Insights from CEO Gary Michel on Lean Thinking for Enterprises and the Need to Decomplify Work


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Joining us for Episode #470 of the Lean Blog Interviews Podcast is Gary Michel.

He was Chairman and CEO of Jeld-Wen, Inc. until August 2022 and, just after that, I saw him give an outstanding keynote talk at the AME annual conference in Dallas.

Gary was previously President and CEO of Honeywell Home and Building Technologies (HBT) and President and CEO of ClubCar. He also led the Trane HVAC business, among other executive roles.

He has a BS in Mechanical Engineering from Virginia Tech and an MBA from the University of Phoenix.

His book, Decomplify: How Simplicity Drives Stability, Innovation, and Transformation, will be available later this year.

In this episode, Gary discusses his Lean origin story and how he views and drives Lean as a CEO. He reflects on the importance of strategy deployment and Lean as an enterprise approach, and shares his approach to Lean problem solving as a CEO. Gary emphasizes the impact of taking a “fresh eyes” approach to Gemba walks, and talks about the importance of being inquisitive and taking responsibility for simplifying processes (or “decomplifying” them).

Questions, Notes, and highlights:

  • What's your Lean origin story?
  • Lower volume business – how to make it flow? We're not Toyota?
  • Strategy deployment… lean as an enterprise
  • How to be focused on most pressing needs?
  • Reaction to the John Toussaint quote – “you've seen one lean transformation….”
  • “I teach problem solving a lot”
  • Who were your teachers, guides and coaches?
  • Shedding Old habits and old philosophies
  • How did you drive Lean problem solving from the CEO seat?
  • How to coach others away from bad habits?
  • Culture impact of coaching leaders vs. selecting the right ones for promotion?
  • Having a rallying cry to set direction
  • Working to reduce fear of speaking up
  • Get out there… those closest to the work
  • How to get other leaders out to the Gemba?
  • The impact of taking leaders out on a Gemba walk??
  • Some are afraid of that, making mistakes?
  • The importance of taking a “Fresh Eyes” approach??
  • Why should leaders be inquisitive when things don't look the way they're supposed to look?
  • What's your definition of a “great company”?
  • Problem Solving AND communication as much as anything else
  • Influencing other CEOs to take interest in Lean yet alone drive it?
  • Gets asked – What if my CEO isn't driving this?
  • Decomplifying annual planning and strategy cycles?

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Automated Transcript (Not Guaranteed to be Defect Free)

Announcer (1s):
Welcome to the Lean Blog Podcast. Visit our website Now, here's your host, Mark Graban.

Mark Graban (12s):
Hi, it's Mark Graban, welcome to episode 470 of the podcast. It's March 1st, 2023. Our guest today is Gary Michel, and you'll learn more about him and his background in a minute. But we've got a fairly unusual opportunity today to hear the perspectives of a CEO. Gary's been CEO of many organizations, and he, he's not just supporting Lean in those roles, he's really owning lean and driving it as part of the strategy and the culture of the organizations that he's been with. So I think you're really gonna enjoy that discussion. And, you know, it's actually Gary, the one is the one here in, in the conversation who keeps bringing the conversation back to the shop floor and the people who work there.

Mark Graban (56s):
And we're gonna talk about lean from a strategy deployment standpoint, top-down leadership. And we're also gonna talk about the importance of engaging everybody on the front line and, and bridging those gaps between the C-suite and the front line. So you can learn more about Gary and, and, and find links in a transcript video and more by going to Hi everybody, welcome back to the podcast. Our guest today is Gary Michel. He was most recently chairman and CEO of a company called Jeld-Wen until August, 2002. And then just after that, I saw him give in a, an outstanding, really outstanding keynote talk at the AME Annual Conference in Dallas.

Mark Graban (1m 42s):
So Gary was previously president and CEO of Honeywell Home and Building Technologies. He was president and CEO of Club Car, and he also led the Trane HVAC business among other executive roles. So Gary is an engineer, he has a BS in mechanical engineering from Virginia Tech and an MBA from the University of Phoenix. And his book titled Decomplify: How Simplicity Drives Stability, innovation, and Transformation will be available later this year. So we'll get to talk about all of that and more. Gary, thank you so much for being here. How are you?

Gary Michel (2m 14s):
Oh, thanks for having me here. Doing well, thank you.

Mark Graban (2m 17s):
So I'm, I'm, I'm glad we can not to ask you to recreate that whole keynote talk, but there's a couple, you know, follow up questions and a couple other things that we can dig into. But you know, first off, I, I do like to ask guests about their Lean Origin story, if you will. You know, especially as you rose through the ranks to be CEO of different companies, you know, how, where and when did you first get introduced to Lean?

Gary Michel (2m 42s):
So I think like a lot of people, particularly, you know, running, operate manufacturing businesses, and we all grew up with, you know, quality, learning about quality and demand flow and it, I guess everything kind of came together for me when I was running a business called road development asphalt paver business, asphalt pavers and compacting business that Ingersol ran had. And we were making a major transformation in our product categories and really updating our products. And, and at that time, certainly in the operations we had, had, had started some lean transformations within the four walls, certainly on, on some of the, the new lines for some of our new compactor products.

Gary Michel (3m 35s):
And it was really slick. It really went well. It was everything you would expect, you know, with, you know, great value stream mapping and all, all the way down visual management and, you know, really what you would expect. And, and today, even in, in, in a great, a great line setup, but I guess I was still subscribing back then to this, you know, the old philosophy of, of a commercial end and product end of the business front end of the business. And then we kind tossed everything over and the operations folks kind of picked it up and ran with it from there. And we were trying to take the same flow dynamics that we had in the compactor business, which is a, you know, higher volume, less variable variable business to the paver business, which is the exact opposite always station built.

