I was invited to be a guest on a Detroit radio talk show that's hosted by Dr. Paul Reeves, a show called “Dr. Paul's Family Talk.” Dr. Paul is an educator (and a drummer, like me!) and he asked some really good questions about my books, the auto industry, and leadership. I enjoyed the conversation and I hope it brought the concepts of “Lean” and “Process Behavior Charts” to a bit of a new audience.
You can listen to my interview via this link or the streaming player that you'll find below… and a transcript follows:
Paul Reeves: On the other end of our phone line this morning is a gentleman who originally hailed in Livonia, Michigan, not too far from where our studios sit. Detroit guy but he eventually made his way out to Texas and Florida, and perhaps other lands. We'll find that out in a minute.
He's an internationally recognized consultant, published author, professional speaker, and blogger. He builds upon a deep education in engineering and management with practical experience working with executives and front-line employees.
Let's welcome to the show this morning author and all of those other titles that I mentioned, Mark Graban. Good morning, Mark. How are you today?
Mark Graban: Hi, Paul. I'm great, how are you?
Paul: Not too bad.
Mark: Thanks for having me on.
Paul: You bet. I'm glad you're here. Where do we find you today, Michigan? Texas? Florida? You have to be in one of those places, right?
Mark: [laughs] I'm on the go a lot. I'm actually in Orlando, Florida, so different weather conditions. That's maybe one of the reasons a lot of people have moved from Michigan to Florida, Texas, Arizona, different places I've lived. You always run across Detroiters and people from the other parts of the state.
Paul: This morning when I woke up and checked the weather map, it was with the windchill factor, minus 22. It's not 22 below freezing, it's 22 below 0. [laughs] I'm guessing it's a little warmer for you.
Mark: I was trying not to rub in anything about the weather. It was in the upper 30s this morning here in Orlando, which, that gets people's attention here.
Paul: That would, that would. I remember, we go to West Palm Beach, Singer Island quite a bit, and swimming on Christmas Day several years ago. It was like 75, 80 degrees, and we're swimming outside in the pool on Christmas Day. We've never tried that in Michigan on Christmas Day, believe me.
Paul: All right, sir. You've come out with a new book, too, Measures of Success — React Less, Lead Better, and Improve More. Maybe tell us a little bit about your background, what got you into this line of work, and then a little bit about your book.
Mark: The book is, in a lot of ways, a culmination of lessons learned in seeing similar themes across different industries. My background originally is industrial engineering. After college, I came back to Livonia. I worked for General Motors right there in my hometown.
Ended up leaving for grad school. Took a job at Dell Computer, which is what got me to Texas. Worked for a couple of different manufacturing companies. You start seeing, different companies, you tend to see similar styles of management based on what's taught in business schools or just the way people tend to manage.
In 2005, I got an opportunity, my career shifted to start working in healthcare. I was doing improvement consulting work in hospitals and in health systems, trying to apply lessons from what we would call lean manufacturing or the Toyota Production System in the auto industry.
That there are a lot of good lessons about how to help improve an organization, how to lead people in a different way. A lot of lessons that are transferable to healthcare. That's been my main focus for the last 13 years or so.
Some of these common lessons about some of the things that organizations and leaders do with performance metrics, the way people tend to overreact to every up and down in a metric. Sometimes that overreaction can be quite counterproductive. I saw similarities in how people manage in a car factory, in a hospital, in a startup software company.
Long story short, that's what led to me writing the book, Measures of Success. It draws upon some things I first learned in undergraduate and in the auto industry. I've been trying to apply these methods that I write about throughout my career and finally sat down and tried to write a book to help others with this.
Learning from Toyota
Paul: What did you find with Toyota? It sounds like maybe they're amongst the leaders or the leader in either manufacturing industry running a corporation. What are some of the basic ideas that you learned from Toyota that you've been able to apply to other organizations?
Mark: There are many lessons. When I was working in Livonia, I worked under two plant managers. One was, I would say, the very traditional, Big Three-type plant manager who was very distant from the employees. He would only come out into the factory floor when there was some big problem. A machine had been broken down for 12 hours or production had stopped for a day.
