Podcast #186 – Jon Miller Discusses His Book Creating a Kaizen Culture, Engaging Everybody in Continuous Improvement



My guest for episode #186 is my friend Jon Miller, CEO of Kaizen Institute and a long-time blogger at Gemba Panta Rei. Today, we're talking about his upcoming book, Creating a Kaizen Culture: Align the Organization, Achieve Breakthrough Results, and Sustain the Gains (co-authored by Mike Wroblewski and Jamie Villafuerte. I can't believe I haven't had Jon on the show before… hopefully, this won't be the last time.

In this riveting episode of Lean Blog Interviews, hosts Mark Graban and Jon Miller dive deep into the concept and application of Kaizen in the corporate world. Kaizen, derived from Japan, is far more than a series of tools; it's a mindset and culture that emphasizes continuous improvement. What does it take to build such a culture, and what are the key elements that define it? These are explored in the episode with wide-ranging discussions on acknowledging challenges, instilling a growth mindset and promoting an open exchange of ideas. This culture of Kaizen has been woven into the very fabric of successful businesses worldwide, laying out a roadmap for others to follow.

Every business that sets onto the path of Kaizen cultures must understand the deep-rooted beliefs and values it stems from, especially the importance of experiencing processes first-hand, and providing a safe environment for raising concerns. Kaizen's influence isn't limited to manufacturing sectors or hospital wards but spreads far and wide, affecting all fields of work. An organization-wide embrace of Kaizen principles can thus lead to transformative changes, reinforcing the culture of continuous learning and improvement.

We also discuss “artifacts” of a Kaizen culture and why core beliefs, including safety and security, are so important. What are some of the other core beliefs in a Kaizen culture? Why are some of these beliefs and behaviors “not natural Japanese behaviors,” and what are the implications for those of us doing this in other countries?

For a link to this episode, refer people to  www.leanblog.org/186.

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Episode Summary

Creating a Culture That Fuels Success: Recognizing the Power of Kaizen

In today's rapidly evolving business landscape, organizations must adapt to maintain relevance and achieve outstanding results. However, it's not enough to simply align the organization; it's more about shaping a culture that encourages continuous development and consolidates these advancements. One book that offers a road map to this significant endeavor is “Creating a Lean Culture.”

The Mindset That Champions Continuous Improvement: Kaizen

Contrary to what many businesses practicing Kaizen may believe, it's not just a set of tools or techniques, but rather a culture. The key question is, what defines a Kaizen culture? What are the artifacts or visible hallmarks indicative of such a culture? Beyond surface-level observations, what are the deeply held beliefs that anchor a Kaizen culture?

Kaizen is hardly a new concept. It traces its roots to Japan, where it was woven into the fabric of successful businesses, eventually spreading across the globe as a valued philosophy for organizational success. However, as those familiar with Kaizen's principles would attest, fulfilling its promise is never as simple as implementing a new method or tool.

Constructing a Kaizen culture is a complex process that requires acknowledging and tackling challenges, fostering an environment that encourages the exchange of ideas, aligns every facet of the organization to common goals, and–most importantly–instills a mindset focused on consistent improvement.

Successful Lean Transformation: Powering Change from Within

Organizations cannot simply hinge their success on proven tools and methods. A successful lean transformation goes far beyond implementing visible artifacts; instead, it penetrates deeper into the realm of core beliefs. A genuine Kaizen culture is founded upon certain core beliefs–or shared assumptions–that underpin the behvior of an organization and its members.

Leaders must start by examining whether their organization truly believes in the underlying principles of Kaizen. Is the value of going out to the floor and deeply understanding processes before making changes appreciated? Is there a conviction that it is safe and beneficial to raise issues? If these beliefs are not deeply entrenched and adequately supported, the attempt to build a Kaizen culture will fall short.

The Practicality of Kaizen: Real-World Impact and Transformation

While Kaizen may be theoretically appealing, its most significant merit lies in its practicality. This philosophy is designed to be applied in real-world settings, whether in manufacturing units or hospital wards. Kaizen is not merely about propounding a set of theories; it's about fostering a tangible practice that yields measurable results.

Creating a learning culture based on Kaizen principles factors in everything from organizational conditions, internal and external challenges, and the inherent beliefs of its leaders and employees. Whether an organization is thriving or facing challenges, starting small with Kaizen principles introduces transformative changes.

Not exclusive to Japan: Kaizen's Universal Appeal and Application

Outwardly, Kaizen may seem to be fundamentally Japanese, considering its origins and substantial success in Japanese businesses. However, closer scrutiny reveals that many of the core beliefs that anchor Kaizen, including open communication or problem-solving, may not be as inherent to Japanese culture as some might suspect.

This universality of Kaizen's core principles underscores the understanding that culture change is not simply about adopting a foreign set of beliefs or practices but cultivating a mindset that values continuous improvement. It reassures organizations worldwide that Kaizen's benefits are not exclusive to a specific culture or country.