Gary Michel (4m 26s):
It was very custom. And, and we started to think about that, right? And we were looking at this global business, looking at this major transformation and looking at how to flow that line. And what ended up showing up for me was, you know, basically strategy, strategy deployment, right? And Connery, how do you line up, you know, a critical few decisions across an entire organization and get people to buy in and understand, you know, their part of the whole. And for me, that's really when lean as an enterprise business operating system or strategy came to life, where I really saw the magic of how alignment communication, taking visual management from the top to the bottom of the organization and combining everybody really as, as one team.

Gary Michel (5m 23s):
And, and it's, it's maybe not the initial in initial manufacturing introduction, but it's the introduction to how I saw it as a, as a great enterprise tool.

Mark Graban (5m 35s):
Yeah. So I'd love to come back and explore some of that progression as you described it from being a manufacturing thing to be more of an enterprise system. But what, what was the, the rough timeframe for when you were exposed to that in the asphalt pavers business,

Gary Michel (5m 50s):
Early two thousands for, from the enterprise standpoint.

Mark Graban (5m 55s):
So it sounds like that was kinda, you know, bubbling up through the organization or the sponsorship for that lean manufacturing activity might have been taking place at a plant manager level, VP of ops level.

Gary Michel (6m 8s):
Yeah. So yeah, my VP of ops at that time had certainly brought it into that business. You know, not to say we didn't have elements of lean in other facilities and, and other places in the business, but, but the total kind of, certainly within the four walls was brought to me at that time.

Mark Graban (6m 28s):
Yeah. So I was wondering if you could expand a little bit, you know, I think it's really interesting, you know, to think about any of us individually trying to shift away from deeply held, you know, older philosophies. What I hear you saying, and, you know, correct me if I'm wrong, or you know, if you can elaborate on this, that as a CEO, you were focused on sales, customer product and that manufacturing was a function that you, you didn't really have to pay much notice to. Or how, how would you describe it and, and how that shift occurred?

Gary Michel (6m 60s):
Yeah, I mean, I think we, we all grow up as general managers certainly understanding our, our operations and, you know, we give a, back in those days, we gave a portion of our time to operations, a portion of our time to the front end the business. And it was how you, you where your priorities were and what each business, what each business needed. In my particular case, I did a lot of, I went into a lot of businesses that needed some sort of transformation. That was kinda what my, my remit usually was in going to these businesses. So it depended on what the need was at the time. In this particular case, the, the business needed kind of a little bit of both, right?

Gary Michel (7m 41s):
And so I, I was able to use, you know, you know, my manufacturing bit to, to work on the manufacturing side. But again, there wasn't a tie to the overall growth strategy until, you know, it was kind of like the aha moment of if you get everybody aligned, it's aligned on the same page and working together, you understand what's possible, but you also are able to make sure everybody, you know, gets the, it's kind of the right sequence at the right time, but making sure that everything's working together. So it wasn't that, you know, never, never, never focused on manufacturing before. Certainly did. But just the putting all the elements together of, of, of flow, of, of visual management, of, of, of, of strategy deployment, putting it all together really was, was that was the first time for me.

Gary Michel (8m 37s):

Mark Graban (8m 38s):
I mean, what, what you said there reminds me of some old Taiichi Ohno advice from one of his books about the Toyota Production System. There's a chapter just headed start from need, and he would talk about your most pressing needs, where I think there's always a risk of, of people wanting to be prescriptive in terms of, well, here are the tools you need to implement because here's how we did it someplace else. What, what would your guidance to other CEOs be about making sure that that lean is, is really focused on the most pressing needs of the enterprise?

Gary Michel (9m 11s):
Well, I, I would say that part of it is also the other, the other, other, other, another saying there is this, go see, right? If you go see what's going on in your organization where the work is being done, you are going to see the need. I mean, there's no doubt about it. It could be on the manufacturing floor, it could be in functional areas, it could be with your customers. But, you know, my recommendation to every leader is go see, go where the work's being done. That's where you're gonna find out where the value's created, but you're also gonna see where the opportunities are.

Mark Graban (9m 47s):
And you, you're, you're also, you're reminding me of another quote, this is really more from healthcare circles. Dr. John Toussaint, who had been the CEO leading a lean transformation at a hospital system in Wisconsin. He had learned from manufacturing companies and, and I've heard John say, if you've seen one lean transformation, you've seen one lean transformation. So was my view your reaction to that comment? Or you know, how you would elaborate, making sure, elaborate on the idea of making sure that you're not just trying to copy something that worked for you before, previously, or something that worked elsewhere?

Gary Michel (10m 23s):
Yeah, I, I always tell people, I, I feel like it's either Groundhog Day or, or I'm the, the, the kindergarten teacher, right? I see the same, same seem to see the same course over and over again. You know, I teach problem solving a lot, right? It's usually where it starts is, you know, it's a, it's an easy way to start because it's something that you don't need all the other tools necessarily. But you can, you can teach, you can teach a, a process, you can ask the question, you don't even need a form, right? You can can ask a question, what problem are we trying to solve? What do we know? Where are we trying to get to? What do we think are, are, are the, the obstacles of getting there?

