Beyond ‘Lean’… Personal, Human, Caring Connections! Reflections on ELEC2017

Last week I had the joy of speaking and giving a workshop at ELEC2017 in Nijmegen, the Netherlands. The majority of attendees were from different countries across Europe and spoke many different languages. Hearing people speak in so many diverse languages reminded me of when, in my late twenties, I spent the year living in Taiwan. During that year, I met students from across Europe, all who could speak not only the language of their home country, the languages of their neighboring countries, and English…but were, as well, working on learning to speak Mandarin Chinese! What struck me then – and again at ELEC2017 – was how being able to speak and understand a common language creates connection and community!

Listening carefully to the community of coaches, practitioners and educators gathered together at ELEC2017, I heard a common thread among the different voices and different languages. And that thread had to do with a concern about the future. The future of what we now call “lean”. Was “lean” failing? Was “lean” simply being misunderstood and misinterpreted? Was “lean” going to last? And, what was “lean” anyway? Were we all using the same definition? Were we sure?

Which brings me to the main topic of this reflection.

Being at ELEC2017 solidified my feeling that we, as a group of human beings, the “lean” community included, are at a crossroads, a junction. A time to redefine what is really important, where we’re going and how we’re going to get there. And at that junction, thinking carefully about the words we use, whatever language we speak, is extremely important, because, in many ways, words create the world.

What different type of world would be created if we used the world ‘people’ to refer to those who purchase our products and services, instead of customers? Or if we used the words like ‘team-members’ instead of ‘human resources’ to refer to those who serve them? If we used organic words like “grow”, “blossom”, “develop”, instead of mechanistic words like “move the needle”, “target”, and “drive”?

During the panel discussion on the future of “lean” we created a ‘cloud’ of words that we felt would be most impactful as we, in the “lean” community look to the future. Words that stood out were:

  • Purpose
  • Coaching
  • Creativity
  • Leadership
  • Respect

Words that reference the ‘human’ side of the work that we do.

At the conference, I handed out my ‘Love and Kindness’ buttons. Everywhere I go, I leave these buttons, along with small slips of paper saying things like, ‘practice kindness’ and ‘practice love’ and ‘plant kindness, grow love’. The buttons are reminders that no matter who we are, what we believe, or what language we speak, if we treat each other with love and kindness, then the world will turn out fine! Professor Jannes Slomp, who organized the conference, said that they are the start of a movement.

And I agree. They are a start of a movement. The movement beyond “lean”. Beyond “lean” as a set of tools, often with an association (right or wrong) for cost-cutting and eliminating people. A movement to create ways of working together that aren’t just about being efficient and effective, but are human, caring, kind and compassionate. A movement for businesses not just to generate short-term profits, but to create long-term solutions to real-world problems such as poverty, homelessness, hunger, discrimination and the environment.

For all of you who were at the conference (and all of you who weren’t) here is my question:

What shall we call this new way of working, this new way of creating? What word (or words) should we use to describe this new movement? Because words matter! As I said earlier, they create the world we all are going to live in now and for the future.

Love, kindness, creativity, caring and compassion. We can have them in the world of business too! It’s the movement I’m starting. And I’m looking forward to having you join and to seeing what we can create together!

ELEC2017 was an absolutely wonderful gathering!

Thanks to all the organizers, participants and speakers! It was a joy and pleasure to meet and spend time with you all. Thank you for inspiring me!


Is Your Small Business Benefiting from the Practical Creativity Advantage?

As a small business owner, you know that today’s customers want it all, their way, and they want it all now! It’s simply a reality of doing business these days. Lucky for you, as a small business you actually have an advantage over some of your larger competitors when it comes to creating the peak service experiences today’s customers want. Before we explore why that is, let’s quickly take a look at what today’s customers really want:

©Karyn Ross Consulting 2017

Customers today want their service experience to be hassle-free! They want your company to be easy to do business with, and have error free services and products delivered in as short a time possible AND they want those products and services to be comparably priced – or less expensive – than your competitors AND, in this digital, technology driven world, what they really want is personal human connection! Because, after all, before we’re anything else, including being a customer, we’re all human beings!