In a nutshell, the journey to organizational success involves more than adopting state-of-the-art tools or proven methods. It requires carving out a culture that values and seeks continuous improvement–Kaizen–the blueprint to creating a lean culture that delivers breakthrough results.

Uncovering Kaizen: More than a Set of Practices

While the Kaizen philosophy was indeed formulated in post World-War II Japan, it should be noted that at its core, the concept didn't echo the prevailing Japanese culture at the time. Traditional Japanese culture was one of closed practices, value for years of craftsmanship, and an almost sacred respect for artisanal work. This included the automotive industry where carmakers largely populated the floor.

Taiichi Ohno, credited with spreading the Toyota Production System encapsulating Lean principles and Kaizen, faced resistance from craftsmen who perceived his attempts to standardize as an affront to their individual expertise. This mentality–that their work was a craft and an art–is still evident in many industries today, notably healthcare, and software development.

Emergence of Kaizen: Japanese success and Influence

Japan eventually overcame these challenges and embraced Kaizen. While Kaizen's development was far from straightforward in Japanese society, the concept has succeeded to lay the groundwork, encourage scientific development and promote an organizational culture of improvement. However, even in Japan, the path to instilling an open, trust-heavy, and transparent culture for Kaizen ran counter to common societal norms. Cultural mores favoring suppression of issues rather than open discussion, and maintaining the status quo rather than risking embarrassment have historically slowed down Japanese bureaucracies, and by extension, businesses from full-scale adoption of the improvements Kaizen could bring.

Culture and Readiness: Making Room for Kaizen

But the true beauty of Kaizen lies in its universality. Its basic principles–continuous improvement, respect for individuals and open communication–aren't restricted to a single cultural environment. The philosophy can take root in any corporate culture, provided there is a readiness to change. Corporate readiness depends on the degree to which a business can examine its own history and identity, understand its intrinsic values, and recognize areas of nonconformance to evolve towards a continuously adaptive and successful society.

Part of this organizational readiness involves understanding that fostering a Kaizen culture may involve significant leadership transitions and structure alterations. Teams must be honest about these challenges and work towards a clear plan, rather than avoiding or hiding them. This transparency builds a sense of communal problem-solving, instilling trust and initiating the cultural evolution necessary for growth in the long run.

When it comes to Kaizen, it is vital to note that the implementation success of an ongoing process is not merely characterized by the use of certain tools or adoption of certain practices. Instead, it depends largely on the prevailing organizational culture and structure.

Role of Middle Management in Kaizen Implementation

Implementing Kaizen presents a particular challenge to middle management. These are individuals who may not be at the top tier of decision-making but are a crucial link between senior executives and frontline employees. They often have the most substantial behavioral changes to undergo. Middle managers may see themselves as having the most to lose from a new working method. They often believe that they've earned their positions by complying with the status quo and avoiding challenges–not necessarily by driving continuous improvement.

However, the transition to a Kaizen culture challenges this perception. It involves re-examining processes, challenging standards, and being open to questioning–actions that some might find intimidating. For this reason, middle managers must be carefully brought on board and given the time and support they need to adapt.

But while certain individuals might feel threatened by this disruption, frontline workers often see it as an opportunity for their ideas to be valued. Similarly, for the top-tier executives, the implementation of Kaizen often leads to improved processes, rapid changes, and better engagement.

Bringing Kaizen into an organization thus requires holistic efforts to understand the existing culture and readiness to change that culture. Successful implementation of the Kaizen philosophy requires more than merely teaching teams a new set of tools–it requires a valuable change in mindset that values, seeks out, and encourages continuous improvement.

In summary, Kaizen is a philosophy that can be embraced by companies worldwide–not solely those in Japan. It is a mindset that prizes self-improvement and seeks to establish an organizational culture that encourages growth, innovation, and continuous learning. Businesses looking to power their success should consider the valuable principles of Kaizen and consider how they can adapt these lessons to improve their own practices.

Automated Transcript (May Contain Defects):

Mark Graban: Site, gembapantaray.com. Today we're going to be talking about his upcoming book, which is titled Creating a Lean Culture. Align the organization, achieve breakthrough results, and sustain the gains. I can't believe I haven't had Jon on the show before. Hopefully this won't be the last time as there's lots to talk about and hopefully you'll have some good follow up questions for Jon to post.

Mark Graban: You can go to the page for this episode, leanblog.org/186, to post comments, ask questions, or to find links to Jon, the book and everything he's involved in. In this episode, we're going to talk about a number of things related to Kaizen culture. What are artifacts of such a culture? What are some of the core beliefs in a Kaizen culture? And we're also going to talk about, and I think this is really interesting, based on Jon's upbringing in Japan, what are some of the core beliefs and behaviors that are, quote, not natural Japanese behaviors, unquote, as he talks about in the book?

