Episode #423: Laura Kriska, the First American Woman to Work at Honda HQ in Japan


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My guest for Episode #423 of the Lean Blog Interviews Podcast is Laura Kriska, a Cross-Cultural Consultant and the author of the book The Business of We: The Proven Three-Step Process for Closing the Gap Between Us and Them in Your Workplace.

She was previously my guest on Episode 61 of the “My Favorite Mistake” podcast.

Laura was previously the author of the book The Accidental Office Lady: An American Woman in Corporate Japan, a book about her time as the first American woman to work for Honda in Tokyo, Japan. You'll hear her talk about working in the Ohio factory and the quality circle she initiated about the women's unif ormsWe talk about those experiences and so much more today.

Topics and questions:

  • How did you get to become the first American woman to work at Honda HQ in Japan? 
  • What was it like working in the Ohio factory?
    • Quality Circles
    • Kaizen — We can always do things better
  • What was an “office lady”?
  • Adjustments to the Japanese working culture?
  • You initiated a Quality Circle around the uniform for office ladies, tell us about that…
  • “Let's Abolish Women's Uniforms”
    • Use of data?
    • Being careful with assumptions
    • Studied it for a year
    • What was the outcome?
  • You describe Cultural laziness (now, “corporate carelessness”) – what do you mean by that? Can this apply to somebody who is new to a company culture, too??

A photo of Laura from her time at Honda:

Video of Laura on her first day:

I hope you enjoy the conversation.

The podcast is sponsored by Stiles Associates, now in their 30th year of business. They are the go-to Lean recruiting firm serving the manufacturing, private equity, and healthcare industries. Learn more.

This podcast is part of the #LeanCommunicators network

Watch the Episode:

Automated Transcript (Not Guaranteed to be Defect Free)

Announcer (2s):
Welcome to the lean blog podcast. Visit our website www.leanblog.org. Now here's your host, Mark Graban.

Mark Graban (13s):
Hi, it's Mark Graban. Welcome to episode 423 of the podcast for September 15th, 2021. Our guest today is Laura Kriska. She is the author of a book, a recent book called The Business of We. She's also the author of a previous book called The Accidental Office Lady, which is about her time as the first American woman to work for Honda headquarters in Tokyo. So she has a fascinating story. We're going to hear her story. We're going to hear her perspectives on quality improvement and the Toyota Production System, even though they don't call it that at Honda.

Mark Graban (53s):
And we're going to talk about what she means by buildiang a “we” culture in organizations. So this is not the typical hardcore lean conversation that we have here in the podcast, but Laura is a really, really wonderful, and I, I think I hope you'll enjoy the conversation today. For links and show notes and more, more information about her book and her work, you can go to leanblog.org/423. We're joined today by Laura Kriska. She describes herself as a cross-cultural consultant. She's an author. We had a chance to talk previously, episode 61 of My Favorite mistake.

Mark Graban (1m 35s):
So I encourage you to go listen to that episode. We're going to have a different conversation today in a lot of ways, we're going to take a deeper dive into a story that Laura told there in that podcast. So before I tell you a little bit more about Laura, let me first off say thank you for being here today. How are you?

Laura Kriska (1m 53s):
I'm fine. Thanks mark. For having me on this podcast.

Mark Graban (1m 57s):
Yeah, I'm glad we could talk again. If you, you know, people who maybe did hear that other episode already know this, but let me tell the audience here about Laura. When she was just 22, right out of college, she became the first American woman to work in the Tokyo headquarters of the Honda motor company. Her experience working with thousands of middle-aged Japanese men inspired her to write her first book, which I've had a chance to, to read good chunks of here called the accidental office lady. And for those who are watching on YouTube and see she's holding that up, the there's the original cover. It looks sort of Sci-Fi. Is that like supposed to represent high-tech or

Laura Kriska (2m 38s):
I think at the time it was considered very, you know, techie that's how long ago this was. I like this cover.

Mark Graban (2m 48s):
Yeah. There's the more modern update refresh of it. What, what year was, was the book published?

Laura Kriska (2m 56s):
I think 1997. Okay. A long time

Mark Graban (2m 60s):
Ago. Yeah. So there are a lot of, you know, the, you know, we're, we'll have a chance to touch on that story that Laura told much more deeply in her book, but then those experiences and experiences she's had since inspired Laura to create what she calls, oh, we building revolution. So her latest book, and we're going to talk about this today also is called the business of we a new approach to diversity, working through cultural differences, being more inclusive, aim to increase employee retention and productivity, preventing misunderstandings that would lead to problems like lost revenue, lost time and increased legal risks.

Mark Graban (3m 40s):
And I, I think the ideas from the book will be really appealing to the audience here today. So I'm glad we can talk about all of this Laura, as, as I got to hear more of the background, you know, from where I get to read more of the background of your story, of how you got to work in Japan. Can you tell maybe, you know, for this audience sort of the longer version of the story of when, you know, how did you become the first American woman to work at Honda headquarters in Japan?

Laura Kriska (4m 10s):
oh, wait, I'm going to speak in English, right?

Mark Graban (4m 16s):
I guess I only know like four words of Japanese you are showing off, but Oh, I mean, I'm going to say them all badly. I'm self-conscious about it, konichiwa, kampai…

Laura Kriska (4m 30s):
By, oh, that's a good one.