The plant manager would come out and scowl at people. Individuals were quite often being blamed for systemic problems. They were maybe being bullied. It was a very old-school yelling and screaming type of environment.
They brought in a new plant manager who was somebody who had been at General Motors for a couple of decades, and then had the opportunity to get sent to California to work with Toyota, what was called the NUMMI plant in Fremont, California.
He learned a different style of leadership. He brought that back to General Motors. I had an opportunity to learn from him, where it's a leadership style that respects frontline employees for their skills and knowledge and ability.
Instead of the boss having all the answers, you engage others and bring out their ideas and work together in a much more collaborative way. That's the type of thing that helps create a culture of continuous improvement that leads to success for an organization, whether that's an auto maker or a hospital or a software company.
Paul: Is that something Toyota has done for a long time, taking input from their employees irrespective of their role with the company?
Mark: Yeah. That's a 50-year habit and practice of theirs. There are all kinds of expressions. People at GM would say things like “they tell me to check my brain at the door.” “They hired me for my back and my hands, not my brain.” Sometimes, I hear similar things in healthcare. That's really sad for different reasons.
The Toyota mindset, they talk about what they call the Toyota Production System. Sometimes they say the T in TPS should really stand for Thinking Production System, because they really do want and expect everybody to be thinking of not just doing the work but figuring out how to improve the work.
That's one of the key fundamental differences between what you might see in a very traditional or old-school organization and what you might see in what we would call a lean culture or a lean management system.
Goals and Leadership
Paul: When you're dealing with organizations and leadership — I was in leadership for a long time as well, still am to a degree — you set the goals for the organization, whatever they happen to be, and they're develop through different means.
But then you have the goals. You need a roadmap how to achieve these goals. I always felt as the leader. Of course, I never admitted this to anybody, [laughs] but I felt I think I know the best way to get there. I would make moves to get people to go along.
At the same time, I always took input because I thought if they come up with a different way to get to the ultimate goal, and it's going to make them happy and more productive and maybe get there more quickly, I'd be a fool to not listen to them.
You talked about the GM employee checking his brain at the door. Leaders need to check their egos at the door and just keep in mind the ultimate goal. Have you seen that quite a bit with successful organizations too?
Mark: Yeah. It's a two-way street. You're right. The role of the leader is to help set goals and set direction for the organization of saying here's what we need to accomplish and why, and maybe a little bit of the by when. But a lot of the how then comes from others in the organization. It's a very collaborative approach.
It's not completely top-down. We do talk about employees being engaged and involved and empowered, but executives and leaders can't delegate all of the world's problems to the frontline staff either. It requires a different level of communication and participation and bouncing ideas back and forth.
Paul: That's true. On the other extreme, I work for a guy. I was a principal of the school. He had hired me. He was a superintendent. After assessing over weeks or months what was going on, I realized I could make this into a great school if I can do these three or four things.
I set up a meeting with him and I said, “We can turn this into a great school if I could…” He stopped me right there and he goes, “I really don't care what you do.” He said, “I hired you to make that school great. Whatever you have to do, go do it. Just inform me every so often along the way.”
I thought that's the opposite of what we're talking about here. A completely hands-off approach. Just see me at the end of the year and tell me how you did. Sometimes that can work, I guess. I like your idea where both ends are working together to achieve the same goals, right?
Mark: I've gotten introduced to a superintendent at a district out east of Dallas. It was a healthcare executive who I've known and worked with. His son is in the school district. It was connections of people who share this vision of a leadership style in the organizational culture.
This superintendent, JJ Villarreal, is in his second year now as a superintendent at the district. He's really trying to build that culture of involvement and engagement. I have friends from high school who are teachers. My mom was a public school teacher. My sister and her husband have been teachers and administrators.
They all share similar stories to what I hear from nurses sometimes in a hospital. This idea of “nobody really ever asks me what I think about anything. I'm just told what to do. If I point out opportunities for improvement, I somehow get in trouble or blamed for the problem, which isn't fair.” That doesn't help your organization.