Gary Michel (11m 4s):
But the, the they, if you've seen one, you've seen one that it's kind of true, where you plug in and, and how you solve problems to me is really the essence of it. All. The tools are just that they're tools and you've gotta have a culture around problem solving and using the right tools then to solve the problem. So Hammer may work in one place and need a screwdriver in another, but the idea of it really flowing around problem solving to me is, is where you start half the problem, of course is just defining the problem sometimes.

Gary Michel (11m 47s):
And, but I've always felt that if we, if we can focus around a problem solving, creating an entire organization of problem solvers, even we can then start to understand, you know, where we need to apply different tools to do different things. And to me, that's really, really kind of the essence of how I start an organization into Lean is really not even calling it that way. We're talking about problem solving.

Mark Graban (12m 15s):
So I'd love to dig into that a little bit more. I mean, first off, like who was who, who were your teachers or guides or coaches in, in terms of this style of problem solving?

Gary Michel (12m 26s):
Well, I mean, there've been many along the way. I mean, I've, you know, one of the very, so, you know, a guy named Ken Martin was, was the guy at Road who, who really was fascinated with the kinda Toyota production system and, and brought me to, to our factory there. You know, I've had a number of coaches along the way, you know, you know Dan McDonald, you know, Greg Minor, you know, these guys have been, you know, have taught me quite a bit over the way. A lady named Mary Kotler, who you may or may not know was, you know, worked with me in operations at Club Car in fact.

Gary Michel (13m 9s):
And she had come from another industry and brought some, some great things. So, so a lot of people along the way, but a lot of reading, a lot of studying and a lot of just doing is one of the things is just get out there and do it. Yeah. You know, but problem solving, you know, is something that, there's plenty written on it, you can read all about it, but in, you know, you really need to dive in and, you know, roll up your sleeves and be part of, of helping to solve problems and, and playing the correct roles as well. You know, as a leader in particular, you know, it's about asking questions and being curious, you know, if you have those traits, you're probably be a good problem solver.

Mark Graban (13m 54s):
Yeah. So then in your roles as CEO, I'm, I'm, I'm, I'm curious to hear, you know, how you would help people through the need to shed old habits, old philosophy. So let's say, for example, not wanting to take the time to properly define the problem, you know, the, the tendency or the habit to want to jump to solutions or rush into implementation. Like how, how would you coach or guide or, or help people not just learn lean, but move past, you know, the old way that that might have helped them rise up through the ranks?

Gary Michel (14m 31s):
So, I mean, I think, I think, you know, one of the things is we're all taught our education system, right? And even when we get into business is kind of backwards for lean, we're all taught how to solve problems, right? We're taught, you know, come up with the answer and, and, and gimme the answer. And, and we're all, that's what we are. We're a problem solving. We wanna jump right to the pro solving the problem and giving the answer. And that's what gets us promoted. It's what gets us jobs and what gets us promoted. And we get into positions where we're trying to move organizations, and we still had that tendency, you know, bias to action and, and solve a problem.

Gary Michel (15m 15s):
It's what we're not taught is how to ask questions and how to, to, to draw out a little deeper meaning and, and what the problem might be for others and help others learn to be problem solvers as well. So for me, it's about that, right? It's figuring out and helping people understand that their role has changed as a leader to be somebody that's got to enable others to be problem solvers. And the way you do that is through asking questions, observing, you know, being there. You're the, the higher an organization you go, the, the further away you are from actually doing the work.

Gary Michel (15m 55s):
So there's a couple of things you need to realize. One in, in my case is the people closest to the work usually know how to do their job better than anybody else. They know what the problems are and if they're enabled, they'll help solve them and they'll come up with new ways to do the work better. So we need to make sure that we identify where that work is being done, where the problem can best be solved and give those folks the tools, the capabilities, quite frankly, the authority to go and solve those problems as well. So that's how I would coach in a, a new leader or leader that, that, that doesn't quite understand that the other side of that, the benefit of that is if we create an entire organization of problem solvers, it frees up leadership's time to do other things, to solve the problems that are outside of their purview or to focus more on growth and, and, and, and other things that, that are important to the enterprise as well.

Mark Graban (16m 53s):
Yeah. So over time, you know, as you're working with other leaders in terms of what has an impact on the culture, like how much of it is a matter of coaching up leaders versus kind of selecting certain leaders for promotion based on their willing to their, their ability to adapt or their ability to adopt some of these new habits as you're describing.

Gary Michel (17m 19s):
So I think it's really important. I mean, culture, a culture of problem solving, a culture that focuses on lean and, you know, you really have to have an environment that's that's aligned. You know, I often talk about a couple of elements. One is, is having a rally cry within your company's probably something internal, but something that sets the direction for the entire company that, or a team that that, that helps people rally around kind of your mission and, and your, something they get excited about and, and wanna be a part of. But the, the, the, the, to me, you can set the culture in motion, you know, a number of different ways, but you know, one is, is engaging, engaging everybody at every level in the business.

Gary Michel (18m 9s):
You know, being transparent about where you are, being transparent about where you want go, and then involving them in, in the, in the process. One of the things I like to do as, as you know, certainly as a ceo, love to do it as a leader of a business, is anytime there are new hires in the company. So I did this every quarter. Anybody hired in the company anywhere in the quarter. I know I spent, you know, an hour with the, the group on a, on a, on a call, just on a video. And, you know, they, the, if, if they could be local, we would do it local, but we would would normally do it that way as well.