Mark Graban (4m 32s):
Or arrigato gozaimasu, ohiayu gozaimasu, it's not that early here.

Laura Kriska (4m 38s):
Th th that's really all you need, you know? Hello. Thank you. And cheers. I love it. You really are a lean expert. Aren't you, you just get right to the critical,

Mark Graban (4m 52s):
I, I didn't learn those words through lean. W we'll come back to your story here, of course. But, you know, I know a handful of Japanese words that we use in the lean methodology, Kaizen,

Laura Kriska (5m 2s):
Very important gemba

Mark Graban (5m 5s):
In particular. So there are other phrases, but you know, in my I've had a handful of trips to Japan, you've got much deeper experience there. So let's back back to your story.

Laura Kriska (5m 15s):
Yes. So I, I was born in Japan. I grew up in the United States and I spent a year of college in Japan, and then I went to work for Honda. And as some of your listeners may know, Honda has a huge presence in Ohio, in Marysville, Ohio. I grew up very close to Marysville, Ohio, and I think it must have been before I was going to spend my junior year. I wrote to a new senior executive in Honda. He had been a graduate of my college, which was Denison University. And his name is Scott Whitlock. He became a lifelong mentor to me.

Laura Kriska (5m 55s):
And I think I just asked for, you know, I'm going to Japan. I am, you know, going to university, please give me money to sponsor this. And he wrote back saying, good for you. I'm not going to give you money. But how about a job? And I was offered a job as a lifeguard in the sports center. Okay. Yeah, because that was the only job I was qualified for. I had been a lifeguard for several summers as a teen, and they had just opened the sports center. So I was a lifeguard at the Honda motor company sports center. And I was still, I was like, I'm going to speak Japanese. So anybody who I could hear, you know, was speaking Japanese who had come into the swimming area, I would start like, just as exactly the phrases you would.

Laura Kriska (6m 43s):
You know, and I ended up meeting the, a woman whose husband was a very high ranking executive. His name is Shige Yoshida. He also became a lifelong mentor and she Shigeo Yoshida had graduated from the college that I was about to go to for a year. And so, because of these encounters and because I had actively, you know, fostered this connection, I was genuinely interested in all these, you know, different people and learning about them. He provided an introduction that led to a part-time job while I was studying in Japan as a, you know, an exchange student.

Laura Kriska (7m 23s):
When I came back to America, I had, you know, I had to find a job and people from Honda remembered me. I I'm sure I communicated with Scott Whitlock and others. I had an internship. And then they hired me right out of college, like a week after graduating from college, I was on the assembly line at Honda Marysville in the factory. And it was part of my training. And there was a part of me that was just like, what am I doing? This is a crazy, you know, I just graduated from college and now I'm working on an assembly line and I found it very overwhelming, but also really exciting.

Mark Graban (8m 1s):
And so you, that training, it's interesting. I'm curious how they framed it for you. Why that training to work on the assembly line in Ohio, we tee you up for working in an office setting in Japan. You know what I mean? It's, it's not uncommon. It seems like people I know who have had different experiences studying Toyota or working for Toyota, they are known for sending people to Japan, to work in a factory there for a period of time before coming back to the U S even people who, I mean, you know, Steve spear, who's been a guest on the show is a PhD researcher was given that opportunity because at least, you know, Toyota people would say, well, at their core, they are a manufacturing company.

Mark Graban (8m 48s):
So to understand the company means understanding manufacturing, how did Toyota, or how did Honda, I'm sorry, how did Honda, why, you know, what was the purpose for doing that for you?

Laura Kriska (9m 0s):
Yeah, it was exactly that idea. Honda is a manufacturing company. So no matter what job you do, if you're in marketing sales, human relations, legal department, it all comes down to understanding the people who are manufacturing, the vehicles and Scott Whitlock, and Shigeo cheetah were wonderful mentors. And they explained this to me. And I said, it's important that you understand this. They made it sound really important. And I felt, you know, I felt important. They were giving me this opportunity. I was also being sent to Los Angeles and Detroit, and, and then eventually Tokyo and I knew I was going to Tokyo.

Laura Kriska (9m 44s):
And it all seemed very connected and helping to pair me to be successful. And it did not take long. I mean, I, there was a culture shock for me. I like, I remember going to these at rang and fittings and steel-toed boots and thinking, I don't think any other graduates from dentists are getting steel-toed boots and thinking, you know, what exactly is this? But getting a sense really quickly that understanding manufacturing, first of all, it's exciting. It was unlike anything I had done. It wasn't like lifeguarding. It wasn't like sitting in a university classroom and studying from a textbook.

Laura Kriska (10m 27s):
It was doing something, making something. I mean, I had no idea how cool manufacturing is, and it is making something from nothing or from raw supplies is a cool thing. And I started to understand that, and I got a sense of how hard it is to do that. It is hard work to be on an assembly line. And that's another reason why I think it was a great experience because when you're not doing that job, when you're in the legal department or the marketing department or traveling, you know, to do things, you know, that are people making the product that sustains the organization that are working on an assembly line sometimes 24 hours a day.

Laura Kriska (11m 10s):
And I think that really keeps the hierarchy of roles in a company. It keeps that in check. Yeah.

