People are NEVER $$

There was bad weather in Chicago yesterday, so my husband, a professor, got stuck at the conference he was at and couldn’t fly home on Sunday, as planned. The airline told him they wouldn’t be able to get him home until Wednesday! However, there were flights available today, Monday, on other airlines from the same airport. When I asked the customer service rep I was speaking with (yes, I was helping my husband by calling customer service while he waited in line for two hours at the airport) why they couldn’t send him on another airline, he said “We can do that for mechanical problems on our end…but not for weather issues. Weather’s not our problem.” Since the airline wouldn’t do anything to help, in the end, I simply booked my husband a ticket on a different airline and he’ll arrive home later today. That way his students in his Wednesday class don’t have to miss the classes they are waiting for him to teach. To me, this whole experience is a failure of a couple of things you might not think of. First, a failure of creativity. Since customers need to travel, the only question airlines should be asking themselves is: “How can we safely get everyone to where they need to be as close to the time we said we’d get them there.” All airlines could band together to help people during times like this. Even if at that moment, the person is “not their customer”. And, the second is, the failure to understand the basic purpose all organizations (service and manufacturing) exist for: to serve customers. And service means putting the needs of others first. In this case it means creating ways to send people home regardless of internal difficulty (including financial) caused for the airline! So, if you’re in business – any business – please remember, you are there to serve your customer and help them succeed. As I always say, “Ask not what your customers can do for you…but what YOU can do for your customers.” Please also remember, that people are NEVER, EVER $$ signs…and that people are ALWAYS more important than money.

What’s the One Question You Ask Yourself at the End of Each Day?

The other day I was chatting with my friend and client Petrina McGrath, from Saskatchewan Health Authority, about the importance of reflection in connecting purpose and actions – both organizationally and personally. Petrina told me that she was thinking of asking each of the people on her team, and the people she is coaching, to create – and then ask themselves – one question at the end of each day, that would help them reflect on whether their actions that day had helped them achieve their purpose. I love this idea, and, in fact, it’s something I do already! At KRC, my mission is to “Help People Improve the World.” That means, each and every day, I need to actively be looking for people to help…and then actually helping them! To make sure I maintain focus on my purpose, the question I ask myself, at the end of each day, is simple: “How many people did I help today?” It’s easy to get sidetracked with all the things there are to do each day. This one question (and knowing I’m going to ask it to myself at the end of each day) helps me remember why I started KRC – and why I do what I do in the way that I do it each day. So, now you know what my “one question” is….what is yours?

HR = Human Relationships

Quick question for you this morning: What words do you use to refer to the people who work in your organization, who serve and care for your customers? Do you use ‘human’ words? Or do you refer to them in non-human ways? Do you give them an ‘employee number’ or think about them – and call them – resources’? If you do, I’d like you to stop. That’s because people aren’t ever numbers – ‘things’ or ‘costs’ to be counted – or accounted – for. And unlike the ‘resources’ we use in our business (paper, ink, gas and electricity, to name a few), which will all eventually be depleted, people, given care, respect and nurturing, will grow and appreciate, over time. Words matter. Please choose yours wisely and refer to the fabulous human beings who work for – and with you – in human ways.

“Creating time” is different than “Finding time”!

How often do you say, “I’ll try to find the time to do that…” (That being whatever it is you don’t seem to be able to find the time to do.) When you hear yourself – or others – say this, I’d like you to substitute, “Let me create the time to do that”. Why? Because although it sometimes doesn’t feel that way, time isn’t in charge of us…we’re in charge of time! Saying “Let me create the time”, reminds us that we CAN – and must – make intentional and deliberate choices about how we spend our precious time. Because, in the end, time is all we have. Figure out what’s really important for your customers, your organization and you. Then deliberately create time for it.

‘I’m working on it’ is different than ‘I’m trying’!

Here’s my reflection for the week: ‘Working on it’ is different than ‘trying’. ‘Working on it’ means you know what the target is. ‘Working on it’ means you’ve broken down what needs to be done into smaller pieces and planned when to do them! ‘Working on it’ means deliberately doing a bit to get closer to the target each day! ‘Working on it’ means being conscious that even if something doesn’t turn out as expected, it’s okay, because we can learn from that too. We can accomplish anything (yes, anything) by ‘working on it’. Think back to your week this week. How many times did you say, “I’m trying”? What would have been different if you said, instead, “I’m working on it”?

