John Chacon on Continuous Improvement and the Dangers of Paying People to Think


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My guest for Episode #429 of the Lean Blog Interviews Podcast is John Chacon, the Director of Construction Excellence at Black & Veatch.

John Chacon and Mark Graban

We've been connected on social media for a while and John's reply to a tweet led to this podcast conversation:

“If you have read this blog post and are still thinking about incentivizing folks for ideas…stop…give me a call and I will tell you some stories about paying your folks to think.”

Today, we discuss topics and questions including:

  • John's Lean origin story? In the Marine Corps.
  • Deployed to Japan – painted a different picture – in what way?
  • Cultural differences? A different level of respect?
  • Why didn't you like it at first?
  • How do you define Kaizen?
    • Not just the process, it's the people
    • Continuously improving the people
  • Later company — “The work was to improve the work”
  • How do you foster that culture?
  • Curiosity and genuine wonderment
  • What does Kaizen (what does John) suggest about how to incentivize people to submit ideas?
  • DO we need to incentivize?
  • What happens when you run out of rewards funding? Improvement stops
  • How do you tap into in intrinsic motivation?
  • Kaizen and Kata?
  • Putting things into plain English?
  • Working in other countries – Thailand, India, China — how does the Lean/Kaizen message get delivered differently?
  • Marine Corps like Kaizen — the way you are vs something you do

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


Automated Transcript (Not Guaranteed to be Defect Free)

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

Mark Graban (12s):
Hi, this is Mark Graban and welcome to episode 429 of the podcast for October 27th, 2021. Our guest today is John Chacon. You'll learn more about him in a minute. Our theme today is continuous improvement and the dangers of paying people to think. So we're going to have a great conversation about that. For show notes, links, and more, you can go to as always. Thanks for listening. If you liked the episode, please share it with a colleague, share it on social media would really appreciate it. Here's the episode. Well, hi everybody. Welcome to the podcast again, our guest today is John Chacon.

Mark Graban (54s):
He is joining us from Bakersfield, California. He is a director of construction excellence for an industrial construction company. He describes himself as an I like, I like this framing, a lean student, a TPS student. He's a Lean Six Sigma master black belt. So he's more than a student, but I like emphasizing the, the lifelong student idea, Kaizen coach, Kata coach, developer of leaders, and a board advisor to CII that's Continuous Improvement International. Is that correct? John

John Chacon (1m 30s):
Construction Institute.

Mark Graban (1m 32s):
Okay. I shouldn't it's my mistake. I should have asked that upfront. We had a previous guest talking about that. So, but John does a lot of things. He has a great background, and we're going to learn more about that today. So, John, thank you again for, for being here with us.

John Chacon (1m 50s):
Thank you, Mark. Appreciate you having me.

Mark Graban (1m 53s):
So just to kind of tee things up of, of how this episode came to be, I had posted something on LinkedIn where I got a question from somebody asking about the idea of continuous improvement in healthcare and this assumption or this question of like, well, we've got to incentivize people and she asked, what does Kaizen say? Quote unquote on my, oh, there's there's what do people say? You know, maybe there's guidance from classic Kaizen literature and, and methodology and, and John replied, I'm going to just read it and then we're going to hear more of John's thoughts on, they said he commented if you've read this blog post and are still thinking about incentivizing folks for ideas.

Mark Graban (2m 34s):
Stop, give me a call and I'll tell you some stories about paying your folks to thanks. So we're going to get some of those stories today, right? John?

John Chacon (2m 43s):
Yeah. Yeah. They will come out. It's good stuff.

Mark Graban (2m 48s):
So before we get into all of that, you know, I do like to ask guests here, you know, their, their continuous improvement, origin story, like how did you, how and where did you get introduced to lean or six Sigma or related methodologies? What was your story?

John Chacon (3m 5s):
Sure. Yeah, my story starts back in about 2005 timeframe. I was in the Marine Corps and they were rolling out a program that was supposed to help us do our jobs better. And, you know, as a early twenties Marine, you know, I didn't need any of that. We were doing fine on her own, so I didn't much care for the concept or even the suggestion. I didn't like it, that it was don't come and tell us what to do. We know our job and, you know, that's a, a lot of assumptions there at that age. And then I was deployed over to Japan and, you know, I thought I got away from out that that was just something here in the state that was going on.