Mark Graban (11m 21s):
And, and so that maybe one element of the, of the culture I'm curious at what, what did they emphasize, or what did you learn sort of through this experience on an assembly line about, you know, kind of training people, how work is done, how improvement happens?

Laura Kriska (11m 44s):
So one of the things that was very, very prominent in Ohio, and then later when I went to Japan was the idea of quality circles and the idea that people who do the task, who are doing the job, whether that again, is in a manufacturing area or an office that those people often have fantastic is they not have an MBA. They may not have worked in the company very long, but they are the person doing the job. And they often know how to make it a less costly, safer, or just a better process.

Laura Kriska (12m 25s):
And that was very clear in Honda from the beginning. And I think it was a great lesson to learn very early on. Yeah.

Mark Graban (12m 35s):
And you know, you, you mentioned quality circles. That is something that listeners may remember and associate with the 1980s, the 1990s, it was often, you know, framed as part of TQM total quality management. And in a way I think that was a bit of, as fads tend to come and go, unfortunately, this is not the fault of TQM. This is companies, just how it goes. People would then maybe find the Toyota production system or lean as for a period of time, a fad. But there, there there's a lot of overlap in the, like the core thought process of you're describing, engaging people, having a structured way to improve.

Mark Graban (13m 23s):
And I, you know, I don't have good data on this, but I bet the use of quality circles has declined dramatically in the United States. In the past decade, when I've had opportunities to go to Japan, they still have quality circles. And in these quality circle projects may take many months. And in some of the organizations there w at least what I've seen, haven't thrown quality circles away. They've now maybe layering other methods on top of that, which might be inspired by Toyota, or it might, they might, sometimes they even use the terminology lean. So I think, you know, this is still to this day for the right circumstances, for the right type of problems, something that's very, very useful in terms of that structure.

Laura Kriska (14m 8s):
Yeah. It's all about making things better that you use the word earlier Kaizen, and this is something I really admired about my Japanese colleagues and about Honda in general, which is there is an acknowledgement and awareness that we can always do better and times change products, change, raw materials change, and, and just keeping that idea that we can do better by examining the situation, looking deeply gathering data. And I'm going to just depart a little bit toward we building, which is the topic of my new book and the idea that individuals should keep this in mind, maybe a personal quality circle is the idea of continuing to do better as a human, as a professional, especially leaders and especially leaders who identify with what I call the home team, you know, the cultural majority in any organization.

Laura Kriska (15m 8s):
If we continue to examine ourselves, which is hard when you've been super successful. And when everybody around you rewards you with big salaries and promotions, you know, it's kind of hard to stay humble, but it's so critical to the quality circle process to Kaizen. And so we building is a kind of, it can be, we building can be a personal ties in self-improvement mechanism that can create a much better productivity, a safer and more welcoming, inclusive environment.

Mark Graban (15m 47s):
And that yeah, that idea of personal improvement or personal Kaizen, that we can, we can become more respectful of differences. We can be more inclusive, different types of people or people with different characteristics from, from ours and, and, and finding so well. Yeah, let's take a little bit of a dive into any talk about the business of have we, how, how, how would a leader go about improving the way they build bridges, if you will, instead of reinforcing the divides?

Laura Kriska (16m 26s):
Yeah. I, I think again, reflecting on yourself. So, so much of our workplace and spaces are populated by people who are different from us. They don't look like us. They maybe speak a different first language. They have a different background, and this is a predictable evolution, and it's correct that the, you know, so many different people are working in, in, in conjunction with one another in factories, in board rooms, et cetera. And so to recognize that, to see the difference, first of all, to not be afraid to name difference, this seems to be so uncomfortable for people.

Laura Kriska (17m 11s):
And for example, naming ethnic differences or naming race is, seems to be so difficult, but it shouldn't be, I understand why it's difficult. You know, I grew up in the color blind era. And so I was taught never to name, race, to, you know, think of, you know, just treat everybody equally, treat everybody the same, which is a lovely sentiment, but it doesn't happen. And it turns out that race tends to be very important to people, especially when they're not white. The world views us through visual experience.

Laura Kriska (17m 51s):
And our history shows that race as a social construct has an impact on how people are treated, how they're spoken to, how they're hired or fired or promoted, whatever it is. So learning to talk about race, ethnicity, nationality, religion, whatever the differences are learning, just to talk about them in a way that isn't promoting division isn't causing fear and discomfort is something that every leader in corporate America should be doing. And one of the ways to do that is finding talented diversity and inclusion leaders, consultants.

Laura Kriska (18m 34s):
There are so many talented people who can provide this education that we really desperately need right now. Yeah.

Mark Graban (18m 44s):
And I, this is something I've tried to get more comfortable speaking about in the past year, especially I, it, you're afraid of the home team in almost every imaginable way as somebody in an American workplace. I am the home team as a white, straight male with co with a good college education and pretty much every advantage, or we could even say privilege and, and, and, and recognizing, trying to understand the perspectives of people who don't feel welcome in one way or another it's it's, it's, it's something, I think it's important to challenge ourselves to think about other perspectives.