A Deliberate Culture of YOU!

Hand writing Purpose with blue marker on transparent wipe board.

In The Toyota Way to Service Excellence, we talk a lot about creating a ‘deliberate culture’. ‘Deliberate’ meaning the specific choices that get you closer to your purpose: organizational structure, hiring process, office layout, how you treat your customers. ‘Culture’ meaning “the way we do things around here’. Not what we SAY we’re going to do…but what we actually DO. Lately I’ve been thinking that creating a “deliberate culture” doesn’t just apply to organizations. It’s something that’s personal as well. In order to fulfill our purpose, to reach our goals, to do the things we want to do – in the way we want to do them – we need to be conscious of creating a “deliberate culture” for ourselves, as people. Because every choice we make (or don’t), every decision we make (or don’t), every action we take (or don’t) has an effect on what we – and our world – becomes. We’re not just passive recipients of the world as it is. We’re active creators. So, as we start a new week, I’m going to challenge you to really be ‘deliberate’ in what you’re creating. Not just at work…but at home, with your family, and in your community too. As my friend Sylvia Witter-Vliege says, “Sometimes the biggest enemy to being yourself is yourself”. This week, don’t let it be. Who you are, and what you have to contribute to making a better world is too important. Your ‘personal culture’ counts. Be deliberate in creating it!

Back to Basics Part 2: Why ‘striving for perfection’ is not the same as ‘continuous improvement’

Last week I had a wonderful opportunity to be a keynote speaker at the 18th Lean Management Conference in Wroclaw, Poland. Not only was it a fabulous conference, with many great Lean thinkers and speakers, it was also a great opportunity to continue my ‘back to basics’ thinking. So, today, here’s my reflection on another of the most basic Lean principles and practices: Striving for perfection.

I often hear Lean described as ‘continuous improvement’ and that organizations who adopt Lean are working to ‘continuously improve’ the way they already do things. However, when we think back to the origins of Lean, to Sakichi Toyoda, the King of Inventors in Japan, the Toyota Production System and the Toyota Way, inherent in the drive to create better, more effective and efficient ways to work is the goal of continuously ‘striving for perfection’.

The way I see it, striving for perfection is quite different than simply continuously improving. ‘Striving for perfection’ is active and forward-looking. ‘Striving for perfection’ provides a goal that is always just outside of our reach, stretching our thinking and creativity to both improve the way we work now and create new ways. ‘Striving for perfection’ acknowledges that although perfection may not ever be attainable, there is a huge positive potential in the act of challenging people to do more than they ever thought they could do and be more than they ever thought they could be.

Sometimes I visit organizations who balk at the idea of ‘striving for perfection’. Because they know that perfection is not possible, they believe striving for it would be demoralizing for their employees. I believe that the opposite is true. Knowing that the people you work for trust that you will be able to learn and grow and figure out how to do things you can’t do right now is affirming. Striving to perfect the products and services your organization makes to serve your customers is exciting and engaging for us as workers and human beings.

So, if you or your organizations practices Lean, please don’t limit your thinking – and yourself – to ‘continuous improvement’. You can do much more than that! Be much more than that! Challenge yourself and your team, instead, to ‘strive for perfection’!


Back to Basics! ‘Go See’ for Yourself!

For the past couple of weeks, I’ve found myself thinking about some of the Lean basics. Maybe because there was a lot of great discussion about ‘Back to Basics’ at the Portugal Lean Summit 2018, or maybe it’s because I’ve been focused on writing my next book How to Coach for Creativity and Service Excellence: A Workbook for Lean Coaches.