Gary Michel (18m 52s):
And we would, I would just point out that, you know, I'm, what I'm really trying to understand and create is an environment where they're not fearful of asking me questions or pointing things out to me. So what I ask in that call very simply is tell me, you know, introduce yourself to me. Why, why'd you, why did you come to the company? You know, what were you expecting in your first 90 days or however long you've been here? How has your expectation matched reality? And are there any opportunities that you've noticed since you've been here, you know, that, that, you know, you could point out to us with your fresh eyes that, that maybe we don't see, or, you know, we've been walking by and it does a couple things.

Gary Michel (19m 37s):
Number one, out of that, I get some gems, right, of, you know, where, where the culture mostly at that point there, there's cultural things they were expecting and it, it helps me understand or rematching the culture we're selling or the culture we aspire to with what's actually there. And that's where that is. But it also starts to create that environment that even somebody who's only been with the company a few weeks or a few months is comfortable pointing out areas of opportunity or problems that they see. I do that also with, when people go into new jobs now there it's more a, a one-on-one, but if they go into a new role, again, I I ask them very, you know, very quickly within their, you know, their first quarter or so of being there to share with me their observations, things that they see because your fresh eyes are the, the, you know, it's a great, it's a opportunity to see things you've invariably something that they've been walking by for, for, for months, weeks, whatever.

Gary Michel (20m 55s):
And they always get frustrated. They're like, how come you come in here and you can see something that we just didn't see? And the point is, is after time it becomes part of the fabric. You, you just don't even notice it. It's not that anybody's smarter or, or you know, we're trying to play a game or anything. It's just we fresh eyes always see something that that, that, that other people don't. And that's about creating the cult, changing the culture. It's more than just a acute saying, fresh eyes. It's, it's, it's about creating that culture of pointing things out that, that, that may be outta place.

Mark Graban (21m 30s):
Yeah. So let's get out to the gemba to the shop floor here, I guess with our conversation, cuz you keep Sure, I appreciate that you keep taking us there. And speaking of, you know, old philosophies to move away from, like, you know, I like I saw that, for example, like when I was at General Motors, the first plant manager I worked under was the very traditional stay in the mahogany paneled corner office type. He only came out to the factory if there was some really big huge problem. And I don't, he didn't contribute much other than like glaring, you know, about when's it gonna be fixed versus a second plant manager who did spend all of his time out in the factory, or a lot of it he was Toyota trained, you know, through the GM new me partnership.

Mark Graban (22m 13s):
So how, how often did you run into some version of that old habit or trying to convince other leaders to do, like you were doing, you were leading by example, but what maybe that's what it, what it took

Gary Michel (22m 25s):
Wellfor? Yeah, I mean that's kind of the answer, right? I mean unfortunately there's still a lot of plant managers and a lot of companies that operate that way that, you know, I kind of got the religion, you know, a couple of decades ago. Other people, you know, still haven't gotten it. And I think that separates good fu companies from great companies. But the, yeah, I mean, part of it is by example, almost, almost every time, you know, it's, it's part of my leader standard work is going to gemba. You know, part of that is, is is obviously going into factories and, and participating in, I I wanna participate in their walk, not create a new one.

Gary Michel (23m 11s):
Now I understand that, you know, more senior leader you are, you show up something is gonna be a little bit different. You know, they're, it's gonna be a little special, but for the most part, I ask when their walk is not, you know, creating one around my schedule. So I try to walk along, it's their walk and I participate and I watch how it, how it happens. It's, you can usually tell fairly quickly if it's a normal practice or not if it's part of the organization because just how people react. But you know, again, helping, you know, when I go through there, I ask questions out of curiosity. It's just a habit I have.

Gary Michel (23m 52s):
So, you know, I watch what happens and if it, you know, if there's something I wanna ask, I'll ask it. It's just like anybody else. But part of it is just showing the way, right? Showing how it's done. You know, back to that idea that we're not really taught how to ask questions, we're taught how to solve problems. You know, some people, you know, some plant managers even to this day, but, you know, even leader, you know, general managers and you know, non-operational leaders who are asked to go to gemba, you know, are afraid of that. You know, it's, it's something that they're, they're not comfortable in. It's something they've never done. They're afraid they're gonna screw it up or ask the wrong question or, you know, whatever.

Gary Michel (24m 33s):
So part of it is just showing that, you know, lean is really, it's really common sense, right? You know, we're, we've got visual management, we usually have the prompts there to, to see how things are going. And it doesn't take a lot to figure out if it's not right. How to figure out if something's operating correctly or not. Usually in a plant environment, you know, the role that that I end up playing is, is understanding why something's been outta whack for longer than it should have been. And, and trying to, to help and provide resources when necessary to solve that problem. And sometimes it's just asking about it, right? Making sure people are aligned.

Gary Michel (25m 14s):
So really it's bringing the people along and, and showing by example and asking, you know, certain types of questions. After a few of them, they get the idea of what the questions are that you should ask and they realize they're pretty practical questions. Yeah.

Mark Graban (25m 32s):
And then, you know, you, you, you've brought up fear a couple of times and the need to help reduce or eliminate that fear. I think it's really interesting when you, you know, you have anybody who has decades of, of habit leading the other way and they're trying to do something new that can be scary. People will make mistakes when they're trying something new. Like, did you sort of try to give permission or at least set an expectation of, look, you okay, if you're afraid of making mistakes, you, you probably will and will learn from it and work through it.