Mark Graban (19m 39s):
Like you, you had a much deeper version of this experience, so I don't want, you know, I want to hear about when, when you were working in Japan, you were very clearly visibly not part of the home team, if you will, when I've had even just short 10 day stints in Japan, if I'm somewhere alone, I'll look around and I might be the only white person around. And now I, I'm not trying to draw parallels to, let's say a workplace where somebody here in the U S is the only black woman in the room. I'm not trying to say it that that's equivalent, but it does, I think, change your perspective a little bit to realize, okay, I stand out or what, or what do I need to do culturally, to try to fit in?

Mark Graban (20m 25s):
I can't fit in, but to, to, to try to do a better job of, of fitting in. So what, I mean, what were your experiences as an office lady, quote, unquote, you know, it would be interesting to hear a little bit about like what that role was and how was it being the only white American woman in that environment.

Laura Kriska (20m 48s):
So I really like your example, and it illustrates a truth that I have figured out by talking with thousands of professionals. And that is that everybody has felt like an outsider at some point in their lives, even straight white, middle-aged successful men who are advantaged in every way. This is like, feel like this is America's favorite punching bag or these days. And, you know, I am a middle-aged straight white female, so I'm very close, very close to that home team. And there's nothing wrong with that. I am a huge fan of straight white men.

Laura Kriska (21m 28s):
I have married one, you know, many of the people I love most in the world fit into that category. So it's not a problem to inhibit and inhabit that identity, but it is, if you don't recognize that it gives you an advantage. That's, that's just the, the fact when you grow up in America, there are many advantages. Sometimes they're not obvious. It doesn't mean that you've had an easy way of it, but it just means there are built in structural privileges and advantages when you're on the home team. So when you, but even like you said, when you went to Japan, you felt like an outsider.

Laura Kriska (22m 10s):
I certainly felt like an outsider. And as you said, very clearly, it's not the equivalent of, of, of somebody in a different race here in the United States. But because almost everybody I've spoken to can articulate a time in their lives. When they felt like an outsider, it provides a vehicle for understanding how to behave as somebody on the home team. And it starts with the smallest gestures. So when I went to work in Honda in Japan, I thought I knew what I was getting into. You know, I speak some Japanese. I was assigned to work with other office ladies and the office ladies.

Laura Kriska (22m 56s):
There were 10 office ladies in the executive team, and I was going to be on that team. And we supported the executives of Honda motor company, which is very common, you know, set up. But even though I tried to fit in, I, I, I wore this blue uniform that we all were required to wear. I spoke in Japanese, I tried to follow the rules, but there was so much invisible information that I didn't know. And I didn't know, I didn't know it, that was part of my hubris as a 22 year old just thinking I understood everything. So it was through the process of, you know, having some painful encounters and then taking the time to start to learn deeply about this other group.

Laura Kriska (23m 42s):
And what I learned shocked me, I made a huge mistake. This is what I call being. Cross-culturally careless. I assumed that because I understood information on the surface that I also understood deeper information about this group. And I didn't that, I mean, that's the danger of stereotyping. You get information about a group of people or a person or a cultural group on the surface. And you think, you know, but you don't until you have experienced and really researched face-to-face interactions of increasing depth.

Laura Kriska (24m 25s):
I think it's impossible to fully understand the values, the motivations, the assumptions that that group makes. And once I understood those things, it made a huge difference.

Mark Graban (24m 40s):
And what can you share an example of an adjustment you made and maybe in the context of that, like at what point, like where where's the balance between the home team being accommodating to you versus you adjusting to fit in with the home team?

Laura Kriska (24m 56s):
Well, in my case, I was, I chose to go to a completely different country. So I think it's different than when you're like working here in America. It was, I really view when, when you're traveling and doing business, the visitor is the one who has the burden to, to adjust mostly the local, you know, group can and should make some adjustment, but the big adjustment is on the visitor. And that's different here in America, where we have a very diverse and interconnected population of people. So in my case, I was really trying to adjust and understand. So part of an example is use, I'm going to go back to the whole idea of quality circles.

Laura Kriska (25m 38s):
So I, when I went to work there, you know, there are things that really were not what I liked. Like I mentioned, this blue uniform that I mentioned, it was polyester. It was a vast in the skirt, blue polyester women, only women only are you kidding me is what I was thinking. But what I said with my mouth was, oh, , oh, thank you so much. You know, they gave me some uniforms on the first day because I was a visitor I had to adjust and I made assumptions because the hundreds, you know, two or 300 women who worked in the headquarters wore that uniform.

Laura Kriska (26m 21s):
So I made assumptions that they were on board with this. Nobody ever said anything negative. So this was something I'm going to adjust to

Mark Graban (26m 29s):
Quick question about that. W were all of the women there in a quote unquote office, lady mode, role supporting, or even if they were there in a different role, they still had to wear that uniform as opposed to, I mean, it wasn't, maybe you issued uniform, but the men were probably wearing dark suits, white shirt, dark tie. It was almost a uniform, but not really

Laura Kriska (26m 52s):
Correct. So, yeah, that's an insightful question. So the answer is women had various jobs. There were a few women who had positions of authority in the organization and they dressed exactly like women who were temporary clerks. And that was part of the problem that I had. I didn't think it represented the professional image that many of the women had, the jobs that they had. And you're right. The men had an informal uniform, dark suits, white shirts. That was probably, you know, 99% of the men followed that informal rule. But it was the, you know, basic rule that I didn't like.

