 

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People read into the way we smile, the way we act, so being in front of people, and encouraging them, and not going around looking for the things that are strictly going wrong, but celebrating some of their successes is really important. And doing it in a sincere fashion. It’s not all about money. It’s about showing respect to people. I’ve written letters to people and they hang them up in their homes. I can’t believe it. That it meant that much. And, the thing is, consistency. And that’s the hardest thing for all of us. And that’s why when you say to me, what do you need beyond a sensei? You need somebody that works with you, that’s going to tell you the truth. I had a fellow by the name of Emmanuel Dejarric. I had my wife. They tell me the things about me that I don’t want to hear and I have to hear. So for example, I say I’m going to do this every Wednesday, and I’m either late or I don’t show up, they’re in my office, and they’re telling me, “you said you were going to do this”. If you want to maintain trust, you have to keep your commitments. So it’s hard.

 

You need somebody around that’s not going to treat you like your boss but cares enough about you that they’re going to be frank with you and not be talking behind your back. They’re going to give you a pulse of “hey, listen, you’re not living up to this,” because we’re all human beings. And they give you that necessary feedback so you can stay the course.

 

Author: What accelerates this process?

 

Bussell: What you want to do is decide what is really important to get done. And ask yourself how can we make improvement to do it? How are we going to embed this improvement? And then I ask my team, “how important is this improvement and when can we get it done?” And they’ll say, “I’ve got a lot of other things to do”, and I’ll say, “What would you have to put aside? What would be something you would be very safe in doing?” And then they would say, “Well, I think we can do it in six weeks.” “Okay, what would be something which would be a stretch?” And they would say, “We could do it in three weeks.” “What would be a superstretch?” “Do it in a week and a half.” “What would have to happen if you had to do it in a week and a half?” And then they would lay out all the other things they have to do.” I would then say, “Okay, fine. I can free you up from these other activities because this initiative is really important.”

 

We find the level that people are comfortable but aggressive. And then we look at everything we have to get done. And we say, “Now let’s set up the schedule. Let’s look at people’s time, look at what we’re trying to do, and how can we create a cadence that is at a certain level?” And we get this going every day. And then we begin to look at how we could  pick up the cadence so that it’s a continuous cadence. And the cadence is going higher and higher.

 

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I’m not into the number of events you do, but I try to get people out of their comfort zone, so people would say, “Well, how many events did we do last year?” “Five hundred.” How would we double that to be able to do a better job of supporting the objectives? And then they say “that’s impossible.” And we go, “well, how impossible, what will we have to do?” And I could tell you the year I did that, they did 1500 instead of the thousand. I got them out of their comfort zone. And it was not to do a certain number of events, but rather it was how could we do more?

 

The other thing that I did to accelerate progress was put it into the objectives of the leaders that worked for me. What I did was tell them that you have to make believe you’re on vacation another six weeks out of the year. And they go “what do you mean by that?” “You’re going to lead six events. And so amongst yourselves you’re going to have to figure out how you’re going to cover for one another.” And my guys did up to eight events that year. So what they were doing as leaders was, they were leading the events with some help, then they were teaching people under them, that were on the teams, how to lead an event, and they were coaching them. So the last five or four events they did, they were more in a coaching role, and they were building other people under them that would have the ability to facilitate. So the way they were accelerating was a learn-by-doing thing. They were learning themselves. They were teaching other people, so that they could expand their network and accelerate. So you bring other people along.

 

And the other thing that really helps accelerate it is to not look at everything as a project. Take things and break them down into kaizens. So if you had to do a week-long event, make it into five single kaizen events. Or break it into a two-hour event. But be doing this all the time. Set the expectation that we don’t’ do this every Friday, we do it every day. And I think one of the things that helps accelerate is getting employee improvement ideas. Getting a good system so they can use the same process, teach them to do it. Give them some people to help them implement things on a daily basis. I think that makes a big difference. And people wonder, how do you get people focused, to accelerate? I have people focus on opportunities for errors. I ask all the employees to focus on what can you do to prevent an error? And then instead of saying, buy a new machine for example; they’re beginning to do small improvements that will force the opportunity for errors out.

 

The other thing I do to accelerate lean implementation is to make sure that we’re implementing standard work. You can’t improve anything until you have standard work. So we try to accelerate by first getting the standard work and then making sure we’re doing standard work and then looking for these opportunities for errors. And that constantly, you’ve got a proactive mindset. But the whole idea is letting every single area in the company know that we’re improving every day. When I do an implementation, I learned a valuable lesson not to go a mile wide and an inch deep. I try to get one particular area, go as deep as I possibly can, and put all of the systems in place. Then learn from that. Then I bring people from other areas to participate in events so they can learn by doing, and then take what we learn and bring it to other areas, because I like to make a lot of mistakes in one place.

 

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This way, I’m learning, but I’m bringing a cross-functional nature to it because I’m not asking for another organization to do it. I’m doing it myself by setting the example. So I try to create pull first, that other people want to do it, versus me trying to push it to accelerate. To try to do it really well in one area where people are really motivated, and then have people build that field of dreams. And hear people say to people, “what if we did the same thing over here? What would that mean?” And then work with your peers and ask, “Do you want to have somebody come over to attend an event?”, and they can learn from us while we’re doing it. There’s nothing more powerful than going to do something.