John Chacon (3m 53s):
And when I got to Japan, I started getting into more of the training aspect and had some Japanese instructors that really painted a different picture of what this whole effort was. And as you can imagine in the military, you know, we're, we're not talking a whole lot about, you know, cultivating a culture of, of, of thinking and challenging things it's do as you're told. And that's really, it, there's not a lot of conversation when it comes to the military and, and that there, but I continued on with the education after Japan back into the states, and then it came time for my end of service.

John Chacon (4m 41s):
One of the things that, that I was going for was, you know, I wanted to probably be a quality guy and inspector or something or other, and the executive officer as I was exiting, the Marine Corps said, Hey, this whole lean stuff, you should, you should put that on your resume. There's something to this. And so I went ahead and put it, and that was the first bite I got coming out of. The military was with an industrial company called tic. And I was hired on shortly after and start to, to grow my understanding of what lean is. And especially in the civilian world, compared to the military, it's very, very different and the approaches are different.

John Chacon (5m 28s):
And you, you have to understand the cultures that you're walking into and the audience that you're working with. So after working at tic and Kiewit for, I think about six years or so, I had an opportunity to go to a company called air energy. They're a sub of a shell and Exxon mobile. Now air energy is a different ball game. This is a, I would call it a little closer to the world class when it comes to continuous improvement. This, this place here was in an environment where the work was to improve the work. And we had a leader was just challenging that and, and leveraging their folks and developing them.

John Chacon (6m 12s):
And so that really did expand my understanding what this is, what this is about and how we apply. Spent some time at air energy. And I got another opportunity at black and beach, and that's where I'm currently at now. And that's just been my journey. It's, it's really been one of, of almost a journey of mistakes and learning. And that's really what, it's, what it's been. You know, I tell all of my students that I get an opportunity to work with. I have screwed up everything when it comes to continuous improvement. So it's, don't, don't be afraid of that.

John Chacon (6m 54s):
And we just have to keep an open mind to learning. And that's really been the, the, the journey up to this point.

Mark Graban (7m 2s):
Well, the whole theme of learning from mistakes is something. We talk about a lot on this podcast. I'm going to do just blatant plug for my other podcast series. My Favorite Mistake, you know, I call that a lean adjacent podcast because we all make mistakes and hopefully we learn from them. So I don't know if, if there's a quote unquote favorite mistake that comes to mind. Maybe we can have a conversation about that sometime John, on the other. Absolutely. But just to go back and a couple of follow-up questions on, let's say first off your time, active duty in the Marine Corps, what I hear you saying is that this, this suggestion that things could be better was a little bit off pudding, or maybe even insulting.

Mark Graban (7m 48s):
Like I run across this in healthcare where there's, there's, you know, maybe from different, a different basis for it, but pride around the idea of like, well, look, our hospital is highly rated there's billboards everywhere saying how great we are. What do you mean we're harming patients? Like they find that insulting or the idea that things that maybe patients don't have to wait as long, or that there'll be excuses or, you know, that could also be sort of off putting and, you know, the Marine Corps for good reason has a reputation for excellence. I was wondering if you could just sort of elaborate a little bit more on that idea or have you run across that and in other companies that people say, well, Hmm.

Mark Graban (8m 28s):
I don't like being told things could be better.

John Chacon (8m 31s):
Yeah. Yeah. And the Marine Corps specifically that I own the, the, the feeling of I'm a little insulted, you know, we are, we are Marines. We are taught that we are the best. That is it. And by the way, we kind of have two wars going on, you know, and we're doing, we're doing all right. So we, don't a bunch of folks that don't know anything about this stuff. They come in and tell us about this. And, you know, that was a lot of my own mindset at the time. And, and really the, if I could go back and really think about it, if, if I could go back to the military and teach it now, I think a lot of the things that we missed often times is really talking about leveraging the talent that we have and getting those ideas and becoming more efficient, more effective, and allowing the Marines that are working the process to have that skin in the game and to feel that appreciation that their thoughts CAS and it wasn't, it wasn't like that.

John Chacon (9m 49s):
It was a little bit more, as you would imagine, military style, we see this, we're going to do this and that's it. We don't, we don't much care about your feedback. There's not a very good feedback loop there.

Mark Graban (10m 2s):
How much of, you know, one challenge I face again, just looking for parallels here. When I come in to a health care organization, if I'm talking to a group of nurses, they, they rightfully, I mean, they would be correct. They'd say, well, this guy, he's not a nurse. What does he know about our work? What does he have to teach us? But if you were to go back and teach Marines, they might say, okay, well, John's one of us he's been in our shoes as opposed to being more of let's say, well, we've got a bureaucrat or a pencil pusher coming in. Like I could see where there would be natural resistance to that, to be honest.