Laura Kriska (27m 37s):
I didn't like the structural inequality women. Here's a uniform men do what you want. And, but I didn't really question it that much. But then the company, as it does every year, invited employees to come up with an idea for quality circle, an annual event at Honda, I had witnessed this in the United States and I saw how effective quality circles could be researching root causes, you know, the gemba going to the source. So I had been working in Honda for over a year at this point. And I had developed important friendships relationships with two office leads in particular.

Laura Kriska (28m 20s):
And through these relationships through spending time face-to-face we had lunch, we would spend time on weekends. We eventually traveled together. I knew their families. I mean, we had real trust built up. I learned that they didn't like the uniform either. What? You don't like the uniform, not. So I'm not the only one I realize. Yeah. So the, so this is awareness of this data and I'm thinking they don't like it for the same reasons. I don't like it. Of course. So I decide when the quality circle invitation comes around, I'm going to start a quality circle.

Laura Kriska (28m 60s):
So a little side note is that I worked in the executive secretariat to the executives, a Honda motor company, and no office lady in the history of Honda had ever initiated equality circle. It was like on anything. It was almost like an unspoken rule. We're not supposed to do that. I'm not sure, but it was all. So it just, the fact that I initiated a quality circle was controversial. None of the office ladies I worked with would be on my team, but I had also developed these other relationships with the women who had very professional roles, women who were making careers in sales, there was somebody from, yeah, I definitely remember a woman from sales department and Navy in planning and leadership, but you know, women who took their jobs very seriously and had told me, they felt embarrassed to show up to meetings, especially with visitors from overseas, because these were people they had spoken with on the phone had cultivated professional, you know, reputation.

Laura Kriska (30m 9s):
And then when they would, these visitors came to the Honda headquarters, you'd go to a meeting room. And the first thing would happen when you went into a meeting room, is that a woman serving tea, wearing a uniform would come in. And then the next thing that would happen is that the women professionals would come join you. And they'd be wearing the same thing as the people serving tea. And that was irritating to them. It did not send the right message. Yeah. So we started this group and we leaned that topic out. We examined the root causes and what are other companies doing?

Laura Kriska (30m 54s):
And we took surveys, thanks to this invitation, to be on the podcast. I found a folder. Can I show you some of the images I found a folder with all of the overhead projected images may put it in white

Mark Graban (31m 13s):
Sound. That's an old, that sound brings back memories, the water.

Laura Kriska (31m 18s):
And we, we did surveys and we asked people, let's see, this one is, it's all in Japanese. I used to be able to read all this, but we asked, you know, what did you think? And so we gathered data and we examine the issue thoroughly. And once we did that, I thought it would be very clear that, you know, one of the biggest reasons to, to abolish women's uniforms, that was the theme. The title was because it was not equal with men. And we V w on one of those, I was just translating it earlier because I couldn't read it.

Laura Kriska (31m 58s):
We asked 158 women, their opinion, and there were four reasons for why they wanted to change. The uniform policy being equal with men was the lowest. This is the one. And the number one reason they wanted to change the policy. It saved time. They didn't have to go to a locker room and change into the farm from their street clothes. So this was a shock to me, you know, here I am walking into this thinking, well, we're just going to make things equal because everybody agrees with me. And in fact, they, you know, some people agreed with it, equality issue, but they wanted to save time, very practical.

Laura Kriska (32m 43s):
The other reasons were they wanted to have a better image and what was this? They wanted to be able to wear the clothes that they wanted to wear, but it had very little to do with this, you know, value of equality.

Mark Graban (32m 59s):
Yeah. So that was, I mean, I think as we learned problem solving, even in the context of the Toyota production system or lean or however we label it, there, there is a lesson there of being careful about assumptions, either assuming we know what the problem is, assuming we know what the cause is or assuming we know what the countermeasure or solution should be, but at least it sounds like then, okay, you have this discovery. Yeah. Better to discover that then to keep marching forward with maybe people nodding their heads, implied agreement, but not, you know, that, that it came through in the data. Yeah.

Laura Kriska (33m 38s):
And, and again, I'm just going to make a quick departure into we building, which is exactly that process is as learning what people who feel othered. You know, you might have assumptions, you might think, oh, because of this or that, but really talking and more importantly than talking, listening to people who have the lived experience that is different from yours, so that you can understand what's motivating the feeling of being an outsider. What motivate, what, what makes them feel unwelcome or even unsafe. So again, this goes to leaders and modeling this behavior and taking the time, prioritizing this effort to learn the invisible data about a different cultural group that is relevant to your workplace.

Laura Kriska (34m 29s):
Because when you get that data, you can adjust. So, and you can move forward and Kaizen, you can improve your workplace. So in our case with the quality circle, we gathered all this data. I learned that, you know, really emphasizing the point of equality was not going to be the driving force. And we adjusted our presentation. We didn't emphasize that as much. We measured again, we measured all kinds of things, the cost to the company, what other companies were doing, the reputation, et cetera. And we eventually presented our findings during the quality circle system, but we were not able to fully execute on our ideas.