Gary Michel (26m 5s):
Well, sure. I mean, I'm gonna make a mistake too. I'm gonna ask a question and somebody's gonna, you know, gimme an answer and I'm gonna go, duh, right? And oh, it was right there. Or, you know, or it was, you know, you know, hopefully not an inappropriate question, but it's something that, you know, maybe didn't make sense or, you know, somebody gives me the right answer. So I try to be as vulnerable and as normal as possible and, and we get it right. The other thing is, if I'm taking somebody on a gemba walk or, you know, to a plant or to, to a functional wherever for their very first time, I try to be cognizant of that, right? I try to make sure that, you know, know they, they have an opportunity to, to see, you know, this is, this is, you know, this is just a, we've gotta make it normal, right?

Gary Michel (26m 52s):
It's not something that we should be afraid of. We're trying to, we're all on the same team. We all have the same objective. We're all trying to do the same thing. This is not about playing Gotcha. It's not about, you know, making somebody look stupid. It's about how do we make it as easy as possible for the people doing the work to do the work. And, you know, as somebody coming from, you know, outside of the, the actual work environment, you know, I may have resources, tools, or seen solutions that they haven't seen. And we try to make that, and we try to make leaders understand that that's their role is to, to to really try to integrate, you know, the, the, the more tools that they have to bring to the, to the problem.

Gary Michel (27m 40s):
It's not their job to solve the problem, their job to help solve the problem. Yeah. And to make the resources available to do it. Yeah.

Mark Graban (27m 49s):
So back to the beginning of your talk, you, you caught my attention right away when your first slide was a picture of Max, a production specialist from Jed. When I was wondering if you could tell us that story and then maybe kind of weave in a little bit of why that was the way you started your talk there at ame because it really, it it stood out. That does, that doesn't always happen.

Gary Michel (28m 13s):
Yeah. Well, I, I mean, I like to, it's particularly when you're giving a talk at a, at a lean conference, you wanna, you wanna talk about, you know, what works and what lean is really about. But I think the, that particular gemba walk and that particular story has always resonated with me. It happened at that time, you know, it was probably months before, but you know, maybe a year ago I was on a gemba walk in, in a gel facility in Venice, Florida. It happened to be where we make vinyl windows and patio doors, and Max is a glacier. He works on the line there and at the time was putting together vinyl windows.

Gary Michel (28m 54s):
So he's the guy that puts the glass in the windows and assembles them. A pretty important guy. And, you know, so we start out the, the gumbo walk and we, we actually were doing, you know, stand in the circle exercise, right? You know, you sit stand there, you observe the work being done and you know, you do nothing else, right? Except for observe and then try to, to understand what's going on and what we saw with Max, cause he's running around like crazy. No, he's waving at us and smiling. He is really friendly guy, but he's working really, really hard and he's running around trying to find glass to put in the windows that, that he was, we was building that day. And so we, we, we stopped, we talked to Max, and Max explained to me that, you know, the, the normally the carts, the, the glass is on the carts in sequenced order, and he just picks the glass and that tells him what to build and he builds the window and everything's great.

Gary Michel (29m 51s):
Unfortunately, some of the glass was not where it needed to be. There were empty slots in the carts. So what he was doing was, he was finding complete sets that he could build. And he was on the fly, you know, building windows that he could build, which is great. He was doing, he, he didn't wanna miss Miss Tack, he didn't wanna upset customers down the stream. But the reality was he was working extra hard and, and it just wasn't right. So I asked Max, Hey, what, what, what would it take to, to solve your problem? And, you know, let's, first let's take care of Max cause we want Max to there and build windows. And he said, listen, if I could have a spot or somebody that could do this reordering of the, the glass and the carts for me, that would be really helpful.

Gary Michel (30m 36s):
I could build more windows and faster. So we did that right away. The reality of that whole story is, you know, it wasn't Max's problem, right? It was beyond Max's scope to fix the problem. So we tried to help him right away with that just by observing the work and talking to Max. He already had a solution in mind. We just needed to make it happen. But the real problem was we weren't getting glass, right? There was a glass shortage at the time, and, you know, glass wasn't coming in and we needed to, to probably adjust our standard work to make that, make that happen. So a lot of things come out of that story, which is one, you know, let's help Max and make sure that we're, we're, we're keeping him, you know, him happy so we can keep customers happy.

Gary Michel (31m 27s):
But the second piece is making sure that we do ask enough questions to understand where the problem really is. You know, you can imagine if we'd never gone to Gemba, we'd be, you know, the customer service people are complaining that customers aren't getting their, their, their, their windows on time or complete or whatever. We could sit in a conference room and solve that problem and say, you know what? We, we need to, you know, we, we need to push more windows out. We need to yell at somebody. Do whatever, right? Or, you know, maybe we're, we're not getting the sales, we think, so we, we go out, we do a promotion or do something else when we really need to sit down and, and solve that problem, which is find out that we have a supply issue at that particular time and we need to go solve the supply problem, which is causing this overall problem of, of getting enough windows out to customers at the right time.

Gary Michel (32m 21s):
So the story to me just exemplifies by going and seeing you actually, you know, while you think you're solving one little problem in, in a line in a factory for one guy, what you're really doing is finding out, you know, where your, where your big problems are, where your constraints to grow the business, to, to meet your commitments and, and keep your customers happy as well.

Mark Graban (32m 48s):
Yeah, I mean, the story and the way you talk through it, I mean, it really does illustrate so many of the points that you've made of being inquisitive instead of making assumptions or making sure you understand is what we're observing here. Is that normal? Like is it a bad process or has something gone wrong with the process? And as, as you described, there's so many ways that that could get off track or go off the rails if, let's say the one new habit of going out into the factory still brings with it the old habits of needing to have the answer rushing into action, making assumptions instead of being inquisitive. That that, that that could have gone differently with a different set of leaders.