John Chacon (10m 35s):
Yeah. And, and, you know, you're, I was trying to be nice about it, but the term we're using is I would leave a bunch of nerds coming in here. That was the phrasing, you know, back then. And, and that's really, that's really it. I, I often reflect on those times and it's like, man, we probably could have, did a lot more if we would've gotten the engagements, you know, at an earlier time, you know, I hope since then that they've progressed from those early days. And they're still working the process.

Mark Graban (11m 13s):
One of the thing, one of the asks you talking about your time being deployed in Japan and how the trainers they're painted a pick a different picture, what were some of the key differences either in what they were teaching or how they went about it?

John Chacon (11m 29s):
The, I, I initially chalk this up to cultural differences between the Japanese and American culture, the, the Japanese instructors and Japanese nationals. There was a level of a different level of respect, a different common denominator of respect within the community, even when, when you would have protestors outside of the military gates, that they no longer wanted to base in Japan, where we were the most, the nicest and most respectful protests I have ever seen, not loud, not, you know, they were just there to make their voices heard and, and, and their, their thoughts to be considered.

John Chacon (12m 25s):
And so that was very much a difference. That was my first observation. These cultures are, are different here, so that that's been one piece of it. But the instructors also, we're really, really trying to get to the point of start thinking, start thinking and not just doing start thinking more. And if we would get to an initial thought, you know, or our first first idea, they would continue to poke, you know, and, and maybe it was their, their undercover way of providing five Y or another way of coaching or Oregon, this thing.

John Chacon (13m 14s):
But that's really what it was, was thinking beyond that first set of assumptions or presumptions that, that you would develop, you know, after a question. And that's where I, you know, I saw some really big differences there, and I think that's where I became, I went from being an opposer to like, oh, there's, there's something there's something to this here.

Mark Graban (13m 38s):
And then further progressing to now somebody who is certain, you know, advocating for it and helping others who really came along. Right. So before we talk about the idea of incentives and the need, or non need, or dysfunctions that come with it, you know, how do you define Kaizen?

John Chacon (14m 3s):
Yeah. So when it comes to Kaizen, I think it almost seems to be, we have our own terms of how we apply, because the thought of continuous improvement or good and better, we're, we're often thinking about it in a way that it's purely process-based and the way that I've, I've, you know, where I'm currently at in my journey, or my understanding is that continuous improvement is not only the process. It's, it's also the people it's of our, the, the way that we understand successful outcomes.

John Chacon (14m 49s):
It's the way that we strategize our leadership behaviors. And so it's not just continuous improvements of a process it's continuous improvement of everything. You know, the entire piece of humanity that you touched is, is subject to this continuous improvement. So that's really where I'm at right now, in my understanding that,

Mark Graban (15m 15s):
And I like that phrase you used earlier at a company you worked for along your way, the work was to improve the work. Yes. And that's not always true in a lot of organizations where, you know, the, the, the mindset is more of you're gonna come in and do it the way you were taught or like, and this happens in healthcare too. People just do it the way they do it. Like you see variation in the process and somebody might say, well, doing it this way, that works for me. I'm like, well, there's a lot you could take into and have a discussion there. So there's that question of, you know, improving, meaning having more of a standard or improving the standard.

Mark Graban (15m 55s):
I mean, you know, what, what do you do now to try to help create that culture where people do feel comfortable of saying, well, there, there is the work there's building things there's planning for building, but then the work also being to improve the work, how do you try to help foster that?

John Chacon (16m 13s):
We have a lot of that within construction. And we, we hire craftsmen and tradesmen that know how to do the work. And a lot of times just let them do their thing, you know, as long as they're safe and they're providing a quality product. And typically that's, that's, the culture I've run into is just let them do their thing. They know what they're doing, and really what we, what we have to do there is approach it in a way that that's more or more wondering and asking questions to a particular craftsman or professional, because then at the end of the day, they are experts.

John Chacon (16m 56s):
They're excellent experts. And, and they, and often times they, aren't getting an app's a lot about their opinion and their thoughts on things. And so you'll get a wealth of knowledge about how things are done. And, and a lot of times we can come closer to a standard than we previously were at a particular time. And we're still working towards that. But there, there still is quite a bit of variation. But if I were to say the way that we approach it, it really does have to be out of curiosity and wonderment and see if we can get them to, to engage really engagement is going to be the key to start off

Mark Graban (17m 41s):
That, that word wonderment is a word. I, I don't hear very often. I think that is a very apt word.