Laura Kriska (35m 17s):
Usually you get to put your practice, your idea into practice. You measure that, and then you persuade everybody. It's a better way, but we couldn't

Mark Graban (35m 25s):
Test. Yes.

Laura Kriska (35m 27s):
Yes, exactly. So we weren't able to do that. So eventually our idea kind of changed trajectories and went to the planning department and they then studied this for an entire year. I had given up, I decided that they had just, you know, they didn't want to, they were just entertaining us and you know, oh, isn't that nice. They want to get rid of the uniform. But in fact, to be fair, they went through their own process and eventually concluded that the women's uniform should be made optional.

Laura Kriska (36m 6s):
And one day shortly before my time in Japan ended a message went around the company, Hey, everybody starting on Monday, there's a new policy. And the new policy is that women can choose whether to wear a uniform or not. Yeah. And that was very exciting. I think I have one slide. I know this is probably annoying to try to show the one slide, but the people on the, in the team were very excited about, you know, what's happening. And I remember we, we all gathered that day at lunch to examine like, oh my gosh, what's happening.

Laura Kriska (36m 46s):
I can't believe this, this, you know, they're actually going to move forward with our idea. And even though it was slightly different than we had hoped, oh, here it is. I just love this little image, this uniform,

Mark Graban (37m 3s):
I see. Blouse plus skirt plus.

Laura Kriska (37m 7s):
Yeah. Plus vest. And then, you know, we were like, they're getting rid of it. And then what really was interesting is then what happened? So, but on that Monday, you know, there were people like me and the team members, we abandon the uniform first day and there were people who weren't so sure, but I, I, I remember this very clearly. I was in the ladies room one day and I could hear people. They couldn't see me, but I could hear two women saying, you know, what are you going to do? Are you wearing the uniform or not wearing your forum? And I was fascinated to hear how they were thinking about this.

Laura Kriska (37m 47s):
And what I saw was not just one person changing her mind. It was a whole department would change on the same date. Clearly there was this, you know, consensus building on with the members of a certain department, like the marketing department or the public relations department. And so they were kind of coordinating and slowly over time, most groups completely abandoned the uniform,

Mark Graban (38m 15s):
My prediction or guest here, or my guess is that the office ladies in the executive office stuck with the uniform.

Laura Kriska (38m 27s):
They stuck with it very, for a very long time. It's so funny, mark. I'm trying to remember what actually transpired. I think it was when the most senior office ladies decided that they could stop wearing a uniform. You know, it's a much more conservative group, but ultimately they did stop wearing the uniform. And I, you know, I had gone back to America and then I visited, I think that within the first year, and they had all abandoned the uniform and they look more professional and they, I mean, they could have kept the uniform, but nobody did.

Laura Kriska (39m 7s):
I think only the mail room, the mail room women very distinctly did not want to get their clothes dirty. And the mail room was a little bit more dirty because they had to do all these packages and things like that. And as I recall, and I don't know now, if the mail room still has it, but it was only the women in the mailroom who kept the uniform.

Mark Graban (39m 35s):
So it showed that process. Even if it took some time, consensus building can be very slow and it may be, it's hard to tell the difference between really studying an issue and stonewalling. And some of that may be business culture, Japanese culture differences, from the way we, we might expect you want things to work in American workplace. And I wonder how that affected, you know, all of the Japanese working in Ohio, coming into a situation where they were not on the home team in some ways they were because it was a Japanese company, but they were in Ohio.

Mark Graban (40m 18s):
That would be interesting to know their perspective on that.

Laura Kriska (40m 22s):
The home team shifts it's basically whoever has access to power and money. And in a lot of companies that I've worked with, especially foreign companies, even in the United States, or if they're in Europe somewhere, the home team is a particular nationality, you know, and w when the home team shares certain identity characteristics, you know, the same language, the same ethnicity, whatever, then, then you get the kind of, kind of us versus them divisions that can cause problems. And that's where I think it's so important to recognize if you are associated with that home team.

Laura Kriska (41m 6s):
Again, it doesn't mean just because you share those characteristics, that you also have access to power and money, but it means that others might view you as having special access. And it's possible that you are granted that privilege of special access simply based on your identity characteristics, as opposed to your role in the company, your skills, your experience, and so forth. Yeah.

Mark Graban (41m 34s):
So, you know, thinking again to the, the more recent book, the business of we do, you have recommendations how for how people on the home team can share that power, better understand other's perspectives instead of making an assumption. What, what, what, what sort of advice would you give to leaders who are trying to navigate these waters?

Laura Kriska (41m 57s):
So the first piece of advice is get comfortable. As we talked about earlier, do your own work by listening to experts, to just be comfortable talking about these. I hear so many people say, you know, I want to talk about this, but I'm afraid of making things worse. And so going to experts is a great tool. And if you need experts, contact me on LinkedIn. I know a lot of people who are really qualified to help navigate this, just so you can talk about it. And the second thing I recommend is to examine yourself too, in relation to a specific group.

Laura Kriska (42m 39s):
And I recommend this to everybody all the time, because culture differences are always present. So if you, so in my book, I talk about these three steps of we building. And the second step is called the self evaluation, the us versus them self assessment. It's 10 simple, yes, or no questions, and anybody can utilize these questions. They are free and available on my website, which is my name.com, Laura kriska.com. And this, these 10 questions provide a measurement. They provide a number it's from zero to 10.