Today’s customers won’t be satisfied with having just one part of this equation. They want it all. And that’s why being a small business can be advantageous:

  1. As a small business, you have the flexibility to make changes quickly. Customers having to wait too long for service? A small business can quickly identify all the reasons customers have to wait, brainstorm different ways around, try them out and make changes! Small businesses have the flexibility that big ones often don’t!
  2. Figuring out how to improve service processes, especially finding ways to be more effective – to do things right the first time – helps save money because you don’t waste time fixing things. And we all know, time is money! So, making changes in your service processes keeps costs low too!
  3. Finally, small businesses have the opportunity to create closer, deeper, more human relationships with their customers! And that’s a huge advantage, because when we have a deep, personal, human relationship with a customer, we can meet their underlying needs and wants – and that’s what turns a customer into a customer-for-life!

As you can see, being a small business has many advantages! However, in order to capitalize on that advantage, you need to use, what I call Practical Creativity! Practical Creativity means first getting creative ideas to improve service to customers, and then, turning those ideas into reality! How often have you had an idea to do something in your business in a different way and then simply said to yourself, “Nope. That wouldn’t work.” It’s a common thing we human beings do! However, until we turn our creative ideas into reality, we haven’t helped our customers – or our small business!

Sometimes, it’s easy to get overwhelmed and think that big businesses have all the advantages. If you’re using Practical Creativity to your advantage, though, it’s really the opposite!

Have some great stories about how your small business has taken advantage of Practical Creativity? Let me know, I’d love to hear!

Karyn Ross

Ekemp’s Oliver Thompson Guest Blogger – Time Management: Are we Managing the Wrong Thing

Oliver Thompson, of Ekemp, one of KRC’s Featured Clients, is our guest blogger for this post.

To download Oliver’s post on Time Management: Are we Managing the Wrong Thing, and to see how Oliver has created a visual system to really ‘manage’ work that needs to be done for customers, click below:

Ekemp – Oliver Thompson – Time Management

Lean in Small Business! Interview with Elaine Camm of Ekemp

Lean in Small Business! How EKemp is using Lean to “Help People Today for A Brighter Tomorrow!”

In this interview, Elaine Camm, owner of EKemp in Bury, UK (near Manchester) discusses how using Toyota Way and Practical Creativity have helped her small business become more effective and efficient in meeting customer needs!

Karyn: Elaine, can you tell us a little about EKemp, your role, and why EKemp became interested in lean? 

Elaine: I am the owner of EKemp. We specialise in providing services to insolvency practitioners in fulfilling their obligations in relation to the employees of insolvent companies and to directors of insolvent companies who might be seeking to claim redundancy.  We initially became interested in lean after a member of our team read Karyn’s book, The Toyota Way to Service Excellence. The examples given in the book really opened our eyes to what is possible with a lean mindset.

Karyn: As a small business, how has using lean principles, practices and tools helped EK’s customers and team members?

Elaine: First and foremost although we have only been on a lean journey for a comparatively short period, the change in just about every aspect of the business has been phenomenal.  To mention just a few, the office is very tidy (5S), our filing cabinets have become a visual management system and we hold a daily stand-up meeting to surface and address problems.  This has culminated in a lead time reduction from 47 days down to 7 days on a core process.  The result?  Happy clients and frequent positive feedback from intermediaries.

Karyn:  What has the biggest challenge been using lean practices in a small business?

Elaine: Whilst making changes is relatively straightforward, making them stick (i.e. standardising) is somewhat more difficult.  This has become our next obstacle to work on i.e. how to standardise our new processes to sustain our gains.  Karyn introduced us to TWI methods which are proving hugely helpful, particularly Job Instruction Training.  This comprehensive methodology has made us acutely aware of our previous shortcomings when it comes to our training approach.   We are now in the process of preparing/implementing job breakdown sheets as a way of overcoming this obstacle.

Karyn: How have you involved the team in making changes?

Elaine: As mentioned previously, we hold daily stand-up meetings during which we discuss problems and opportunities.  We have also begun cross-training the team to better meet client needs whilst at the same time providing them with greater variety in their work.  This has led to a greater degree of teamwork generally.  For example, we recently spent half a day having an office clean up.  Overall, I feel that this has led everyone to take greater pride in “the customers” work.

Karyn: What do you think that the biggest benefit of having coaching on an ongoing basis is?

