Hello, you’re watching HR TV, and my guest for today is David Meier. David Meyer is an expert in lean management and lean processes and the founder and president of a consulting company called Lean Associate. Is it correct?
Correct. Let me ask my first question: you had a beautiful presentation today for the Czech People Management Forum. From my point of view, that was how to teach people or how people should, in their processes, learn how to do things more effectively, with less cost, and contribute more to the company’s profits and to make things easier. Is it correct?
Yeah, that’s a good understanding. The difference, maybe one slight difference, is what you said is profit. We’re taught at Toyota that profit is an outcome of those things rather than necessarily the goal. And you know, if people are developed and learn and grow, the company grows and prospers. And they taught us that it’s like a triangle with employees, the company, and the community and that those things grow and prosper together.
You spent considerable time of your life with Toyota. What was the first thing you did when you just started to comprehend the processes that struck you? It was just entirely out of, this is, this earth, and it’s just, just the biggest surprise for you.
Wow, that’s a great question. You know, it wasn’t obvious. The learning at Toyota was confusing from the very first day. I joined the company, and we were in Japan within two weeks. and for me, it was the first time I was really out of the United States and in a different culture. And so my trainer, I had a trainer with me, a Japanese guy, and we went to the plant, and we stopped at a workstation, and he said to me, “You looking, okay?” And I thought, “Yes, what should I look for? What am I supposed to see?” And we went back and forth. He said, “What?” I said, “Yeah, what am I looking for?” He said, “Yes, looking.” I said, “What am I looking for?” He said, “What?” I said, “Yeah, what am I looking for?” So, he had a little language challenge. And finally, after maybe 10 minutes or so, I decided that looking wasn’t difficult and could certainly look. So I stood and watched the work for a while. And I noticed he disappeared. He was gone. And so I thought, “Well, maybe he went to the bathroom or smoked or something.” And after about 10 minutes or so, 10 or 15 minutes, I thought to myself, “Well, I’ve seen this guy do his job over and over again, and I understand what he’s doing. So I’m finished. Yeah. But my trainer, he’s not back yet, so I’m waiting and waiting and waiting.” And finally, two hours goes by, and he comes back. And first, I asked him, “Where’d you go? You just left me here.” And he didn’t understand English. So, I realized this will be an interesting process here with this company. And he asked me, “What, what see night in those words? What see?” And I said, “Well, I can see this guy. He’s doing these things and so on.” And I explained. He said, “Okay, more looking.” And I said again, “Okay, what am I supposed to see? You know, what am I looking for?” He said, “What?” I said, “Yeah, what am I looking for?” He said, “Yes, looking.” Oh my God. So, the next, and then he disappeared again. Okay. He left me here in the middle of this place. And for the next two hours, he was gone. For two hours again. For the next two hours, I thought, “What did I get into here? Can I get my old job back? Can I find my way home? I don’t even know where I am. They drove me to this place. There’s nobody here who speaks English. You know, what am I going to do? My back is hurting. My legs are tired. I’m standing here for four hours. They don’t tell me what I’m supposed to do.” So he returned and asked me again, “You know what, see, Sanuk? I told you last time, right? That this is what’s happening here and so on.” He says, “More looking.” Well, by this time, okay, I’ve been standing here for four hours just watching one thing: one guy do his job. And something to me decided that I needed to see something. I have no idea what. And he wasn’t explaining it to me. But maybe I’ll start making some notes. Maybe I’ll start seeing other details. So I’m documenting these things, you know, and writing these things down. Finally, he came back again after two hours, and he asked me the question, you know, what see? I said, “Well, now let me show you.” And I started explaining all these things. Very good, very good, very good. And, of course, I think I will finally get away from this place and do something. I finish, and he says, “More looking.” And I thought, “This is crazy. What? I came here to learn something. I came here to be taught jobs and how to build a car or do these things. And yet I stand here all day and don’t know why. I don’t understand why.” So, I met with my colleagues and other colleagues from America, and we’re discussing. And they’re all saying, “What did you do today?” “Oh, I stood there all day. Me too.” “What were you? What were they trying? Why did we do that? I don’t know. I have no idea. We were all confused. Everyone was confused.” But I learned the next day that some guys had to stand for two days because they didn’t learn what they were trying to teach us, which I didn’t understand till later, was how to look deeply at something. One of the lessons they taught us is how to develop a deep understanding. And I
didn’t get that. I thought, “Why didn’t they tell me to stand here all day and do nothing?” So, that was my introduction to Toyota. Very confusing and very different.
Wow, that’s a fascinating story. It is a very immersive and somewhat bewildering introduction to the Toyota way of doing things, emphasizing the importance of observation and understanding deeply before taking action. How did this initial experience shape your perspective on lean management and lean processes, and how did it influence your approach to teaching these principles to others?