Laura Kriska (43m 20s):
It's a lot like stepping on a scale. It gives you one indication of your level of integration with this other cultural group. And you have to decide what that cultural group is going to be. Just this morning, I was talking to a colleague who is my age, a middle-aged person, and works with a lot of gen generation Z. And so he was doing a lot of research to try to understand gen Z because it will help his organization. And he didn't, you know, he was reading and listening. And, and so you can measure yourself in relation to any group as you identify it.

Laura Kriska (44m 2s):
And it's really important that you selected on your own, rather than me saying, you know, you should examine this cultural group. And if people even pause for five seconds, I'm sure they can think of several cultural groups that are relevant to their lives, to their work lives and to their private lives. So then you measure yourself and if your score is low, then invest some time and prioritize, increasing your score, increasing your score, accomplished through face-to-face interactions of increasing depth. And the way I often advise people to do that is to think of the thousands of decisions you make in a week, right?

Laura Kriska (44m 43s):
The human mind is making decisions all the time. Where am I going to get my food? How am I going to get this thing done? You know, who's going to be my consultant for this project or whatever. And before you make the automatic familiar choice, pause and think about alternative places or people to meet those needs that you always have. If you're going grocery shopping, think about going grocery, shopping in a different neighborhood. If you need a photographer for something, think outside your normal circles to get advice, or who might be a good photographer and try to expand the idea of who belongs, who are people in your world, and how do you get your needs met?

Laura Kriska (45m 34s):
And so if you expand those choices, even just one choice, I usually ask people to think of one thing they could try to do, make one commitment that broadens that idea of who belongs the idea of who is we, right? Who belongs. If we all start doing that more and more, we will expand the notion of we and the us versus them. Dynamics will become more narrow. We will have less fear of others. We will have less uncertainty and the misunderstandings and the actually we will get safer, more welcoming and productive spaces. And that's what we building is all about.

Laura Kriska (46m 16s):

Mark Graban (46m 17s):
Yeah. And what was your, you know, your spark to sort of, you know, pursue the work that you do and, and, and, and leading to the book, I'm, I'm curious to, maybe it was a way of asking the question of like, you know, you have this time in Japan, at some point you, you may have had to decision between pursue a career with Honda, which could have been a lot of it back in Ohio or in the United States versus pursuing a different path. Like what, what was your, you know, what were the, kind of the, the points you remember of like making a decision about which path to pursue?

Laura Kriska (46m 56s):
I was offered the chance to, when I was working at Honda to be in charge of a group of students who Honda was sponsoring to take to Japan for, I think it was a two week, two weeks. They were high school students in Ohio. I think we worked in coordination with the YMCA. You know, it was just like a community event. And I was chosen as a leader for this, and I loved it. I loved it so much. I spent hours preparing and planning, and it was after doing that job and feeling so central to that initiative, to the learning that went on, I was a real, go-between helping these students, these high school students from Ohio really expand their notion of who belonged.

Laura Kriska (47m 50s):
I didn't, I didn't talk about it that way at the time. And I realized this, I was probably 24, 25, you know, mid twenties. And I had been working at Honda for five years, four or five years. And I recognized that while I liked being at Honda, Honda manufacturing company, you know, they make cars. I don't care about cars. I don't care about cars that much. I don't sorry.

Mark Graban (48m 20s):
I just

Laura Kriska (48m 21s):
Don't, I'm not that just don't love it. And I loved teaching and I loved helping people expand their life experience and their notion of who belonged. And I recognize that I wanted to be part of an organization. I wanted to be doing work. That was the central part of that organization. So I eventually made my own organization where I do that for my job. And I'm so grateful for it. I love doing what I do.

Mark Graban (48m 52s):
And for people who might be interested in working with you on some level, can you share, I know there's more on your website, but types of ways companies, leaders engage you in helping them.

Laura Kriska (49m 5s):
Yes. So I'm doing more. What I call we building initiatives, usually a two or three month engagement over a period of time. Some of it's virtual, some of it will be in person. And the notion is that as people are going back to the workplace, as you know, many people are starting to do, especially after the summer, there is a rare opportunity to establish new norms of inclusion. I don't think we're ever going to have this opportunity again. And so we building is teamwork plus inclusion work.

Laura Kriska (49m 46s):
And so it's really exciting to be planning these initiatives that often we'll start off with a virtual event that's for the whole organization. And then we do, we building kind of webinars. And then we do work in person. I use a, a simulation exercise I've done for many years on four continents, with thousands of people that's very engaging and really helps people reflect on how they work. It's not just about diversity and inclusion. It's just about how we want to be as an organization. And the whole idea, the notion is let's not have divisions that slow us down that cause misunderstandings that disrupt our productivity and our welcomeness and our inclusion.

Laura Kriska (50m 33s):
And so creating a we mindset is absolutely the goal of any we building initiatives. And it's, I'm so excited to be able to be offering this now again, at this rare opportunity.