I appreciate that JJ is maybe interacting with his principals in the way that you describe, but then he's also encouraging the principals to interact with their teachers that way. A principal is going to help set goals and direction and hopefully be involved, but the teachers are in a lot of ways best positioned to help develop the plan for how to reach that goal.
Again, it's not that the manager, the leaders are just getting out of the way completely. They've got to engage people just in a different style.
Leaders, Caring, and Respect
Paul: The people on the floor, the frontlines as you described, if they believe that the leadership is involved and actually cares about what they're doing, it means the world of difference not only to them as people, but also to the organization, correct?
Mark: Yeah. What's really helpful is when leaders care about people as individuals. If I bring it back to Toyota and their philosophy. They talk a lot about this phrase that gets translated from Japanese to either say respect for people or respect for humanity.
There's a different level there. Part of respect means respect for human nature. We're all going to make mistakes. We get tired. We get distracted if we're working in a bad system. Sometimes a nurse gives the wrong medication to a patient. Just because a nurse is the one who physically administer the medication, that doesn't mean it's all the nurse's fault.
People might say the nurse is supposed to double check the medication. Well, sometimes it's dark. It's 2:00 in the morning. The department's short staffed. People are rushed. They don't have a mechanism to speak up and ask for help. A lot of that is a very systemic problem.
Part of the Toyota approach makes it safe for employees to speak up when there's a problem. Then the organization team leaders or supervisors or managers respond and provide help. Unfortunately, in healthcare a lot of times people are just left alone to do their best. That's a difference in the environment.
When it comes to goals as you were talking about, a lot of times leaders say, “I'm going to set a challenging goal. I don't care how you do it. Let's get there.” Measures and metrics are important, but we also have to think about how we're improving.
The thing I write about in Measures of Success is making good connections between trying to move the needle on a metric and understand what we're doing as an organization to improve. Hopefully, we're seeing metrics get better.
Hopefully, that's not just random fluctuation in the metric. Hopefully, we're actually making things significantly better as a result of projects or other improvement initiatives that we might have underway.
Paul: It makes perfect sense. Just want to remind our listeners, you're listening to Dr. Paul's Family Talk on Impact Radio USA. This morning we're talking to Mark Graban. Mark is an author, a speaker, consultant. He's come out with a new book entitled Measures of Success — React Less, Lead Better, Improve More.
Mark, how can our listeners get a hold of that book today if they'd like to go out and get it? We hope they do.
Mark: Thanks. If people want to get the book today, they can get it within minutes because it's currently available as an electronic book. You can find it in the Amazon Kindle store. You can find it in Apple Books.
I'm currently working on the paperback version of the book. That design is happening. I think the book will be available by the end of March (EDIT: It is available). That will also be available through Amazon and other online booksellers. The website for the book with all that information is www.measuresofsuccessbook.com.
Paul: I see you have another book out there entitled Lean Hospitals. Is that more where you're focusing your energy these days is the healthcare field?
Mark: That really has been my focus since 2005. As I was bringing lessons from engineering and manufacturing into healthcare, I had an opportunity to write that book, Lean Hospitals, which now, gosh, over 10 years. It's on its third edition. It's been translated into I think it's eight languages.
I had an opportunity a year and a half ago to go to China and visit some hospitals there. It was really amazing to see that people there have my book.
Paul: [laughs] Wow.
Mark: It was translated into Chinese and they wanted me to autograph their copy of the book.
This is really something that organizations around the world are trying to figure out how to improve. How can they reduce risk to patients? How can they improve patient safety and quality? How can they reduce waiting times? How can they try to reduce cost in a way that's not dysfunctional for anybody? The book, Lean Hospitals, hopefully has helped people.
I also wrote a second book with a coauthor. He's also an engineer, but he works with the health system in Indianapolis. We wrote a book called, Healthcare Kaizen. Kaizen is a Japanese word that translates to mean good change. Usually used in the context of meaning continuous improvement. How do you engage people in continuous improvement?