John Chacon (17m 49s):
It's a real word.

Mark Graban (17m 52s):
Yeah. I think it it's, but you know, yeah. I mean, it is a word it's a quick Google dictionary says a state of odd admiration or respect, so that, yeah, I, I wouldn't have called for that. The word sounded right. And I think, yeah, the dictionary is saying, yeah, I think that is an afterward because I it's, it's interesting to see these parallels where, you know, John, what you're describing also reminds me of healthcare. You've got highly skilled, highly educated, trained craftspeople craftsmen, and craftswomen / craftswomen might not be a word, but craftspeople, they, they, they are experts.

Mark Graban (18m 37s):
And they, they, you know, I, I don't ever want to be that nerd. Who's trying to tell them how to practice medicine. That would be inappropriate. I think sometimes, you know, they feel like healthcare providers feel like administration, maybe trying to do that. The insurance companies may be trying to tell them how to practice medicine. And yeah, I've, I've, I've just seen so many cases where people at first they're a little confused or like, well, wait, you're you, you're asking for my opinion. Cause sometimes that's not happening. And they might think, wait a minute, this, like, there might be a suspicion from that.

Mark Graban (19m 21s):
But I think then once people get comfortable with it, they do appreciate being asked their, their opinion and being involved in improvement, not just being told, no, you need to be better. And in a way that sounds insulting, but a way that's engaging because it can come from a place of respect. Yeah.

John Chacon (19m 41s):
And then that's where it, you can apply wonderment, but it has to be genuine wonderment. Right. You can't go in there and be inquisitive with, with, you know, some loaded ideas afterward, because they're going to see right through it, if not on the first interaction on the second or third or, or, you know, following interactions. And so it has to be, has to be genuine and not really just so that you can get to the next point to where you want to get to. And it needs to be the collateral flower of collaborative alignment that has to happen there.

Mark Graban (20m 21s):
Yeah. I think that's important to emphasize people can smell right away if it's not genuine, if it's, if it's manipulative and, you know, I, I, I, I tried to call time out when I hear people use a phrase. Like we want people to feel like they're respected. I'm like, well, maybe they, they, they should be respected. Or I think the phrase that, that grates on me more is we want people to feel like they had input. That's when I will really call hard time out. That's not, it's not a feeling like we don't want them to feel like they had input and then have that input be just cast aside. Like they have input. It's a fact, it's not a feeling, but

John Chacon (20m 58s):
Yeah, absolutely.

Mark Graban (21m 0s):
So back to the question that was posed to me, you know, I'll just read it. Here's how it was sent to me. What does Kaizen suggest about how to incentivize people to submit ideas? So let, let me tweak it. I'll just ask what does John suggest from your experience about how to incentivize people to submit ideas, or there's an assumption in the question, let me ask it differently. What does John suggest about the general idea of, do we need to incentivize people this way,

John Chacon (21m 30s):
If folks want to incentivize monetarily or prizes or anything? I understand, I understand the feeling of trying to, to get something sparked and maybe, you know, a few ideas that are, that are getting people thinking and, you know, what's, what's, you know, 5, 10, 20 bucks to offer there. One of the things that is different and in my, my experience with construction is we are not there for law. We're there to put something up and then we're onto the next, and it may not be with the same group.

John Chacon (22m 13s):
They may be with groups, folks, or other places, other companies. And so you're, you have to quickly establish a culture of that improvement. Now, if you really want to get the, your folks and your company to start thinking, start thinking as a practice, deliberate practice, sometimes the behavior that we're driving with those incentives is you give me idea. I give you money. I give you a prize and that's where we stay. And once, you know, the, the, especially with the jobs I've been at the money runs out.

John Chacon (22m 56s):
And so we've already established that behavior or that transactional relationship of idea for money. And once the money runs out. And if it does it for you, I mean, great. That's awesome. But if it does there, you will see an, almost an immediate response to no, you're not getting my idea because you're not giving me my reward. And so that behavior gets stylish quickly and you don't really want to do that at all. Another piece of the incentivizing things is people get weird when it comes to money or prizes and you were one person or one group for, for an improvement in our idea that led to an improvement and you'll immediately have another group that says, Hey, that was an idea.