Yeah, that’s a great question. So, what I learned from that was several things. First, that Toyota had a different way of teaching. You know, the philosophy of learning by doing and making things visible was very different from anything I’d ever been exposed to. I was in a company at the time where I was doing training, but the training was very much classroom training. You know, I would be a trainer, stand in front of a classroom, and present materials to people. And that’s the way I thought. The training was presented to you, and you took notes. So, I learned from this experience that Toyota had a different philosophy, a different way of learning, a different way of developing people, and a different way of teaching. And that it was focused much more on development and personal growth and that this was done through learning by doing and making things visible. I learned later that this method was developed by Taiichi Ono, one of the founders of Toyota. And he called this method the “nemawashi,” which means “to dig the roots,” which means, you know, to understand deeply. And this was a method for teaching people how to understand deeply. So that was one thing I learned. The second thing I learned was that Toyota deeply respected people. We often talk about the Toyota production system or lean manufacturing. Still, the real foundation is a deep respect for people. They believe that every person has the potential to learn, grow, and contribute and that it is their role as leaders to create the conditions where people can do that, so this was a fundamental learning for me. The third thing I learned is that this idea of learning by doing and making things visible is not just something you do once and then you’re done, but it’s a continuous process. It’s a way of life. So I learned that this was something that you have to do every day, that you have to continue to learn and grow, that you have to continue to make things visible, and that this was not just a one-time event but a continuous one. So those were some of the fundamental things I learned from that experience.
That’s interesting and highlights the importance of not just the technical aspects of lean management but also the underlying philosophy and principles that drive it. It’s not just about improving processes but also about developing people and fostering a culture of continuous improvement. In your work with Lean Associates, how do you help organizations embrace these principles and implement lean management effectively?
Yeah, that’s a great question. So what we do with Lean Associates is we help organizations to develop a culture of continuous improvement, a culture of learning and growth, and we do that in various ways. One is through training and education. So, we provide training and education to leaders and employees at all levels of the organization, from the frontline employees to the senior executives, to help them understand lean management principles and how to apply them in their work. We do this through classroom training and on-the-job coaching and mentoring because we believe that people learn best by doing, and so we want to help them apply these principles in their work. Another way that we help organizations is by working with them to identify and prioritize improvement opportunities. So, we work with them to understand their current state, challenges, and opportunities and then develop an improvement plan. This plan is typically based on lean management principles, which include identifying and eliminating waste, improving flow, and empowering employees to make improvements. And then we work with them to implement that plan, to make those improvements happen. This involves working with teams of employees to help them identify and implement improvements in their work processes. We do this through coaching, mentoring, and facilitating improvement events. And then we also help organizations sustain those improvements over time by developing systems and processes to make sure that those improvements stick and become part of how the organization does business. So, those are some of the ways that we help organizations embrace the principles of lean management and implement them effectively.
That sounds like a comprehensive approach to helping organizations adopt lean management principles and foster a culture of continuous improvement. Your experiences at Toyota have deeply influenced your approach to lean management. In your view, what are some key benefits organizations can realize by embracing lean management?
Yeah, there are many benefits that organizations can realize by embracing lean management. Key benefits include improved quality, reduced lead times, increased productivity, and higher employee engagement and satisfaction levels. Let me talk about each of these. So first, improved quality. One of lean management’s fundamental principles is identifying and eliminating defects and errors in processes. By doing this, organizations can improve the quality of their products and services and reduce the costs associated with defects and errors. This leads to higher customer satisfaction and loyalty. They were second, with reduced lead times. Lean management principles focus on improving workflow through processes, which can significantly reduce lead times. This means that organizations can respond more quickly to customer demands and reduce the time and resources tied up in inventory. Third, increased productivity. Lean management emphasizes the elimination of waste in processes, which can result in increased productivity. By streamlining processes and removing unnecessary steps, organizations can do more with less and use their resources better—finally, higher levels of employee engagement and satisfaction. Lean management encourages employees to actively participate in improving their work processes. This can lead to increased employee engagement and satisfaction, as employees see that their ideas and contributions are valued and can make a meaningful impact on their work. These are just some key benefits organizations can realize by embracing lean management.
Those benefits are certainly compelling, and lean management can have a significant positive impact on organizations. It’s about improving processes and enhancing product quality, reducing lead times, increasing productivity, and fostering a more engaged and satisfied workforce. Thank you for sharing your insights and experiences with us today, David. It’s been a pleasure speaking with you.
I just wanted to let you know that you’re welcome. Thank you for having me.
And thank you to our viewers for tuning in to HR TV. If you’d like to learn more about lean management and how it can benefit your organization, please visit LeanAssociates.com.