Mark Graban: And what are the implications of that for us doing this work in other countries? So great episode coming up here, and as always, thanks for listening. Well, Jon, hi. It's great to finally have you as a guest on the podcast. Thanks for taking some time to talk today.

Jon Miller: Thanks, Mark. Appreciate it.

Mark Graban: So since we haven't talked before and it was my faulty memory, I thought we had had you on the podcast before. We're going to talk about your book and some of the ideas there. Can you maybe start off talking a little bit about your background? Because I think you've got a real unique background about how you got involved with Kaizen. So if you can introduce yourself a little bit for the listeners, that'd be great.

Jon Miller: Sure. Yeah. I'm Jon Miller. I'm currently CEO of Kaizen Institute. I was introduced to Kaizen actually 20 years ago this September.

Jon Miller: Interestingly enough, being born and raised in Japan, I was given the gift of being able to speak, read and write Japanese as well as English. So in 1993, I began working with consultants. Many of your readers will be familiar, listeners will be familiar with the Shingijutsu Consulting Group, ex Toyota Autonomous Study group, Ono students, very unforgiving, tough, good teachers, but unique style. So I was lucky enough to be their interpreter and translator and sometimes guide and so forth for probably seven or eight years and learned Kaizen TPS, lean, Kaizen process, et cetera, good and bad, what to do, what not to do as a consultant. A lot of stories there.

Jon Miller: I learned that. And then in 1998, I thought that I could do some good for the world to begin taking what I had learned and teaching it to small and mid sized companies. Kaizen and lean. It wasn't even called Lean back then. I don't think the books had come out.

Jon Miller: So it was Kaizen or whatever it was called. And I started up a company called Gemba Research, which did pretty much the same type of thing I'm doing now in terms of consulting and training and lean, as well as beginning to take clients to Japan on benchmark visits to Toyota and other companies, and did that until about three years ago. Kaizen Institute came calling and talked about working closer together. We cooperated on a couple of minor things, but the conclusion of it is that we merged our two companies so that our US, Chinese, Japanese, and, let's see, Singapore operations of Kaizen Institute as well as Gamba Academy, which was another joint venture that we worked on that became part of Kaizen Institute. We rebranded all the business units, all the countries teams, et cetera, into Kaizen Institute.

Jon Miller: And ever since I was asked in middle of 2011 after the merger to take over the global CEO role to help all the groups work together and work with clients and so forth. And so that's been doing Kaizen within Kaizen Institute to the best of my ability for the past couple of years. So that's my background.

Mark Graban: Yeah. And you've been involved in a number of book projects with Mr. Amai and publishing some of Mr. Ono's work. But today we're going to be talking about a book that you're co author of, I believe, for the first time.

Mark Graban: Correct me if I'm wrong on that, but a new book, creating a Kaizen Culture, it's coming out later this year, correct?

Jon Miller: Yes. It's coming out in mid October at least. It'll be in the warehouse then. And then it'll get to the bookshelves or into the mailboxes sometime in November.

Mark Graban: Perhaps the publishing supply chain. That's a different discussion as well. But I'm excited about the book and I had the chance to take a look at some of it in advance here. Before we delve into some of the more detailed topics, give us an overview of the book. Why write a book?

Mark Graban: What some of the main themes are and who your co authors are.

Jon Miller: Yeah. Okay. Let me introduce the co authors and then where we got the idea for the book, how it evolved. Michael Blesky is one of the co authors. He has a blog, got Boondoggle.com, I believe it is.

Jon Miller: And he's been active in Lean and Kaizen for probably close to 25 years. He started out working at Batesville Casket Company, also known as Hilrom, and of course, Japanese consultants, including Mr. Shigeo Shingo. He was lucky to learn as an industrial engineer about the basics of SMED and TPS from Mr. Shingo.

Jon Miller: And over the years, Mike has gone on to become internal lean director for a company. So has led companies on the Lean journey, Lean Transformation. He's award, won the top ten Best Plants award from Industry Week several times, and he's working now with us for Kaizen Institute. He's one of the directors of our US and Canada operations. So he's very experienced, a big believer in Kaizen and hands on experience for years and years.

Jon Miller: Jamie Villa Fuerte. He's currently lean six sigma director at J Ball Circuits, where he's one of the leaders of trying to bring that big company, big and growing company of 60 plus plants worldwide into the lean culture. And so he's on the front lines of that and seeing the successes and challenges of it. And he's also somebody that worked with for many years. And so we got to talking about we should do a book that's not been done, that's really needed.

Jon Miller: And so that was something about Kaizen. And it became how to do Kaizen. It started out as something fairly practical. Let's do something in great detail that's very practical, never been done. So then as we got more and more into that, it became, well, that's really the human aspect of it and the change and the culture and the emotional aspect of it and the leadership of it.