John Chacon (23m 55s):
That's a, that's an old school best practice. And actually I made that up, you know, and then, you know, in the eighties. And so now you, you think to yourself, okay, so who, who do I ever work? Both? You know, how does this really work? And, and now we're creating a little bit of animosity groups that may have had idea that there was just quicker to document it or submit it via an ideas.

Mark Graban (24m 25s):
There are, there are all sorts of ways that, you know, incentives create weirdness and dysfunction. You know, my, my answer to that question that came in was, you know, I, I challenged the assumption that was baked into the question that said, well, how do we incentivize them? Like, there's that question of, do we need to, I mean, when you replace, what I think is a strong, intrinsic motivation with extrinsic motivation incentives, like you described, we condition people. And then once the extrinsic is gone, they don't default back to intrinsic motivation. Maybe there's been this incentive, this, this expectation that's been set.

Mark Graban (25m 7s):
You know, you raised another really good point of, you know, there, there are different degrees of, you know, the fairness perception, like 1, 1, 1 problem with the classic suggestion box system. And like, when I started my career at general motors as an engineer, there were even times where I could submit a suggestion and a lot of it, it was so individual based. I submitted a suggestion, well, what happens to teamwork? Or like, if a group of people talked about it, an idea, and then one person submits it and gets the reward that, that creates way, you know, that, that that's just creates so many problems. And now people aren't going to collaborate and share with each other.

Mark Graban (25m 49s):
And like one thing I've seen that's least dysfunctional, like, you know, at my co-op in my co-authors hospital where Joe Schwartz works in Indiana, like they do, it's more recognition than rewards. Like it's a couple of bucks at some points, it's a gift card, but they will share that freely. Right? So their Kaizen submission process, whether it's one people or three people or 10 people who talked about it, who collaborated on it, they all get the reward. They're trying to eliminate that, that infighting, that, that would occur when we give, let's say a thousand dollars to one person, and that's not shared with their team.

Mark Graban (26m 29s):
Like why, why, why would you do that?

John Chacon (26m 33s):
Yeah, absolutely. It's, it's, you know, really, if, if you, you know, if you do go down that road of incentivizing, really, really think those behaviors you're going to drive. And I love that, that idea of, you know, we do give her a reward. It's going to be team-based and shared, you know, and that's the way to help drive that collaboration that we're looking for, you know, a lot, lot better than, than what you're talking about. That individual I ideas system, try to tap into really understanding the group or a particular person that we're working with because everyone's gonna have their own, you know, background and insights.

John Chacon (27m 45s):
It's, it's gonna motivate them. You're going to have some folks that are going to be motive motivated by probably a, maybe, maybe a end of job bonus. If we increase productivity, we're going to be open to a bonus. And so, you know, another way of incentivizing, but there's the majority of folks that, that I get a chance to work with and talk to just get excited about being able to do it better. And, and in construction, the amount of waiting that happens is, is it's just overwhelming. And there's a lot of folks that they don't want their data drive on.

John Chacon (28m 25s):
Let's get busy, let's get to work. If I can be engaged in work, you know, 90, 95% of the day, that's a huge win. And I'm not going to have to have a day that's dragging on, you know, two hours of waiting for material or waiting for a request for information. And, you know, people's days drag on like that. So the majority of the folks get excited just about just to make things a little bit better and easier for themselves, their,

Mark Graban (28m 54s):
Yeah. You bring up that. That's a really interesting point. The idea people do like to feel productive. They do like to feel useful. I mean, I think there, there would be this bias or this bad perception of like, yeah, oh, they'd love to sit around. They love sitting around doing nothing. They're drinking coffee. They're talking about the playoff game. That's coming up then. And, and, you know, like you said, sometimes though the day drags on, like, I think back to one of my Toyota mentors who would talk about like getting into a state of flow, like you're not working too fast, but you're working and it's with a purpose and it's a good, at a good pace. And that's when the hours fly by you're you're in that zone.

Mark Graban (29m 37s):
And when, when people challenged like, oh, it must be awful doing repetitive work all day. And the though the one Toyota person I'm thinking, but say, well, no, you're, you're, you're in that zone. That's an, that's an enjoyable place to be.