Gary Michel (33m 28s):
Absolutely. And the great part of that is the really great part of that is that what, that was not normal and they recognized it wasn't normal. Yeah, you're right. It could have gone a lot of different ways in, in, in different plants and different scenarios.

Mark Graban (33m 44s):
Yeah. So let's talk about your book Gary, Decomplify. A word that may or may not be in the dictionary. I didn't go. It is not, it's not So tell tell us the origin of creating that word decomplify and more importantly what it, what it means to you.

Gary Michel (34m 2s):
So the word, the origin of the word is decades old. Early in my, you know, ear in one of my early leadership roles, I guess it was lamenting was somebody with a colleague about how how they always seem to amplify or, or they always seem to make more complicated all of our, our processes. You know, they don't, they don't leave things alone. They, you know, things could be so simple, but they probably corporate or whoever at the time, you know, just seem to always make things more complicated. They, they need to be, I think we've all had that, that that question or comment at some point in a colleague shared that sentiment with me as well.

Gary Michel (34m 46s):
And he actually talked about how they amplify things. So for whatever reason I picked up that word and it became part of my, my lexicon for a lot, a lot of years. And the, the reality is when, when, when I retired the first time, it was actually somebody made that comment that they, they kind of gave me that word as my word at my retirement dinner. And I, I thought about it and, you know, depl amplifying things as something I am always trying to do. And I thought that it just fit really well with the, the style of leadership and the, the style, you know, a lot of the things we talk about in lean that that, that, that I profess, I profess to use, I want our organizations to be.

Gary Michel (35m 39s):
And you know, quite frankly the, the simpler we make things, the easier it is, number one, to stabilize 'em but also to transform them and to, to, to grow.

Mark Graban (35m 50s):
Yeah. So then in that process of depl amplifying, one other question that comes to mind is like, and, and as a senior executive, you're thinking of all the things you could be focusing on and the the high level strategy deployment questions of what you should be doing. Trying to think through a situation where, you know, trying to, how do you diagnose or do we need to simplify and take waste out of what we're already doing versus a need to be innovative and to be doing new things in a different way, you know, or asked a different way, you know, improving the old process versus creating something new. Where do you find that balance?

Gary Michel (36m 30s):
So, I mean, it's almost the, you're almost asking the, the old, the old paradoxical, you know, do we want productivity or do we want growth? You know, which do you want? And, you know, I want both. Yeah. And I, I think we've gotta do it in the right balance, you know, which kinda leads me to kind of the premise of, of of my whole belief around, you know, depl amplifying, most companies have probably all share about the same strategy. They all wanna outgrow their competition on the top line. They wanna gain share in their product category, they wanna be leaders there and they wanna continuously improve their margins and their returns for their, their shareholders.

Gary Michel (37m 13s):
They all wanna be great companies. And, and which has kind of led me to this definition of a great company. So the great company in my mind is a company that people wanna buy from, people wanna work for and people wanna invest in. People wanna buy from a great company cause they like the services and the products the, that the company offers. They feel that the relationship is great and it's easy to do business with a great company. People wanna work for a great company cause they're aligned with the, the, the direction, the values, the aspirations of the company.

Gary Michel (37m 53s):
They, they, they, they feel that they can make a difference and, and they can make a contribution and it'll be recognized as well as they can realize their own personal and career aspirations. People wanna invest in a great company cause it delivers superior financial returns, you know, sustainably consistently over a long period of time. And I'll add the caveat, the great companies also always do the right thing. So if that is your premise for, for what you wanna do, the, the importance of being able to do those things sustainably over time means a number of things.

Gary Michel (38m 34s):
Lean gives us a continuous improvement kind of mantra and culture, the ability to continually look at what we're doing to continually improve and grow. But part of that is the ability to innovate and change and redefine our future. You know, if we always do what we're currently doing, we're probably gonna fall behind and it's probably not gonna be what will sustain that same definition of a great company for our customers, for our people, or for our investors in the long term. So while we're focused on doing what we do today better and better over time, and we can always do that, we should also be expending energy to look at what we can do to continue to transform ourselves using, it could be new technology, new products.

Gary Michel (39m 25s):
It could be new business processes, it could be a whole new business model or it could be associated with how we actually serve our customers as much as what we sell them. So there's a lot of different places we can look for innovation and they come outta understand by the way they come outta problem solving. They come outta being on, at gemba, you know, being out with our customers, being out and, and, and understanding how to solve their problems and even their customers problems becomes part of, of how we innovate going forward. So it's not an either or to me. Sure. It's really an and

Mark Graban (40m 5s):
Yeah. So you, you touched on, here's another and you know, problem solving and communication. And one, one thing I think was an interesting practice I was gonna ask you about was I know what, what you've called the A three open mic, if you talk about what that is and, and, and why that was so helpful.

Gary Michel (40m 24s):
So yeah, I'll give the credit where it's due to the team at they, they implemented something and I loved participating in it, but it was called open mic. It was a three open mic actually, and it was once a month was the cadence. And it was an open opportunity for anybody that was working on an A three or had recently completed an A three to, to get on the call. And it was a nice mix of people that wanted to share a problem that they had solved or were solving for the benefit of, you know, number one saying, Hey, we did this.

Gary Michel (41m 6s):
But also sharing across box nine, by the way, is on an A three is always forgotten, right? What do we learn, right? And who can we share this with, right? Where else might we see this, this problem show up, right? So this was part of box nine really of sharing, sharing across the organization. But the other part of, of open mic was if you had an A three that you wanted some coaching on or felt that you, you, you were stuck or could use a little bit of help from across the organization. This was an opportunity that became a safe environment, believe it or not, even an open mic to, to ask those kind of questions to share your problem in an open environment.