I do a lot of work in healthcare occasionally. I still enjoy opportunities to work with companies in other industries. A lot of these lessons about continuous improvement or managing metrics in the best way, these are lessons that go across. They're not pertinent just to any one industry.
Paul: That makes sense. One of the things I always tried to do when I was in leadership positions, and I don't know how many schools you've worked with, but essentially a lot of staff meetings become complaint sessions. [laughs] I learned that as a teacher.
Mark: That happens in hospitals.
Paul: I bet. I told my staffs, “We're not going to do that at staff meetings. I don't want to hear any complaints at all. If there are issues, we want to hear the issues, but I want you to be prepared to maybe offer some solution, not just a complaint for 20 minutes, go home, and stress everybody out.”
One year, I was brought into this school that had an abysmal social studies statewide score. Based on the socioeconomic level, teaching count, so on and so forth, the money behind it, they probably should've been in the 70 to 80 percent range. They were at about the 20 percent range.
As I analyzed it, I thought, “Well, the teachers are pretty good. The materials are pretty good. There's something obviously missing because we're getting a 20 instead of 80 every year.” I checked on the curriculum, and there was our answer.
Now, I could've rewritten the social studies curriculum, but I brought the teachers in. I said, “Here's the deal. Here's what we're going to be tested on eighth grade. We have to make sure the kids have the instruction on all of this before they take the test.” At that time, they were getting some of the material after the test, which makes no sense at all.
The teachers took a few days. We gave them time release. They came back and said, “Well, we have good news and bad news. We have it out all mapped out, except we don't have enough days in the year to get it done.” I thought, “Well, that is bad news.” [laughs] How do you fix that?
They said, “We can get civics, history, and some other parts of social studies.” They said, “We're still about 10 weeks short for economics.” Basically, they were looking at me. They were all forlorn. The party's over.
I said, “No, we can solve this. Why don't we create a special 10-week class in economics.” They looked at me like I had fallen off the moon, Mars, or something. They said, “We can do that.” I said, “We can do anything we need to do to be successful.”
I'm guessing that's what you've seen at these successful companies, too. Let's get the negative out of here. Let's all move forward to make it better for everybody.
Embracing the Complainers
Mark: A lot of organizations, people get labeled as being complainers.
Mark: When I go in and when we're working with organizations to try to figure out how to improve, most of the time those complainers have gotten this negative label because leaders are unwilling to listen to their ideas. More often than not, not always, those complainers are the people that you absolutely want to tap into.
If somebody points out a problem, in Toyota or, what we call, a lean culture, that's celebrated when somebody points out a problem because then the follow-up question is, “What do you think we can do about it?” or, “Let's figure that out together.”
There's a can-do spirit. There's an old Henry Ford quote. For people around Detroit, you get sick of hearing about Toyota. Toyota learned a lot from Henry Ford and his books.
There's a Henry Ford expression. I'm paraphrasing it. He says, “Whether you think you can or cannot solve a problem, you're usually right.”
Mark: There's this mindset of, “We've identified a problem. What do you think we can do about it? Let's test that solution.”
It might not make things perfect, but it makes things better, and then we can move on from there. We might have an idea that we test, and it turns out, “Oh, that didn't work.”
Instead of viewing that as a setback, you view that as a learning and you move on from there. Where a lot of organizations try to aim for perfection too quickly, they want to go from zero to perfect in one shot, that never happens.
They get discouraged if they try something, or they get punished. A lot of organizations have leaders who really demand certainty, “Tell me you know that's going to be successful.”
When that's the environment, people get really cautious. They stop trying to improve. We want to break that dynamic by leaders encouraging people to speak up and having a bit of a spirit of, “Well, it's not that we don't know how to solve that. We just haven't figured it out yet.”
Never Being Satisfied
Paul: Now, let me ask you this then because I've heard different answers depending on the organization. I know exactly where I come down on this, but I want to get your answer, too.