Mark Graban (50m 49s):
And there, it sounds like there are opportunities to, to create inclusion and that we culture across dimensions of gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, but then maybe also, I think of, let's say healthcare, where there's often divisions between professional groups creating more of a we culture. Let's say, you know, physicians and nurses is an opportunity that comes to mind

Laura Kriska (51m 18s):
A hundred percent. So the simulation activity I utilize was developed exactly for that problem because that us versus them dynamic has existed forever. You know, white collar versus blue collar. Like you said, doctors versus nurses. And when those divides become deep and wide, it impacts the customers. It impacts the bottom line of the organization. So even if you are somebody who still doesn't like to talk about, you know, inclusion and you're uncomfortable, there is a strong business case to be made to getting people in a we mindset.

Laura Kriska (51m 58s):
It is good for business and it's the right thing to do. So we building is a solution for any us versus them gaps that exist in the workplace.

Mark Graban (52m 9s):
Yeah. Yeah. And there's, there's, there's big opportunity there. And like you say, as, as with many things, we could talk about workplace safety as being a, the right thing to do and be good for the business on, on, on, on many levels. So it's, it's good to have those at least to have that, that overlap between right thing to do good for the business. I, I, I, I share it that, that, that belief for that view, and I hope people will check that. We'll, we'll think about that and check out the book again, the, the, the most recent book, the business of we is Laura's book.

Mark Graban (52m 52s):
You can learn, you can find the book, Amazon, other places online, her website, again is Laura kriska.com. I'll put a link in the show notes. If the spelling isn't obvious to anyone K-12 K well, Laura, like my sister spells you would probably say the correct way. L a U R a, not Laura, but Laura and, Krista, K R I S K a.com. I ended up spelling it anyway, but Laurakriska.com, you know what, my, my name is short, but probably misspelled more often than yours. So I try to be helpful that way.

Mark Graban (53m 33s):
And I, I try not to butcher my pronunciation of Japanese words and phrases, the, the handful that I know, but I look forward to a day when we're able to travel back to Japan and go continue learning and experiencing everything that we can there. Because like, it's just in general back to maybe the question of we, like, I've, I've been fortunate. You know, I never traveled internationally until I was 25 and finishing up grad school and having had that opportunity to travel on some different countries in, in Asia and Europe in particular, it's just, it, I'm struggling with how to articulate it, but just seeing different societies and different cultures helps you, I think be appreciative of people and cultures who are different.

Mark Graban (54m 29s):
And I think it also gives you an appreciation for, for coming back home as well,

Laura Kriska (54m 35s):
And to see the strong points in different cultures, different families, different companies, you know, I just don't subscribe to the idea that there is one right way to be. There are many right ways and some right ways can seem so unfamiliar. They can even feel wrong, you know, but if you open your mind to these other ways of being a human, sometimes you get new, great ideas for yourself and you can make your own organization, your own team even better.

Mark Graban (55m 10s):
And, and maybe just as a final thought to explore real quick, I think that can also apply not just to the idea of a national culture, but even organizational culture. Many people that I've worked with have only worked in one industry being, let's say healthcare. And they've only worked a lot of times in one organization. And that doesn't mean everything about that organization or industry is bad, but it's, it doesn't mean it's good. And there are different ways. And I think part of what, you know, people like me do when we work with healthcare organizations is to try to open people's eyes, to ideas from a different healthcare organization, from a different industry.

Mark Graban (55m 51s):
It doesn't mean everything back in manufacturing was good or applicable, but to, to help open people's eyes and to get past assumptions. So like back to your first book, the accidental office lady, there was a phrase you might use from what I've heard you say today, maybe slightly different language in that book, you described it as cultural laziness. I think that can apply to studying another organization like Toyota, where people might have a superficial understanding, make certain assumptions and then maybe get into trouble from an organizational standpoint.

Laura Kriska (56m 28s):
Yes. I used to use the phrase lazy and I've changed it to a careless. I thought it was a little less pejorative.

Mark Graban (56m 36s):
I picked up on that. I'm sorry to throw that old phrase back out Kaizen on the lane.

Laura Kriska (56m 41s):
Then I always am interested in learning and I have felt, you know, I've, I've spent a lot of time in this space and I'm really interested in, I've just written a book and there's a part of me. That's like, oh, you know, someone's going to criticize me. And I'm worried about that, but it's going to be a learning experience. Then I'm going to try to be humble and vulnerable and be willing to listen. Because without that attitude, you just, you dig into your position and then you get stuck and then things change around you and you're not keeping up. And this is where we have, you know, going back to our topic about diversity.

Laura Kriska (57m 22s):
You know, we have these old 20th century colorblind culture, silent approaches to a 21st century world. That's not accepting that. And so it's again, good for business and the right thing to do to learn a new approach.

Mark Graban (57m 44s):
Well, I'm thank you for sharing your experiences, Laura, of learning new approaches, new cultures, thank you for sharing what you've shared in your books. Most recently, the business of way. I hope people will go check that out. And if they haven't already, I mean, go find episode 61 of my favorite mistake, there's a different story that we didn't touch on here related to Laura's first day on the job there at Honda. I think you'll enjoy that story and some of the conversation that we have there. So Laura, thank you again for doing another interview. I'm glad we could have a different discussion. That's good to hear more of your perspectives and different, you know, thought-provoking ideas that you bring up here. So thank you for that.

Mark Graban (58m 24s):
Thanks for being the guest.

Laura Kriska (58m 26s):
Thanks Mark.

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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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