Jon Miller: And by the time we got around to pitching the idea to the publishing company McGraw Hill, it evolved quite a bit from something very practical to, I won't say what we wrote is impractical, it certainly can be used, but it developed quite a bit into an interesting direction. I think it was the publisher that challenged us quite a bit in the brainstorming process and the proposal process, and helped us really hone in on this message of Kaizen culture and why culture is important and how Kaizen helps organizations become able to change and adapt, and in fact, how the best companies do that by really fully engaging and making the best out of the capabilities of people. So we thought that's something worth writing about, and certainly it needs to be practiced, even though it isn't a step by step guide to Kaizen events or to anything sort of tactical like that.

Mark Graban: Yeah, well, and I would agree with the assessment that the book is very practical. Both. I think there's a good track record of people who have read your blog and Mike's blog. You guys were both pretty early into the blogosphere, so you guys have certainly done a lot of writing. And the stories from Jabil and other companies that were in the chapters I read certainly a diverse mix of examples that kind of emphasizes Kaizen.

Mark Graban: It's not theory. It's a very real practical practice. And there's great examples and quotes from people in there. The Jable story, I thought was impressive on the Kaizen participation that they have. There's a lot of practical things in the book.

Mark Graban: And maybe at the risk of getting theoretical here, I think there was some really interesting stuff in there about core beliefs. And I guess this is maybe getting a little bit into philosophy. But I think a lot of people focus on tools. What you were describing as artifacts, lean methods, lean tools. Can you talk about why you think these beliefs are important?

Mark Graban: And I think you were making the point, if you can expand on it, that artifacts are a result of the beliefs.

Jon Miller: Can you talk about that? Sure. Happy to do that. So I first like to say that if you can get through the first chapters of the book, first, three or four out of ten, then the rest of it is smooth sailing for the typical reader of Lean books. And I think we go, first chapter is really talking about culture.

Jon Miller: Second is talking about culture and the theoretical framework working off of Professor Dr. Edgershein and his work. And then second chapter is really to explain what Kaizen is and its true meaning and dispel some myths. Third chapter gets into the core beliefs and what the core beliefs are. If you study Dr.

Jon Miller: Shine's work at all, he's got a three level explanation of organizational culture. At the base is what we call basic assumptions or beliefs. We call them core beliefs. The next level is something called espoused values, which are more visible in terms of actions and things people say that they believe in and actually demonstrate. And then the top level of the pyramid, if you will, is the artifacts, the things that you would see in a culture.

Jon Miller: So these are things like five s tape on the floor, visible examples, and the underlying beliefs that lead to those actions and lead to those visible artifacts or examples. The tools can be the SMED exercise that can be both a behavior and an artifact. So it's not exactly a bright line, but the key idea is that a lot of people focus on the tools way too much. Artifacts, the visible things, they copy an and on. They copy a ushaped cell, they copy a Kanban card and they think that gets them a result or slightly better than that.

Jon Miller: They understand that we have to have standard work, you have to have the auditing behavior to support workplace organiZation, et cetera. But rarely do people talk about beliefs. Do we really believe that our people have good ideas? Do we really believe that it's important to go out to the floor and deeply understand our process before making changes to it? Do we really believe that people have anxiety and we need to create security and safety in a sense that it's okay to bring up issues?

Jon Miller: And in fact, not only do we believe that are we behaving in that way, are we supporting those beliefs with our behaviors? You can say you believe it, but if you act and do the opposite, clearly it's not a deep enough, it's not called a core belief. So we sort of framed culture, organizational culture. We call it the ABCs of organizational culture. Top level A is artifact, B is behavior, C is core beliefs.

Jon Miller: And borrowed from, again, Dr. Shine and applied it to what most people are experiencing or seeing in some of the challenges of creating a culture and a lean transformation. And people talk about culture, culture. But until now, it's been abstract. It hasn't really been broken down.

Jon Miller: So I was really happy to run across Dr. Shine's work a few years ago, been thinking about it, presenting it in different environments to clients, and thought it's a good time to begin writing about that and how you can use Kaizen to practice the tools and get the behaviors and then really reinforce the beliefs. But as we talk about later in the book, you can't just make your way through it. You've got to actually examine your beliefs and decide that you're really in this. And if you're not, it won't work either.

Jon Miller: So that's where the leadership part of it and the readiness part of it comes in.

Mark Graban: Yeah. And I'd be curious to hear your thoughts on whether people can consciously choose to change their beliefs. I may have to tell a quick story. Somebody reached out to me today complaining about, and I think rightfully so.

Jon Miller: An.

