Guest Post: CEOs and Kaizen


Today's post is an email written by Patrick M. Anderson, Executive Director of Chugachmiut, Inc., the Tribal consortium created to promote self-determination to the seven Native communities of the Chugach Region in Alaska. You might recall my two podcasts with him last year (Part 1 and Part 2).

Patrick's email was originally posted on the NWLEAN online discussion group, where there was a discussion about how to get CEOs and senior leadership to attend kaizen event “report outs”. I asked, “why not get senior leaders to the actual event itself?” (as John Toussaint did when CEO of ThedaCare). Then, Patrick added this (re-posted here with his permission)…

By Patrick M. Anderson:

As the Chief Executive for Chugachmiut, and as the champion for our Lean efforts, I either led or participated in most of our early Kaizen. I had one of two reactions from our employees about my leadership. One employee said that he didn't feel my presence was beneficial in that it was too intimidating and stifled participation. The majority of employees welcomed my participation (predominantly as an observer and teacher) because it made the Kaizen bear fruit. As a former trial attorney, I certainly understood how I could be intimidating, but it is hard to scale back when the success or failure of a lean initiative rests on your shoulders. I learned a lot about what my presence does to a Kaizen. I do agree that participation by the CEO gives the initiative a great deal of credibility and encourage it. It also forced me to become an expert in Lean, which helps me in my role as the strategic leader of the organization. I understand what is achievable (a lot) and as a result am able to program in even more beneficial initiatives because my employees have the time to undertake them.

Early on, our employees wondered why they were putting all this work in when it had been management's past practice to discount their efforts and fail to fund the improvements. I have sanctioned all of the improvements that our teams come up with, and we invest whenever the investment will eliminate waste and we can recover the investment. Because our improvements have been huge to date, we haven't had to worry about recovering our investments to date. Today, Kaizen is not a special event, but an everyday occurrence, so I am not invited to sit in on the ordinary improvement events. When we have larger events, such as the Blitz Kaizen we are undergoing for our finance department, I will sit in for a period of time, but the idea generation is so huge that I rarely have much to offer. There is still an occasional report out for larger events, but for smaller ones, we rely on a competed A-3 to record the improvement event for our knowledge management system.

Our employees have embraced Lean as our management process. I have six lean champions and a full time Kaizen Promotion Champion our of about 160 employees.

I regularly have employees tell me how happy they are to work here. Most of them embrace Lean whole heartedly. In fact, I had one spouse tell me at our annual Christmas Party that his wife was the happiest she has ever been at a job. She feels supported, and valued, for the services she provides. A temporary employee with management experience elsewhere came into my office and said that we have an outstanding workplace, and that it was a pleasure to work here.

The most pleasing result was this year's annual review by my board of directors. They specifically mentioned Lean and encouraged the hiring of executive staff who were fully bought in to Lean as their management system.

“It's what you learn after you know it all that counts.”
-Legendary UCLA Coach John Wooden

Patrick M. Anderson, Executive Director

Chugachmiut, Inc.

Anchorage, Alaska 99508


Mark's note: It is probably worth noting that Chugachmiut is one of the healthcare organizations that provided pictures and examples for Thomas L. Jackson's new book 5S for Healthcare (Lean Tools for Healthcare Series).

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Mark Graban
Mark Graban is an internationally-recognized consultant, author, and professional speaker, and podcaster with experience in healthcare, manufacturing, and startups. Mark's new book is The Mistakes That Make Us: Cultivating a Culture of Learning and Innovation. He is also the author of Measures of Success: React Less, Lead Better, Improve More, the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, and the anthology Practicing Lean. Mark is also a Senior Advisor to the technology company KaiNexus.



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