Gary Michel (41m 52s):
It really shows a culture a a trusting open problem solving culture that that can serve that, that that can thrive and that people show up. No one's told to do well, I assume some people are probably told by their boss to be there, but Sure, my guess is, you know, for the most part it's, it's a volunteer, you know, it's a volunteer opportunity. So it, it is great. It's, it's kind of a good balance of, you know, you get kudos for solving a good problem and sharing it across, but you also have an opportunity to get help from people that otherwise, you know, would not be, you know, kind of in your circle of helpers.

Gary Michel (42m 32s):

Mark Graban (42m 34s):
So when you talk about that safe environment, it's not just safe to come and share successes, it's safe to share your struggle.

Gary Michel (42m 41s):
Absolutely. And I think that's what's important about a thriving culture to be that, to be that great company culture, that deco culture. You've gotta have a safe environment where it's okay to, to bring up problems. Because if you don't bring up problems, if you don't identify them, you'll never solve them.

Mark Graban (43m 3s):
So one other thing I wanted to ask for before we wrap up. You know, you, you, you talk about sharing, you talk about that aspect of problem solving. So I'm kind of picturing it may or may not exist a Gary Michel personal or corporate, a three that talks about the problems you've solved, the current state, the, the countermeasures that include lean and you can talk about the results and now you wanna share this with others. I'm curious to hear your thoughts and you know, there, there, there's always discussion around this question of, well, if Lean is clearly a better way, not just to do manufacturing, but a better way of running an enterprise, and this has been known about for decades now, you know, why does it still seem like it's the exception more than the norm?

Mark Graban (43m 49s):
Like what, what are some opportunities and, and I'm sure the book Depl will be part of it, like, to, to share this in a way that, that maybe influences other senior leaders to, to maybe also try this, this path.

Gary Michel (44m 2s):
Yeah, I don't know the answer to that. Cause you know, I, I, to me now, I can't imagine running a company any other way, but I know how hard it is to start a company on that path because I've had to do it a few times. The, but it takes a, you know, it takes it, it takes, you know, somebody an impetus, you know, almost a reason sometimes to, to get started, right? It's, I think it's what is our definition of lean, right? It's, you know, what I talk about in my book is Lean is part of it. It's a tool set that, that helps you.

Gary Michel (44m 43s):
I mean, it's an important tool set, but it's a tool set that helps you. But my book is not in and of itself about Lean, the, the reality. It's about creating that culture where you, you focus on the things that are important and you strip away the things that are not, you focus on value, you, you know, create value, create, and this is what Lean is about as well. Stroke focus on what creates value, what matters to your customers, how you engage and respect your employees, your, your associates, and how do you deliver consistently the results that people look for to invest in.

Gary Michel (45m 26s):
And to me, they're, I've not found a better way to do it then to, to deploy, to use lean tools. But they're tools. They're just that you still have to, you should still need to have a direction, a strategy, a a way that you're planning to go. And, and, and I think people kind of get confused like it's one or the other, or that you see this massive number of tools and, and lean and you think you've gotta know what every single one of 'em is. I, the big secret for me as a leader is you don't really need to know what all those tools do.

Gary Michel (46m 7s):
If you really need a tool, you know, as a specific, a tool deployed, there are plenty of people who can help you teach people to use tools. That's not it, it's really about common sense and understanding, you know, this, this idea of having a problem solving culture and, and, and focused on those few things. So for me it's, it's, it's just the way I do it. Anybody I talk to, you know, we have these conversations, but you know, it's, it's, it's a matter of understanding how to stay there. Now, the other side of that question that I get a lot is, and I think I got at the conference we were at is, so what, what if, you know, the top leadership of my company doesn't, you know, support or hasn't, you know, isn't pushing lean or, or the CEO isn't, you know, isn't driving this, you know, to me that's the, the, the best of all worlds is everybody from top to bottom is engaged and using the same tools and the, and the same.

Gary Michel (47m 10s):
But if you're running a function or you're running a factory, or you're running a business, you can deploy lean, you can use the tools, use the mentality, use the, the, the, the crux of it to to, to operate your business. Everything can start there. And once you start performing as a business and outperforming everybody else, other people are gonna ask what's going on and how are you doing it? And I can assure you, you'll become the new, the new lean zealot and, and people will be copying.

Mark Graban (47m 46s):
Yeah, I mean, I, I would agree with you. I mean, it doesn't seem like you would want to send a CEO to a class learner, all the tools, but you're talking about lean tools plus mentalities culture management system. Like, you know, to me that can all be wrapped in the, in this label of Lean or the Toyota way or however you might label it. Like you're, you're describing all of that working together, and it seems like the CEO or senior leaders have more influence around culture.

Gary Michel (48m 16s):
So maybe the way, maybe the way to kinda put a, a fine point on that is, you know, the, the, the first chapter of my book is go see and it, you know, it, you'll see Max again and you'll, you'll hear about, you know, really why that's important. But it ends with the concept of Leader Standard work. It really talks about leadership and leaders being important to creating this great company culture and becoming great companies. But it, it ends with talking about leader standard work and where leaders spend their time is indicative of, you know, being complicated or not.