Some organizations I've worked with they want to get to a certain point to where they can plateau, mail it in, and be really good for the next 15-20 thousand years, or whatever. In other groups that I've worked with, they're always in the mode of continuous improvement. They're never satisfied with what they have today because they want something more tomorrow.
I'm going to guess, you're more for option two than option one. Am I correct in that guess?
Mark: I see a lot of organizations that are really successful. Who are really driven to continuously improve because they realize, “A, we're never going to be perfect. B, the world around us is continually changing, which creates new opportunities.”
There's this mindset, if you're not actively working to get better, you're going to be getting worse. Or, maybe there's a nature analogy. This is true, that sharks always have to be moving.
You can't stand still. There's this drive, this pursuit of perfection. We realize we'll never be perfect. That's OK, but we're working toward it. There's a time and a place to look at the customer needs and the customer perspective.
It raises an interesting question. If you're meeting today's customer needs, customer satisfaction scores are high. Quality is good enough. Business is booming. A lot of organizations might say, “Well, let's keep things stable. Let's keep rocking.”
The reality is, because the world throws new challenges at us, we get new competitors or the funding to our organization may get slashed by the government. This happens in healthcare, different parts of the world. It's better to continuously improve.
It's like working out. If you stop working out for a while, it's really hard to get back into it. There's mental muscle, or organization habits and muscle that's formed around improvement.
There's a difference between an organization that's already doing really well and wants to keep improving versus an organization that's on the verge of going out of business.
When I was at General Motors, our plant was really a bad performer by any measure looking across the industry. That was a far more urgent situation than, let's say, at a Toyota plant where they're a top performer in the industry. They tend not to stand still.
Paul: Even if you plateau and you don't get worse, you're also giving up an opportunity to be better. You'll be OK down the road, but you won't be as good as you could've been. I guess, that's another way to look at it. You're not getting worse. You're not getting any better at the same time.
Mark: That's the things we look at in my book, Measures of Success, where sometimes, or quite often actually, we have a metric or a measure in our business that has plateaued. Maybe it's good enough, but it's still fluctuating.
We learn to look at not just every up and down in a metric. If we're performing well and the measure drops a little bit for one or two periods, there's some statistical rules that help us realize, “Well, that's minor fluctuation. That's not worth overreacting to. It's probably going to fluctuate back up.”
When we stop overreacting to every up and down in the metric, that actually ends up freeing up time in the organization for people to focus on the things that really are worthy of our time and attention.
When New Competitors Enter a Market – From Toyota to VW to Tesla
Paul: The two best examples I've ever heard, of course, you are in the auto industry, is Ford Motor Company back in, whenever it was, '40s, probably the '50s, I don't remember now. All the fat cat executives were in the office one day at Ford Motor Company.
They were overlooking the road to the freeway. They saw a Volkswagen Beetle, which had just been introduced to the American market.
They looked at it and started making fun of it. I guess they had a quite a laughing session like, “What a big joke?” Of course, Ford was still turning out these big monster gas guzzling cars. They said, “Damn it, we're not going to make anything as stupid as that because it will never sell.”
Of course, it caught on. What made it worse for them is these weren't the poor people off the street buying these cars. People buying the Volkswagen Beetle, out of the gate, were physicians, CPAs, attorneys, and other professionals.
By the time they realized the mistake, it was two or three years into it. Of course, by the time they developed up their own small cars, they had missed the boat and got in some serious financial trouble.
Mark: What that makes me think of today is Tesla.
Mark: There's a real parallel to that. You look at Toyota. When they first entered the US market, they produced a small car. It was called the Toyopet. Maybe this was a terrible name.
Mark: Who wants to buy something called a Toyopet? This was in the late '50s. That car was an utter failure in the marketplace. There are stories about how it was literally difficult to drive that car up a steep hill. It was a really bad car.
A couple of decades later, people weren't laughing at Toyota anymore.
Paul: [laughs] Exactly. The other example, I wanted to mention quickly, the Kodak Film Company out in Rochester, New York. They had the monster by the tail for years, and they didn't see far enough ahead.