John Chacon (29m 50s):
Yeah, that's it we'll get that all the time in construction is like, well, this, this isn't, this isn't manufacturing, this isn't Toyota. You know, we don't have the luxury of repetitive work and we do it. It just looks different. You know, it's, you know, we will, well today we will, well, tomorrow we will, you know, bolts out structural steel today, tomorrow. So on and so forth, you know, we go to the toll room on a daily basis. So it's just getting people to look at the repetitiveness and in a different way is going to be key there for that. It's, it's an interesting dynamic because I, I go back, I go a little soft with, with the folks, because the guys that are at the construction sites that are working 10 to 12 hours a day, five to seven days a week, depending on the contract, we need schedule.

John Chacon (30m 51s):
Typically they're away from their families. We're in the middle of nowhere. You you'll have folks that aren't seeing their kids or their wives or their, their loved ones for months on end. And there's the catch 22 of we did. We did a good enough job that you're going to be able to roll off to another job somewhere else. And so income will continue, but that also means that you have another extended period of time away from, from those folks and away from normal. And I'll tell you right now, living out of our hotel months on end is it does something to the, to the soul there. And it's, it's one of the things that you also have to consider is that that's a big sacrifice.

John Chacon (31m 33s):
And with that sacrifice, let's make it the most productive environments, the most rewarding environment that we can for the folks doing the work, because the, the that's a, it's a small group cut from a different cloth that are, that are going to do this work and take that sacrifice on

Mark Graban (31m 57s):
There. There's one other parallel I can't help, but notice where, you know, in healthcare, when we talk about standardizing, how work is being done, how care is being provided, people will, will, will say, well, every patient is unique as a reason to not standardize. And to me, I would say, well, that's a reason to be careful about standardization. And what does that really mean? Where I could see somebody saying, well, every building is unique, but within that, you, you pointed to certain skills welding and putting up a wall. Like there, there are certain, there are certain tasks that can be standardized within the context of doing a unique job, right?

John Chacon (32m 40s):
Yeah, absolutely. You know, there's, each job will tell you, this is a different job. This is, you know, it's a special session, every, you know, some reason, every job, that special job. And so really getting us to the point where we understand what the repetition looks like is going to be key. Because one day you're going to have a guy welding at Heights, you know, a hundred feet in the air. And then the next day, he may be honest back in the dirt, you know, and being able to get materials where he needs to have it, making sure that, that his paperwork and safety checks are in place.

John Chacon (33m 27s):
A lot of those repetitive pieces are what we try to get folks to focus in on. And that's the standard that we're talking about. It's a lot of times, it's not about them burning rod or, or, you know, doing whatever it is to install the unit of measure that they're installing. It's really getting them to standardize everything up to that point is really what we try to get them to do. And that's where we see a lot of the benefit there.

Mark Graban (33m 57s):
One of the things I wanted to ask you, you know, your, your thoughts and experiences, you know, the Kaizen as a word and a mindset and a methodology has been around for a long time, newer introduction, maybe 10 years, little more than 10 years ago is the word Kata. And the, in the context of Toyota Kata, what Mike Rother has brought to the world with his book and people have really embraced and run with what, what do you see in, in terms of connections, differences, you know, using those, those two different words, Kaizen, kata,

John Chacon (34m 35s):
I, I really, really love and, and, and like the, the, the kata practice and what it's instills, you know, we, you know, I speak for myself, we took the word Kaizen and we try to install it into things that we were already doing behaviors and practices and habits we already had. And, you know, I always done a mixed bag on how we apply things. And with, with Mike's work that he's, he's put out there, he's really brought in a lot of the habits and, you know, mechanisms or habits that they get put in place to help cultivate that Kaizen that's that's happening.

John Chacon (35m 27s):
And so when we do that, we're able to get that deliberate practice of thinking. And not only the folks that are the, that are practicing the improvement caught aside, but the coaching caught aside for leadership. Now, when we think about leaders, especially in our industry or my industry of construction, if we take a look at what the habits are, what we do, it's a lot of meetings, client meetings, department meetings, meetings, meetings, meetings, and how do we get ourselves closer to that coaching conduct, where we're getting ourselves used to a habit of going out and interacting, going to go into gemba and interacting with the folks, doing the work and challenged them to think, and be inquisitive and ask those questions.

John Chacon (36m 30s):
To me, it's really taking that Kaizen component and giving it the soil and water and the sun that it needs for it to take place. And that's really what I see there. And I really, really appreciate that work. And Mike himself is super helpful. He always answers questions. He's always there takes the time to do that, and he never blows me off or ask for anything. And that's a, that's a level of respect and sharing of a culture that, you know, that I'd like to continue to expand. So I'm really, really appreciative of that.