Mark Graban: Awkward or misguided office five s initiative where they were being forced to use artifacts, so they were literally having to tape off things on their desk, and they were told, you can only have three personal items on your desk. And it didn't sound like it was helping them do their job any more effectively. And I started thinking as I was reading your material, one of the underlying beliefs is, our employees are children and they can't be trusted, and we have to tell them what to do, which goes against Kaizen. If you've got an organization where that's the starting point, and leaders say, we want to become a culture of continuous improvement, we want to be a quote, unquote, lean culture. Have you seen examples where some of those underlying beliefs can change, or how optimistic would you be that people can change those core beliefs?

Jon Miller: Yeah, I think you have to start with sort of the price of entry is that you have to really believe that process and results are both important. So a lot of companies do lean in lean six Sigma, Kaizen, because results are important. The leader wants to see results. They don't care how you get there. And the worst case of that is that you have companies cheating, lying, stealing, doing bad things and hurting other people to get the results.

Jon Miller: So we want to stay clear away from that and at least have neutral, non harmful processes to get good results. But ideally, you want good processes to yield good results because you can have a strong culture based on a history of success, based on really being in the right place at the right time, being lucky, and not able to change, adapt, survive. And that's really what a lot of American manufacturing was. The stronger American manufacturing companies were post World War II, because huge market, a lot of resources, et cetera, et cetera. And so you can say that they got lazy, they weren't focused on continuous improvement, but it was the fact that they had cultures based on an experience of success.

Jon Miller: By not really having to focus on process too much, they got results fairly easily. So what we have to do is to go back and first believe that process and results are both important. And you can only believe that really through experience or through just say, okay, you convince me, I'll give it a try. But basically, it's the idea that luck alone, past success, doesn't guarantee future success. And I think everybody in the last 20 years, 30 years, have seen dramatic changes in all kinds of economic, social, political conditions, environmental.

Jon Miller: So they realize that past is not the future, and you need a good process to get through it. In terms of, can you really change your beliefs? Take going to that five s example. I think that's a great example because it's so visible and it can be so painful. Like you described, adults need to know why they're being asked to make a change.

Jon Miller: Children do as well. But if you tell a child, just do it, they might be frustrated, but to some degree they'll do it. And the parent is well meaning. And that's the case. Adults, they want to know, what does it do for me?

Jon Miller: How does it make my job easier. Do I have a say in it? So when you just say only three items on your desk, why three? Why not two? Why not four?

Jon Miller: So you have to go back to the beliefs and say, do we agree on the core beliefs? The core beliefs are that we make problems visible and it's safe to do that, which means we don't clutter our desks. It means we have standard locations for things, because when something's missing, that hurts our customer. And we want to serve our customer. We want to serve our internal downstream customer.

Jon Miller: So you have to have that kind of conversation first or not first. But let's say in tandem with the discussion of the tool. Employ the tool, because employ the tool then becomes don't think, don't challenge me, just employ the tool because I've seen it work in other places and we don't have enough time or bosses pushing us to get results. So process and results and the process is the process of change we're talking about. And that's really getting people to think about why agree at that core belief level?

Jon Miller: Yes, we do believe that exposing problems is important. So as a person that works in this workstation or desk, let me help you design a good way to do that, regardless of how many family photos we have on our desk and so forth. So I think that's the place that you have to start from. You have to start from a few of these core beliefs that are really fundamental. Sort of having a humble curiosity, being willing to challenge the status quo and look deeply in your process, believing that people have good ideas and trying some of the Kaizen practices, daily, Kaizens and so forth, to test it.

Jon Miller: Don't just read the book and believe it, test it. And if it's not true in your organization, you have to go back and ask why. If you say it's not true for all of humanity, then give me a call. I'd beg to differ. I think you can find that these beliefs are true because many companies have succeed needed and we tried to share the stories with some of the companies in the book.

Mark Graban: Yeah, and you talk also in the book, just building on something you said just now about the idea of, well, don't read it and just believe it, but go and test. Can you talk a little bit about the advice you have in the book about getting started in that way of doing some tests and perhaps starting small? Or is this like doing a pilot? What are your thoughts if a leader says, OK, I've got these beliefs and this is aligned and I want to transform my culture. Why shouldn't I start by having everywhere across the company doing Kaizen tomorrow?

Mark Graban: Is that risky or what do you find?

Jon Miller: Yeah, it's a good question, I guess. Again, it's process and results. It's what do you want to achieve and how much time do you have to do it? If you need drastic change, if you're, let's say, in a triage mode, or if you need emergency help, then there's a certain way to approach that and that you can learn from that and you can begin to change your culture that way. If you're making money doing fine, want to really bring your culture to another level of performance, you have the resources and you have a believing management team, then you can roll something out fairly broad.

Jon Miller: BUt if you spend money on something and it doesn't work, typically what happens is people get fired, people get embarrassed. You said that didn't work for us. You don't try it again. So it makes sense to try things that you can test, you can sample, and then you can adjust. So again, plan, do check, act is not one huge project.