Look at them now. They're in pretty rough shape because of the digital cameras, photos online, etc., right?
Mark: Yeah. Can I tell a quick story about Kodak?
Paul: Yeah, sure.
Mark: When I was in graduate school, I was doing a master's program at MIT. I had an opportunity to do a six-month internship at Kodak in 1998.
I was in a part of the company that was making chips that went into high-end professional digital cameras. These were cameras being sold to photojournalists for literally 10 or 15 thousand dollars.
Mark: This was a really high-end, high-tech part of Kodak. Then you had consumer digital cameras that were still very much a toy. They didn't take very good pictures. You couldn't hold many pictures on them.
It was this classic innovation challenge where, at first, people would laugh at digital photography and say, “Oh, look how this is not as good as ‘real' photography with film and paper.”
I heard a Kodak executive give a talk where he said, “They projected that because of digital photography, they were going to sell more film and more paper.” I'm like, “What? How does that make sense?”
Mark: They viewed digital cameras as a toy that would introduce people to photography. When they fell in love with photography, then they would then graduate up to real cameras.
Paul: Holy cow.
Mark: That's not what happened.
Paul: That's not what happened at all. I'm guessing that guy's out of job. [laughs]
Mark: I don't mean to laugh at Kodak, but no. There are the big, big, big changes that really blindsided them.
Think about it. Even if they had really gone whole hog in the digital cameras, smartphones would've eventually gutted their business, right?
Paul: Yeah, it's live and learn, but always move forward. Always try to improve. That's a great way to go.
We've been talking to Mark Graban this morning, author, speaker, consultant. Came out with his new book, Measures of Success – React Less, Lead Better, Improve More.
Mark, before we go, if you can tell our listeners once again how to get a hold of your book, Measures of Success.
Mark: The website again is measuresofsuccessbook.com. You can find it right now on Amazon as a Kindle book. You can find it on Apple Books. They used to call it iBooks, but it's now Apple Books.
The paperback version should be available by the end of March. It's funny in this day and age. It's easier and quicker to produce an eBook, and then a paperback ends up requiring a lot more work and effort where I had to hire the company to do the design. It's got to look better on paper than it does for an eBook.
Mark: I'm happy. The eBook being out there, people are buying it and reading it. It's getting good reviews.
More importantly, I got an email the other day of people who are taking the message from the book. They're using it at work and they're finding it to be really helpful. That's probably the most satisfying part of the whole publishing process, is when people find the book to be not just a good read, but something that's useful.
Paul: I think the ideas you've brought forth can work anywhere. Even a small mom and pop shop all the way up to GM and everything in between.
Mark: Exactly. I've seen it work in a startup software company with 15 people. That's a pretty small organization. Metrics, measures, improvements. These are things that should be important, I hope, to any type of organization.
Paul: You also have a website, markgraban.com, and you also have a blog. Guide our listeners to that as well.
Mark: The blog, it's just leanblog.org. That's something I've been doing since 2005. I also do podcasts. I have been on the other side of the equation where, like you're doing Paul, I interview people and hear about their books and what they're working on. You can find all of that at leanblog.org.
Paul: Both of these two websites we just mentioned plus your book's website, I'm guessing your secret to success is you work really hard and sleep very little. That seems to be the way to go with you.
Mark: I'm passionate about my work. I do work a lot, but I enjoy it. I get an average night's sleep. We read about CEOs who claim they get up at 4:00 AM and they work out and they meditate, and they make a smoothie. I'm not that type. I'm a bit of an early riser, but not an obnoxiously early riser.
Paul: Works for you. There's no doubt about it. We've been talking to Mark Graban. We want you to get his newest book, Measures of Success. He's also a speaker and consultant. Mark, it's been great to talk to you. As new books come out, new ideas, give us a call. We'll get you back on.
Mark: All right. I appreciate it. Thanks, Paul.
Paul: Thank you. Again, author of Measures of Success, Mark Graban. Mark, go out there and have a great day. Let's talk again soon.
Mark: Thanks. You too.
Paul: You bet.
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