Elaine: Remote coaching has been fantastic for us.  As Karyn often points out, she is teaching us the lean mindset.  She is helping us to think for ourselves rather than providing all the answers.  I think the progress we have made in such a short space of time under Karyn’s guidance is testament to the fact that remote coaching can and does work providing that you are willing to fully embrace the lean approach.  It really is a fantastic journey and we really couldn’t be happier to be on it with Karyn by our side (or rather on our computer screen)!

For further information about EKemp, please contact Elaine at


Why Your Manufacturing Company Needs Lean in Services – Interview with Noah Goellner

In this interview, Noah Goellner, Global Director of Continuous Improvement for Goellner Inc discusses how using lean in services has helped Hennig and AME focus on their vision of excellence: To Make Our Customers Successful.

Karyn: Noah, can you tell us a little about AME and Hennig, your role, and what Goellner’s approach to continuous improvement is?

Noah: Hennig and AME are sister companies in the manufacturing industry, and are both part of the holding company Goellner Inc. AME does a lot of high precision machining, and is segmented into 6 strategic operating units. Hennig has been the leading manufacturer of machine tool protection, chip conveyors, and coolant filtration systems for over 55 years.  My role at Goellner Inc. is Global Director of Continuous Improvement. Our approach to continuous improvement is to focus on developing our people with problem solving skills through a “learn by doing” approach through rapid experimentation. Through Hoshin Kanri, we align all our efforts to our vision statement “To make our customers successful”.

Karyn: I know that many manufacturing companies don’t think they need to use lean in services. Why do Hennig and AME?

Noah: What happens on the manufacturing floor is only a part of the overall customer experience.  We strive to make each of our customers successful, and to do so we need to look at improving all aspects of the customer experience.  It is not enough to have exceptional quality, a good price, and some of the fastest lead times in the industry.  These things are all very important, but the fastest manufacturing lead times in the world mean very little, if we take too long to quote, or are unresponsive to providing help or support.  Creating the best overall customer experience from start to finish, in everything we do, is the best way to help our customers be successful, not just manufacturing product.

Karyn:  How do you think you will be able to make your customers more successful by using lean in both manufacturing and services?

Noah: To make our customers more successful, we are re-engineering our organization around the needs of the customer and our vision statement.  We have restructured our sales, engineering, and manufacturing groups and collocated them into QROC’s (Quick Response Office Cells), in order to provide the quickest responses to our customers needs.  We also created a new role in our company called our “Customer Success Specialist”.  Through this initiative we are creating a continuous flow of the “Voice of the Customer” through real conversations and relationships in order to truly understand the needs of our customers through their own voice.  Then we will be aligning our organizational efforts to fulfilling these needs on a continuous basis, including Continuous Improvement, and innovation in product, process, and customer experience.

Karyn: What are some of the challenges you’ve had in introducing lean in services to a manufacturing company?

Noah: Some challenges in doing this are that it can be more difficult to find good resources on lean in services.  There are not too many great books like “The Toyota Way to Service Excellence” out there.  So the fun/challenge becomes to focus on applying the concepts of lean into area’s outside the manufacturing floor and into all processes of the organization.  Often many of the people are not used to these concepts at the beginning, but I have realized that when we work together towards a common goal, the creativity of our people can accomplish anything.  Perhaps the biggest challenge is that we need to reset our thinking to stop assuming we know what to do, and what our customers want, and really take the time to communicate and listen to what our customers have to say.

Karyn: What do you think that the biggest benefit of having coaching on an ongoing basis is?

Noah: The benefits of having Karyn’s help with coaching on an ongoing basis have been huge.  She has been crucial in providing a fresh customer-centric perspective, to not only get on the right course, but also providing the discipline and know-how to stay on the right course.  Karyn’s help in the creation and use of visual management systems and Kata coaching has helped us learn to see the issues we face on a daily basis in a way so that we can better use our creativity to solve them.  Her positive attitude and encouragement turns difficult problems into fun challenges, and her experience and knowledge in lean, and especially lean in services has been a massive factor in helping us bring out our own creativity to help continually improve our ability to make our customers successful.

For further information, please contact Noah at
And, if you’d like to learn more about how KRC is partnering with Hennig and AME, please visit Hennig’s Commitment to Excellence website page.

Karyn Ross Consulting

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