Jon Miller: It's many projects of various sizes. And you start small because times are wasting. What can we do today, next week? Can we do it with one group? And then when we learn from that and you apply it to two and three and talk about exponential propagation, that's create people that are believers, that are influencers.

Jon Miller: Start with the top 50 influencers or believers or leaders and get that group excited. And then bit by bit expand it. And then when you're ready to take it organization wide again, reflect on what you earn in the first pilot phase or first plant, first plants, first wards, first offices, wherever you're starting.

Mark Graban: I think you raise an interesting point that it depends a little bit on the circumstances. I was rereading last week a little bit of the book that you were involved in updating and getting out there a couple of different times in the last few years. Taichi Ono's workplace management and there's one point where it kind of jumped out at me. Ono said something like, the best time to do Kaizen is when times are good. And I thought about that and I stopped and thought, well, in healthcare generally, times are not good.

Mark Graban: Times are challenging. There's a lot of pressure, there's a lot of financial pressure and otherwise. But I think Kaizen is certainly possible, even if it's not the ideal circumstances. I'm curious if you have any thoughts on that.

Jon Miller: That's a good point. He certainly wasn't saying if times are tough, don't do Kaizen. Do them when times are good, because when times are tough, you won't be able to do them, and that's when you need it most. But when you have the time, when you're able to do it, then that's when you can use it to grow. That's when you can do it with more slack or more room to room to grow, room to learn.

Jon Miller: When you really have your back against the wall, you have to make cuts that are brutal sometimes to survive, to keep the organization going, and to reinvest in the people and the products and the customers you have. So if times are good, do Kaizen. And I think he also says your wits don't work unless you feel the squeeze, unless you're really challenged. Creativity doesn't come unless you really have tough times. So it'll seem like a contradiction.

Jon Miller: But I think he's saying you have to give yourself a challenge. If your times are good, this is the best time to do it. So go out there and create a challenge and force yourself to cut your space in half or inventory in half or do something really drastic, because otherwise the times will change for you and you'll be left without the ability to respond. So, yeah, hospitals, times are tough. Times are tough now, lots of organizations.

Jon Miller: So start Kaizen now, because there's never a better time than now to at least start in some small way and don't ever stop. Don't give up, because times are good. And if you think, well, times are good, I don't really need to do this now, then. Well, hopefully when times are less good, you've saved something up and you're still able to reinvest in it.

Mark Graban: Yeah. And when times are tough, it comes back to the belief you mentioned and you talk about in the book around safety and security. Be curious if you can expand on that. Why would you say safety and security is a core Kaizen belief? What does that translate into, practically speaking?

Mark Graban: Or what's an artifact of that belief?

Jon Miller: Yeah, it's a good question. At one level, you could say the and on lamp or even five s or any kind of bottom up. Problem solving is an example of the environment where it's secured to raise problems, secure to challenge the standard. Nobody's going to get blamed for bringing up a problem at Toyota or at a company that has true Kaizen beliefs or a lean culture, whatever you want to call it, because they say, thank you for bringing the problem. Now let's work on solving it together.

Jon Miller: And that's key. It just doesn't happen without that. You have to have open and honest relationships and communication. Visual controls are artifact of that, I think, Deming said, and the practice of rewarding business on the basis of price alone. So if you have a more collaborative pricing structure or pricing behavior, whatever the output of that is some kind of a cost savings, mutual cost savings based pricing contract, that would be an artifact.

Jon Miller: I mean, that you wouldn't think of that as an artifact. It's not a typical lean tool. But instead of beating up on your vendors, if you say I'll help you, and when we both work together and are able to improve your process and reduce the cost of this product or service, and let's pass on some of the savings to me, and that's an agreement, and that's an example of a business to business safe and secure environment, as opposed to a win lose type of situation. So I think those are a couple of things. There's any number of other things.

Jon Miller: I mean, a smiling face in a factory, if it's a natural smile and there's a comfort level there, and people aren't looking down and looking away. In a hospital, if nurses aren't all overstressed and people are able to stop a doctor and raise something as an issue and they're not yelled at, or the kind of horror stories you hear, if those things aren't happening, and if they're saying, yeah, thanks for bringing that up, or let's write it down, let's discuss it. Those are the types of things you want to see. Those are the visible artifacts you want to see. It's a problem solving, problem exposing, problem discussing type of culture, because problems come in all kinds of shapes and sizes, and if you hide them, they get bigger and uglier and lead to less pleasant things.

Jon Miller: I think that's really the core idea there. It's not to say job security, no matter what. It's to say honest communication, raise issues right away, improve together continuously.