John Chacon (37m 13s):
Kata practice.

Mark Graban (37m 15s):
And as useful as these approaches are, I mean, one thing that often comes up for discussion is using the Japanese words versus just trying to talk about it in plain English. I mean, have you, what, what have you found? I mean, it's hard to generalize. Sometimes things could depend on the company or the team. What have you, do they embrace terms like that? Or do you try to use broader terms like improvement routine?

John Chacon (37m 40s):
Yeah. Yeah. So it's to the audience, that's, we're, you know, you're going to have to make your adjustments there. I had to get out of the thoughts. My, my initial thoughts were, I want to stick as close to TPS as possible. I want to stay there and use some of the terms or words that the ideas from there, and, you know, I got everything from, well, why didn't you just say improvement? You know, that's, that's better. And I've gotten some extreme ones too. Why are we saying that we won the war, you know, or we get some pretty extreme box there and, and meeting people where they're at.

John Chacon (38m 23s):
A lot of people want to know the origin of Kaizen, no wants to know. Y you know, we call a fishbone diagram on ECC power diagram, you know, and they want to know those, those certain details. And there was just there's people that are, that also will receive it as just this translated for me, you know, the spare me, it's barely the last time being able to meet those folks there. And I hopefully will create the interests where, you know, we can go back and it says some of the history, I love the history portion as well, being able to share that, but you really have to meet folks where they are, and, and they're all gonna have their, their own filters and perceptions of it.

John Chacon (39m 9s):
And that's where you, as a practitioner, we, as practitioners have to make our adjustments and, and get them, not get them away from the word and get them into the practice is really where we got. We got to navigate.

Mark Graban (39m 26s):
Yeah. Well, one of the things I wanted to ask you about when you talk about different audiences and that can include different countries. So, you know, we're talking about a little bit about Japanese words, your time being deployed in Japan and some differences, and your later career here, you've worked in other countries. Can you, can you tell us about that? Are there any differences in how the message around lean or improvement gets delivered? How it's practiced?

John Chacon (39m 54s):
Absolutely. You know, I've had a chance to, to teach and coach and Thailand, China, and India, and the, the cultures are impressive and you can almost, I can almost see, so, oh, wow. I might be able to accelerate, you know, a Kaizen culture in a particular country to the particular culture. And that's really going back to understanding that audience, you, you go to India. I, I love India. I love Indian people after our, our instruction.

John Chacon (40m 39s):
They liked the, everybody in the class lined up and gave hugs, it was, it was awesome. You know, the, the components of respect for people really, really was, was driven home in India and in Thailand, because Thailand, the way it was explained to me that there's, we're not going to argue, you know, we need to come to a peaceful alignment resolution, or there's not going to be any kind of pushing ideas on you. And so that was what was great to, to see there with the, the culture there, Thailand, the, the need for collaboration in silence.

John Chacon (41m 26s):
And then in, in China, you know, the, the students for the first couple of days were standoffish and that they really held back. And after we got them going, I mean, the rooms were roaring with, with conversation and challenges of how we think about things and had an opportunity to take the word Kaizen and bring up the old Kanji. And then the Chinese students were able to look at it and break it down historically. And then we also had a, a South Korean national be able to say, well, that right there also translates in Korea.

John Chacon (42m 7s):
And so having those conversations and what they're really what we're, what we're really trying to get to has, has been excellent. And life-changing experiences just overall traveling to those countries that got sent there and being able to, to have that opportunity.

Mark Graban (42m 28s):
Yeah. I haven't had a chance to travel to India for work. You know, I spent a week in China visiting some hospitals and giving some talks. That's a limited perspective. I did spend maybe total of four, three or three, three weeks with a hospital in Bangkok. So that was a deeper opportunity to really be more continually working with people sometimes through a translator sometimes not. But, you know, they say, you know, Thailand is the “land of smiles,” sort of a nickname. And they embrace that as part of their, their culture. People really do smile a lot.

Mark Graban (43m 10s):
And I think of organizations, even in the U S where Kaizen is really part of the culture. Yeah. That brings a lot of smiles. You know, even if it's a workplace where people might not be smiling a lot, like there's a, there's something for that joy that comes from being listened to being engaged, being able to help improve things. I think some of that is a pretty universal need that people have

John Chacon (43m 40s):
Absolutely at the end of the day, you know, we're all people. And we, I don't know if it's the purpose thing. We all want purpose and being able to tap into that. But there's also, we all want to almost own what we are doing as well. This, this isn't, this isn't yours. I'm just trading you time or money for my time. And my skill. This is something that is also mine in healthcare. This is also my patients, you know, that having that relationship with and in construction, you're going to have folks that are, that, that structure is also mine.