Today, as I was writing about one of the most basic lean practices – ‘going to see’ – I wondered how many leaders really make the time to ‘go see’ on a regular basis? And then I wondered, for those leaders that do, do they just ‘go to see’ how the work is being done, or are they also ‘going to see’ how the people who are doing the work are feeling? Going to see how the work is done is great! But, if leaders don’t take the time, while they’re in gemba (the place where the work for customers is actually performed), to ‘check-in’ with the people who are doing the work, they’ve missed an important opportunity! Because most people come to work each day, eager to get all the work done that their customers need. When they are overwhelmed by more than they can handle, or when there are problems that they can’t resolve, they feel frustrated and stressed. And, that’s not how they should feel, because unhappy, stressed employees don’t make for happy customers. And overwhelmed, unhappy and stressed employees are more likely to make mistakes and to become disengaged. When we ‘go’ to where people are really working and find employees who aren’t ‘feeling’ happy and satisfied, it gives us the wonderful opportunity to find out what’s hard for them in the process, and to help them, right then and there, create easier, more effective and efficient ways to work. Then they – and their customers – will be happier.

Looking back on statistics and metrics about yesterday’s work, and at emoji’s showing how people are feeling can be helpful. Even more helpful, though, is making the time to go ‘back to basics’ and ‘go see’ for yourself!



Are you a gifted leader?


How many of you who read the title of this post immediately thought of yourself? Thought that the question applied to your leadership ability? If we’re really truthful with ourselves, probably most of us did. That’s because, as human beings, it’s simply second nature to put ourselves first. To think about ourselves and how everything applies to us.

Great thing is, if you’re a leader, the one thing I can guarantee you is that you are gifted. Because all leaders, no matter who they are, or at what level they are leading, are gifted: gifted with employees! Gifted with the wonderful joy and corresponding responsibility of caring for and nurturing the fabulous human beings who give the gift of their precious time to their company and their customers each and every day.

If you haven’t thought of it this way, I’m not surprised. But think about it. Each day, your employees come to work, eager and ready to give of their time and talent. Of course, people expect compensation for their efforts, but most people aren’t just working for a paycheck. They’re working because they care about their customers and about helping their team, department, company – and YOU, their leader – be successful. And that’s an unbelievably special gift.

So, if you’re a leader, and aren’t thinking of the people who work for you as a gift, it’s time to start! And you can start simply: by saying thank you! By treating people kindly! And by spending your time, not behind your computer reading reports, but with your team members, finding ways to help them develop their creativity and problem-solving skills! By removing obstacles and improving the system so that they can do their work effectively and serve your customers efficiently. And, most importantly, by thinking of them, not yourself, first.

Leaders, your employees are the biggest – and best – gift you’ll ever receive! Please make sure you’re treating – and thinking of them – this way!

I’m Thinking About Generosity…Are You?

The past few days, for a number of reasons, I’ve found myself thinking about the topic of generosity. So, I’m wondering, have you been thinking about ‘generosity’? If you haven’t been, maybe you should. Because in our busy lives its easy to get so caught up in thinking about what we want to (or ‘deserve to’ as so many commercials remind us) get, that it’s easy to forget about the many, many, many things that each of us has to give. Like time. The time it takes, as a leader, a coach (or a spouse or parent or friend) to sit down and actually listen. To ask and find out why something unexpected happened. To help someone figure out a creative solution or the next small step to take. And although it might seem like a lot to give at the time, when you look back on it, the fifteen or thirty minutes or one hour you spend will seem so small to you, but so large to the person you’ve helped!

Another thing that each of us can give generously of is the answer of ‘yes’. In fact, saying ‘yes’ is one of the practices that I use to help me consciously practice generosity. Here’s why. Often, when something is asked of us, our first impulse is to say ‘no’. Perhaps because it seems like it will take too much of our time, isn’t something that we’d think of doing, or isn’t convenient for us. What if instead of saying ‘no’, though, we said ‘yes’! And then did it! From simply making a conscious decision to say ‘yes’ instead of no, I’ve been given wonderful opportunities to experience things I’d never imagined (like swimming in the Amazon River with pink dolphins), to travel to amazing places and to learn how to do all kinds of things that have helped me in unexpected ways – and in ways that turned out to be much more than the help that I gave! For me, saying ‘yes’ helps make generosity conscious, and a habit!

So, those are some of my thoughts on generosity. I’d love to hear yours. And if you haven’t thought about ‘generosity’ in a while, now is a good time to start! Because every little bit of generosity helps people improve the world!

Karyn Ross Consulting

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