Mark Graban: Yeah. One other thing I was hoping we could explore a little bit you talked about in the book, the idea that some of those core beliefs maybe don't exist in every Japanese company, or that they're, I think the phrase he uses, that they're not natural Japanese behaviors. And I heard the same thing from the guide from Kaizen Institute for the trip I was a part of last year where they were saying it's not a natural Japanese behavior to want to speak up. And that's where the Andon cord is so very helpful. Can you maybe elaborate on your view, having grown up in Japan, how some of these things are not natural Japanese behaviors, because I think so often an excuse, people in the US or other countries might say, well, yeah, this Kaizen stuff must be easy in Japan, but we're different, right?

Jon Miller: Yeah, I think that's a great question. And that's really one of the main messages or one of the main myths we wanted to blow up about Kaizen being so Japanese. For example, one of the core beliefs is that good things happen when you understand your processes deeply through observation, scientifically gathering data and so forth. Japanese are famous for that now, right? But 50, 60 years ago, they didn't have the tools.

Jon Miller: They didn't have a clue. And that's also because prior to World War II, industry was beginning. But 1860s 70s, they were still in the samurai age. There were swords, maybe pistols, but not a lot of advanced manufacturing technology. It was never part of their culture.

Jon Miller: It wasn't part of their history. They just didn't develop that way. They were a closed country, literally to the outside. So that wasn't part of their history or culture. They were learning, they were studying, but it wasn't there.

Jon Miller: Those artifacts weren't there. I think there was a developing belief in scientific progress, but they were also very traditional people. So you didn't have those behaviors. You had craftsmen who believed in quality through years of practice. And these are people building cars and making parts.

Jon Miller: So Ono had to deal with creating standards around machinists who believe that only they knew best. And just the kind of things you still might hear in a traditional business is that you can't standardize what I do. It's a craft. It's art. You hear that a lot in healthcare.

Jon Miller: You hear that a lot in software development and other types of environments where artistic work, and one by one, you have to understand your process and respect the art, value the art, develop it. But that wasn't a natural thing in Japan 50, 60 years ago. And they learned and developed it and won't say perfected it, but they've gotten it to a place where it's something we should all try to learn from and copy. I think certainly acting with urgency isn't necessarily always a Japanese quality. The unfortunate situation with the nuclear reactor in northern Japan right now is an example.

Jon Miller: I'm sure they're acting with what they consider urgency, but for goodness sakes, we're pouring poison into the ocean, and we have a nation full of leaders and scientists who are saying, well, let's keep this problem hidden, or let's say, let's not talk about it too much. That's a Japanese behavior. Something smells, put a lid on it. That's a Japanese expression. Don't stick out or you'll get hammered down.

Jon Miller: That's another Japanese expression. So keeping everything on the down low, don't look too good or too bad, don't cause embarrassment. These are things that go against the open, safe, trusting, understand, act, do kaizen kind of a culture. It doesn't mean that they don't improve. But Japanese companies can move very slowly.

Jon Miller: Japanese bureaucracies can move very slowly, as we're seeing. So those are just a couple of examples, I think. Certainly in terms of respecting individuals, teams and so forth, and nurturing the potential of people, I wouldn't say it's a universal Japanese value, but their society is very close knit many ways. And it's a society that's been around many hundreds of years, speaking the same language and with the same identity, where United States is more of a patchwork of different languages and cultures and grown up over a couple hundred years, and civil war and all these things. So there's a lot more diversity.

Jon Miller: It doesn't mean that there's no respect for people, but there's a different identity. And there was a civil war, like I said. So there was a disrespect for certain people of certain races by another group of people. So I think these are different things in their history, in different country's history, that each country has to look at it and say, which part of this is our company culture? Which part of this is something that's more widely in our society and we really need to overcome it in order to develop ourselves and our team and our business and ultimately our country towards a more successful, more adaptive society, let's say.

Mark Graban: Great. And maybe a final question here. If people are thinking about their own organizational culture and where they are today, in the book you talk about organizational readiness for Kaizen and continuous improvement. What's your advice about how to gauge that readiness, or how important or how ready can ready be before moving ahead? What are some of your thoughts on that?

Jon Miller: Yeah, good question. I think certainly there's a certain amount of preparation and talking to peer companies and do's and don'ts, reading of books and so forth, certain amount of education that any organization should do. I think the top management has to understand what this is and that it's a long term commitment, a long term journey. It's process and results. It's people and KPIs improving both in tandem.

Jon Miller: It has to be linked in with what we talked about before, which is, do we have a safe, stable, secure environment, or are we going through all kinds of turmoil in terms of management change and reorganization, layoffs? That's not a good time to start something like this. Wait for the dust to settle or begin the planning now. But don't do this in the middle of it because you aren't behaving as you want to, because circumstances don't allow you to, or you have to do some painful restructuring in the moment. ThE middle management is one thing we talk a lot about.