 

I’m back to Emmanuel Dejarric, but I love this guy. He had a thing that was just brilliant. When he was trying to get people to do stuff, when people would say “no, we can’t do this, it’s another department”, he would say to people, “okay, fine. I’m not going to force you to do anything you don’t want to do. Just give me one good reason why you wouldn’t try?” And what would happen is you would get people saying, “Well, I can’t do this because of “x” reason.” And you do the five whys with them. Almost every time, even the most resistant people would say, “all right, I’ll try it.” And that’s how you would get them engaged. Because people put all these barriers up, but if you can get them to verbalize that factually and show that you really wouldn’t understand why they wouldn’t want to do it, they talk themselves into it instead of talking themselves out of it.

 

I’ve learned a zillion lessons like that over the years, and, I like to pass those things along to people. And you’ve got to practice it. In the beginning, it’s more you than them, and then they say, “Okay, I’ll try it”, and then they do it. They believe that they did it because they wanted to do it, not because you forced them to do it. If you force people to do things they’re not going to be engaged. But all of a sudden, they come to that self-realization. So I believe that helps to accelerate when you’re eliminating barriers with people that aren’t buying in. That’s really important.

 

Author: Finally, what advice can you offer to a company and its leaders who wish to embark on a lean journey?

 

Bussell: First understand what the journey is, and make sure you understand it from people that really know what it is, and that people are not coming in there to sell you something. They’re coming in there to try and help you. Make sure that you really understand the journey, not only what it is, but what it’s going to take to do this. And we’re not looking for involvement, we’re looking for commitment. And commitment means that you’re all in. When I say you’re all in, you’re all in. Somebody isn’t in? Then you’ve got to make a decision as a leader, they’re either in it or not- and that it’s going to be unwavering. When the going gets tough, we’re not going to treat this like a program. This is a journey. This is the way we do business. We’re in this for the long haul. And that no matter what happens, we’re going to imbed this in the organization and it’s not going to be optional whether you do this or not. Now what we’re going to do is, we’ve got to learn. So we’re going to pick one area of the company, and we’re going to go and do our experiment, and we’re going to prove to you that this works.

 

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Now at the same time, you need to understand what really good looks like. So we’re going to take you to someplace that’s been on this journey for ten years and have you meet with the leader of that company. They’re going to tell you the good, the bad, and the ugly, what it takes to get there. We’re going to show you what really good looks like, but if you want to become really good, we’re going to show you it’s possible. If you say a lot of people tried it, I say to people only one percent of people that try to do lean in corporations around the world, are really doing an exceptional level. And only, fifteen percent of the companies that I’ve seen, do a good job with it. The rest of the companies are out there trying, and over half of them that try to do it stop and then start again, and try to rework it.

 

So my question would be to them is, why would you want to try to do something that only fifteen percent of the companies out there can do, and do a good job on it? And they would say “we want to go for excellence.” I say “you know what a competitive advantage you would have over any business in the world, if you could do something that only fifteen percent of the companies, around all industries, around all organizations, could do? And if you were aspiring to get down to that one percent number, and it was helping your business, nobody would be able to touch you, would they?”So that’s where lean becomes the big differentiator.

 

So it’s getting that understanding at the top and then letting them know this is how we’re going to do it. To provide them with a proof to give us one of your toughest problems and let us go solve it, and get some people on it. And let us show you how the system works on a couple of tough problems. But please don’t turn this into a Six Sigma project-driven deployment. There are problems we’ll solve, but we need to imbed this in an area, and then go slow and then spread it out from that area, and have copycats all over the organization.

 

And don’t go around saying everybody’s going to do lean. Let the thing spread virally, and then you’ll be able to build more wherewithal, but don’t send all these people through training and then not do anything with them. Train them, and you know what? Take them all to Patricia’s area and make that into the showpiece, and let them learn by going and doing stuff, and then take some people from her area and say “here, we’re going to broaden your career. I know you want to be a financial person, but you know how to do this stuff. It’s going to be good for your career to go and learn how to do this in other areas of the business, because you want a financial person on these teams.”

 

So that’s what I talk to people about, I’m all in. You’ve got to be all in. And you’ve got to be in it for long-term.

 

Author: Thank you so much for your time; I am so grateful that you are giving back by sharing your experience with other lean practitioners for the greater good of our society.

 

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About the Author Patricia R. Malone (DBA, Lawrence Technological University) is presently director of finance operations at Energizer EPC. She holds an MBA from Ohio State University. Patricia has extensive experience in leading transformational change, Lean/Six Sigma Methodologies, Business Excellence and Finance. Her research interests include strategy, building strategic capacity, SOAR, Positive Organizational Scholarship, and Organizational Development. She can be reached at: pritzlermalone@yahoo.com.

 

For more information about Jerry Bussell, please visit http://www.busselllean.com/

Read more form Jerry Bussell Leadership Q&A: An Interview with Jerry Bussell

 

 

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