Gary Michel (48m 55s):
You know, to me, you know, the, the, you know, what I do every day, what I do every week, every month, every quarter, every year becomes important. And if you can decomplify that your work and, and lay it out where you're spending time, you are absolutely committed to spending time going to gemba, spending time on developing your people, spending time with customers, investors, in the right proportion. That becomes the mantra that becomes the cadence for the rest of the company as well. And it's how you spend your time, how you set out to spend your time and, and then live up to that.

Gary Michel (49m 40s):
So Leader standard work is actually one of the components that, that I bring in very, very early and in fact in the first chapter of

Mark Graban (49m 51s):
The book. So it seems like it's a shift from somebody might say, I'm too important to have Leader Standard work through realizing it's very important that they do. I mean, that, that's, that's getting, that's moving past an old philosophy, right? Well, I'm, I'm reacting to things I can't plan out my time.

Gary Michel (50m 7s):
Well, I think if you're reacting, then you're, you're not in a de state, right? You're not in a lean state either. You, you need, as a leader to be able to look around corners, you need to, to make sure that you're focusing on the right things, the things that add value. And so making that determination is really important. And the way that you cement that, the way that you, you codify that is in creating leader standard work. So, you know, is it a, is is every part of my leader standard work, you know, written down to step one, step two, step three? Sure, no, but is it laid out in a cadence of I do these things?

Gary Michel (50m 49s):
The answer is yes. And, you know, publish that, let people know what that is. And, and, and to me that's really important. That sets the tone for how you wanna operate the, the organization.

Mark Graban (51m 4s):
So Gary, maybe one final, final question. You, you mentioned strategy deployment earlier. Can you, can you talk about decomplifying some of those annual cycles of, of planning and evaluating strategy and turning strategy into action? Can you give us kind of a before and after comparison of, you know, pre strategy deployment and then what the benefits of strategy deployment were?

Gary Michel (51m 26s):
So I think, you know, we tend to focus on the things that we're doing now rather than on the things that maybe we should be doing. Seems to be kind of the way I sum up, you know, the, the, the difference, you know, the tradition of, you know, these massive strategic plans, you know, that, that are, you know, a lot of people put a lot of hard work into a lot of data's collected and, you know, just days and days of, of presentations. I think those are, they're beneficial, but they're, they're, they're rare. The the problem with those is they rarely get executed in, in a, in a way that's sufficient.

Gary Michel (52m 9s):
They're not tied to the reality of the organization. I'm not discounting the work, the work needs to be done. We need to understand what's going on in our markets. What could, what, what technology capabilities are there, you know, there better operational solutions to things. What problems could we solve for our customers that would help us to reinvent ourselves over time? We need to do that. But I like to do it in, in a process I call critical strategic decisions, similar type work, but really defining, you know, in the old traditional way, you know, where are we gonna play? You know, what game are we playing? How do we win? What do we need to win?

Gary Michel (52m 49s):
And then how do we, you know, what are the resources, tools and, and systems that need to go there. But we really start to focus on just a couple of these, the, some people call 'em breakthrough initiatives. I, I start with critical strategic decisions. What are those three to five year, you know, really two to three things, right? That we're really going to focus on, we really believe and we're all gonna get behind, you know, bar anything else in order to do. And then once we've done that, then we go into, you know, the, the, the deployment part, the execution part, which is the hard part. And that's where, you know, strategy deployment, hosting comes in, you, you kind of enter that process with these critical strategic decisions, and then you start to break them into manageable chunks that you can, you can define that people can understand what do we need to do in year one and, and then go after it and, and then start to cascade those goals so that you're tied from your critical strategic decisions through your annual objectives, all the way through the initiatives and what people need to drive.

Gary Michel (54m 4s):
And then you, that's what you review every month, right? You review obviously your financials, I make my financials a part of, of the tracker for, for every business or function. You review those, you see if you're on track or not on track and what you need to do there, but you're also reviewing the status of where you are on those critical strategic decisions every single month. And looking at the, the process as much as, as the output. And if you can make that part of your normal tactic, it becomes this virtuous cycle that just starts feeding itself. So your strategy discussions while, yeah, they tend to sort of be focused on, you know, the summer months and getting ready for an annual operating plan.

Gary Michel (54m 47s):
The reality is we're really, we're really always thinking about it and we're always modifying what we learn month to month, quarter to quarter, year to year. I, I, I will point out that I try to also make it very easy on the annual operating side. You know, I kind of have an algorithm on the financials of, you know, if our goal is always to, to, to grow the top line better than our competitors and continuously improve our margins, there's a few things that, you know, we, we need to start out on the financials with to allow ourselves to make sure that happens, right? And then also to give ourselves money to, to, to invest in the rest of the business and the CSDs.

Gary Michel (55m 31s):
So I do have an algorithm for that, but the point is, make it very, very simple. Make it easy to understand and get it to the point where after a couple of cycles, it's just part of your, your cadence and again, part of your leader standard work, the idea of creating that big book and putting it on the shelf just, just doesn't never, never appealed to me. And by the way, I never saw, you know, most of it never gets, gets executed.

Mark Graban (56m 1s):
Well, Gary, thank you first off again for speaking at the AME conference. Thank you for being here with us today. So we've been joined again by Gary Michel, upcoming book. I'm really excited about it, Decomplify, how simplicity drives stability, innovation in transformation. So hopefully I've made good use of your time. I'm gonna think about the questions I asked versus the questions i, I should have asked. Think of that as my own strategy deployment cycle here.

Gary Michel (56m 29s):
No, it was great. Thank you so much. I really appreciate being here. It's always a lot of fun to share, share some of this

Mark Graban (56m 35s):
Story. Yeah. Thanks again.

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