John Chacon (44m 23s):
You know, I, I will be able to get to drive by this for decades on end. And, you know, a piece of me is there. So there's, there's a piece that we, I think we have to tap into. And, and, and that's really where you start seeing some magic app.

Mark Graban (44m 39s):
Well, that that's, yeah, that would be, I think, an amazing sense of accomplishment. Like you said, to, to, to see something that you contributed to that's so lasting in such a visible physical way.

John Chacon (44m 55s):
Yeah. And I'm on another hand, I'm envious of the, the folks and healthcare, because you're, you know, you're working with a person, you know, you're in improving the experience for a person. So how incredibly rewarding that would be as well. It's something that's always, I've always appreciated about the healthcare groups.

Mark Graban (45m 19s):
Yeah. And that, and that's one thing that's a huge advantage when doing this work in healthcare, the, the sense of purpose, the intrinsic motivation is so strong. It's not just a job for, for most people. So to tap into that and to try to find the alignment around that is, is powerful. So one of the things I wanted to ask you, John, before we wrap up, you know, having you having spent, you know, five years active duty in the Marine Corps, you know, it's a very different experience. I I've not had that experience. So one thing that was interesting when, when you and I had talked previously, you brought up this idea where there was a parallel between being in the Marine Corps and practicing continuous improvement, like what you do versus the way you are, when, if you could sort of elaborate on that thought for us.

John Chacon (46m 17s):
Yeah. So before going into the Marine Corps, you know, just, just after nine 11, you'd always see the commercials — first to fight, you know, simplify the changes rather. And a lot of those, those little terms there that you would see and you think that's all marketing, and it's one of those things that are, I get to explain to, to veterans of any branch that, you know, especially for the Marines, you, you, you don't join the Marines, you become a Marine, and that is now a layer that's imprinted on you for forever and ever.

John Chacon (47m 3s):
And what we really need to, to draw from that and get that understanding of becoming a Marine is that's and the relationship to lean or Kaizen or continuous improvements, or what, or what have you. It's not about doing the stuff that, that, that, you know, they called that we easily identify those tangible items. It's about becoming that, that lean practitioner, that the way that you see things, the way that you, that you observe them in. And so there is that correlation that, you know, when I get a chance to talk to your fellow veterans, it's a way for me to be able to explain, you know, becoming something versus just doing something.

John Chacon (47m 58s):
And a lot of times at first you're going to just do something it's not overnight. And, you know, after, after you do it and you, you believe in it and you're, you're all in it, you actually become it. And, and it's, it's one of those things that you won't notice right away, but it gets to that point. And, and only those have gotten to that point of becoming lean and really understand, like, I, I understand what that means. You know, I, that's the way I look at everything now, that's the way I practice everything now. And, and that's really one of the best connections I can make to get coming something versus doing something

Mark Graban (48m 43s):
Well, that's very well said. And this, this notion of becoming lean reminds me of, you know, Jeffrey likers book from the late nineties before he wrote anything in the Toyota way series, there was this book that sort of a collection of case studies from different companies and the title of that book is becoming lean. Yeah.

John Chacon (49m 3s):
Yeah, absolutely. That's when, when we have to add in the Marine for, you had a list of required reading and being able to, to do, you know, a machine that changed the world, you know, all those books there, you, you read it and it's young and you're taking the information and, but it's not registering. And so sometime later you start to see, or I started to see like, oh, okay, that's what they were talking about. It's almost like you're talking to one of your kids and you just say, you'll understand when you get home. It's one of those things, but it's nice to reflect and see some of those things and be able to achieve, you know, a certain state.

Mark Graban (49m 52s):
Yeah. Well, John, thank you, you know, first off, thank you for your service and, you know, thank you for a really good conversation here today, adding to some of that conversation about Kaizen incentives and we were able to get into so much more today, so really appreciate it really, really enjoyed it. Thank you. Thanks again.

John Chacon (50m 12s):
Absolutely. Mark. Appreciate you and all your work that you do things again for the opportunity things.

Mark Graban (50m 19s):
Well, thanks again to John Chacon for being our guests today for having a great discussion for links and show notes and more information about how to subscribe. You can go

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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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