Jon Miller: I think changing the behavior of middle managers. Middle manager is basically fairly wide definition. Anybody from frontline supervisor up to maybe not senior executives, but vice presidents, people that have the most behavior change to go through and may perceive that they have at least to gain, most to lose from working in a new way. People that may have gotten to their positions by seniority, maybe by toeing the line, not necessarily by challenging and developing people and managing in a really more progressive way. And so now people are in these positions, they have a certain amount of authority, and they're being told that people that work for them are going to challenge that, challenge a standard, maybe not challenge them personally, but sort of blow up the process and look at it.

Jon Miller: Really not explode it, but blow it up as in magnify it, look at it under a microscope, really question things. And that's uncomfortable. Change is uncomfortable for anybody. But for the people on the front lines, finally, we listen to them and their ideas are used. So that's great.

Jon Miller: People on the top are seeing engagement. They're seeing results. They're seeing rapid change. They're understanding the processes better because they're more visual and they're mapped out. And those people in the middle, I think that's where you have to really spend the time and bring them along, make sure they're ready.

Jon Miller: And some people may never make the transition. I mean, it's emotionally taxing. It's not an easy thing. It's rewarding, it's valuable. It helps you grow as a person.

Jon Miller: But if you're at that point in your career where you say, yeah, I recognize this is good, but I don't think I can make it through the next five years of change, then those people may take a position that they may leave or they may take a position that doesn't get in the way of the change that is to come. I've seen lots of examples of that, of people who counseled out of positions where they could be in an uncomfortable position or they could be obstructing the change to come. But they can certainly mentor people that are coming up. They have a lot of great process knowledge. One of the other biggest obstacles we talk a little bit about is just organization structure.

Jon Miller: There's been a lot of what's called delayering or taking out layers of management and increasing spans of control of frontline leaders and managers. That can really be quite non constructive because you limit the ability of people to coach frontline workers, train them, develop them, do problem solving, and what looks like cost savings on the labor side ends up being a larger system level waste in terms of quality, productivity and so forth. And again, that's not, don't take my word for it, try it out, study it, benchmark other companies. But there's some good things to do there. So I think you have to look at what changes will we need to make.

Jon Miller: What snags will there be if we're not ready to change organization structure, if we're not ready to counsel on or move on or help certain leaders grow through the process. If really you think this is more about changing things and not about changing people, then you can, let's say, start with Kaizen and lean and six Sigma and all those things, but there's a good chance that it won't sustain or that you'll run into some known obstacles. So I think it's mostly about just being aware, being smart, not saying don't start if you're not ready, but just be open about it and say, we're starting. We know we have some challenges. We want to work through them.

Jon Miller: And don't tell people. Don't hide those things from people because people figure it out. It's pretty obvious people read, people can figure it out on their own if they just look around and say, well, this will never work if we don't change this, and that'll never happen. That's really what people are saying when we say it'll never work here. They're not saying we don't believe in the scientific approach will work in our process.

Jon Miller: They're saying from a people point of view or from an incentive point of view, our leadership will never change those things. It's too embedded or what have you, and that's the culture part of it.

Mark Graban: Well, and I think regardless of people's readiness, when they start reading your upcoming book, Creating a Kaisen Culture, I feel pretty confident they'll feel more ready after reading the book and all the great stories and examples and thought provoking ideas that are there in the book. So I'm really looking forward to the book coming out. People can go read your blog in the meantime, genbapantaray.com. Lots of great stuff that you've always been posting there. So I want to thank you, Jon Miller, for being a guest today.

Mark Graban: Do you have any final thoughts or ideas on how people can otherwise, people can find you online?

Jon Miller: You can reach me if you go to www.kaizen.com and fill out one of the forms and send an email that'll come through to somebody here. If you ask for me or put my name in the subject line, it'll get to me. I'm on Twitter at jmiller, J-M-I-L-L-E-R underscore Kaizen. So you can tweet me and we can have a chat that, yeah, or LinkedIn. I'm on LinkedIn as well.

Mark Graban: Okay, well, good.

Jon Miller: Jon Miller with no H-J-O-N-J-O-N. All right.

Mark Graban: Well, Jon, thanks so much. I'm glad I could finally have you as a guest, and hopefully we can have some future chats talking about Kaizen.

Jon Miller: Yeah, great. Thank you very much for the opportunity, Mark. I enjoy it. Thanks for listening. This has been the Lean Blog podcast for lean News and commentary updated daily.

Jon Miller: Visit www.leanblog.org if you have any questions or comments about this podcast. Email Mark at leanpodcast@gmail.com.

Mark Graban: Hey, podcast listeners. I'm excited to announce the release of the audiobook version of my new book, the mistakes that make us cultivating a culture of learning and innovation. Listen and dive into powerful insights on fostering growth through mistakes. Whether you're a leader, entrepreneur, or just trying get better at learning from mistakes, this audiobook is for you. Get it now on audible, Amazon, and Apple Books.

Mark Graban: Visit mistakesbook.com for more info.

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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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