Benefits of Discipline: Interview with Joe Draheim, NTL & OnWord Web Design

This month, Joe Draheim of National Taxi Limo discusses how coaching helped him to develop his ‘discipline practice’ in his personal and professional life.

Karyn: Joe, can you tell us a little bit about your background and what you’re currently working on?

Joe: I come from a technology background but decided to start a more practical business, National Taxi Limo. Currently, though, I’m gravitating towards taking what I learned from starting NTL and putting that learning back into a more technological business and into some personal projects that I’m passionate about.

Karyn: When you and Karyn first met, you were just starting your own business. Can you tell us about how practicing discipline helped you with that?

Joe: Practicing discipline helped me immensely in starting my own business. Prior to last year, I wasn’t good at managing time or money…I was kind of a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants guy. I had to use discipline to learn to manage both my time and money accordingly so I could be successful both in my business and in my personal life.

Karyn: How has working on creating a ‘discipline habit’ affected you?

Joe: I started to learn discipline a long time ago, in a place I love – my safe place – the gym. To make a ‘discipline habit’ I took the lessons I’d learned from going to the gym, the only place I’d been disciplined before, and combined them with the lessons I learned from Karyn, my coach. This allowed me to create habits of good time management and finishing what I started which I applied both to my business and other areas of my personal life.

Karyn: What have been the biggest challenges of working on being more disciplined?

Joe: I come from a long-line of hard-working blue collar dreamers. I had to use the discipline habits to actually do the work to turn my dreams into reality. If you aren’t disciplined it’s easy to talk about doing things, but hard to actually do them. And unless you do things your dreams can’t turn into a reality. It’s hard to change. Being disciplined enough to change has been my biggest challenge.

Karyn: What would you recommend to others who want to become more disciplined in their work and personal lives?

Joe: First, find your passion and then find a coach and listen to what  they say and put it to use. And, the most important thing, REALLY,  the most important thing is to enjoy the struggle...because…how we get there is as important as where we are going. You’ve got to understand that discipline is the struggle and you’ve got to enjoy the struggle to make discipline work.

For further information about Joe’s work (and yes – as well as owning National Taxi Limo, Joe is a fabulous web designer), visit his website OnWord Web Design.

Why I’m Giving Out ‘Love & Kindness’ Buttons

A few months ago, I created what I call ‘Love & Kindness’ buttons. Now, wherever I go – grocery store, coffee-shop, library, mall, to name a few – I anonymously leave a ‘Love & Kindness’ button along with a small slip of paper saying something like ‘All We Need is Love’ or ‘Practice Kindness Grow Love’. I imagine that some people who find them put them on and wear them…maybe they pass them along to a friend…maybe sometimes they’re thrown out…

I’ll never know and it doesn’t matter. What matters is that I’ve done something that I believe will make people stop and think about the importance of love and kindness. Now and always.

When my children were little, people would ask me what I hoped they would be when they grew up. I always answered the same thing: ”Kind”. Many people thought that was a strange answer, but not me. Because I truly believe that if we treat everyone with ‘love and kindness’ everything else will work out and be alright. Everything.

So, that’s why I’m giving out ‘Love & Kindness’ buttons. A small thing to turn my personal and professional vision of a world in which everyone treats each other with love and kindness into a reality.

As the Dalai Lama says “Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible.”

What are you doing for World Kindness Day?




Interview with Corinne Visscher, Bridge Barn Consulting

In this interview, Corinne Visscher, of Bridge Barn Consulting, discusses how coaching helped her to both embrace and use her creativity.

Karyn: Corinne, can you tell us a little bit about your background and the current project you’re working on?

Corinne: I live in Squamish, British Columbia (Canada).  It is from here that I provide remote and on-site healthcare consulting support at the invitation of First Nations communities.

In my work, I have learned that a continuous improvement way of thinking has the potential to be a strong force for bringing about positive change. There is no cookie cutter approach for how organizations incorporate it into their daily operations – and that is the exciting part!

Access to affordable, culturally relevant education about continuous improvement in remote communities is a challenge.  It is for this reason that I decided to develop a distance education course: Gathering and Using Data for Continuous Improvement.

Karyn: When you and I first met, you were having some trouble getting the project started. Can you tell us about that?

Corinne: Video editing and online course development was all new to me.  I had researched and purchased my camera, microphone and back drop.  I knew that Camtasia, YouTube and Moodle were resources I would need to use.  The trouble was, I didn’t know how to get from where I was to the final product of having a course to offer.  It was scary, unknown territory.

Karyn: How has your understanding of ‘lean’ changed from doing this work?

Corinne: When I first met you, Karyn, I had a good base of understanding about lean, but I was starting to dislike it because it felt too rigid.  What I have learned is that lean is more of a framework for structuring thinking, and that framework makes space for an environment of creativity and free thinking.

Karyn: How has focusing on creativity helped you?

Corinne: For starters, I’ve redefined my perspective of creativity – I think of it more as openness to trying new things, doing things differently or thinking in new ways.  With this definition, I have the freedom to be creative every day.

Focusing on creativity has given me the courage to develop filming scripts, record and edit videos, and use resources like Camtasia, Moodle and YouTube.  Things don’t always work out like I expect, but then I try something else.  I feel like allowing myself to be creative, has given me the freedom to try new things.

Karyn: What have been the biggest benefits & challenges of working with a coach?

Corinne: Working with a coach has helped me to incorporate the habit of thinking from a learning lens.  She has helped me to embed a PDSA way of thinking into every step of the project that I am working on.  Although I haven’t finished developing the course, I have the mindset and the tools to get me there.

My coach is a phenomenal role model for effective time management.  Unfortunately, I am not nearly as disciplined with time management, and so things take longer than I expect.  I guess the challenge is that having a coach creates an accountability relationship and an expectation that you WILL get things done.  You have to be really committed to working with a coach.  You can’t just “hope” to get it done – because as Karyn will say: “There is no such thing as hope – what is your plan”.     

Want things to be different in 2017? Then just…

As an executive coach, management consultant and coauthor of The Toyota Way to Service Excellence: Lean Transformation in Service Organizations, I’m often asked by people, “What can I do differently so that I can _______ ?” You can fill in the blank with whatever you’d like: lead more successfully, coach more effectively, be more creative.

For me, it’s always a joy to have these types of discussions as what I love most is helping people learn to become the best that they can be. So, if you (like so many of us!) want 2017 to be THE year that you really make progress towards fulfilling your dreams and becoming the person you want to be, here is the best advice I can give you.


Yes. Start. Today. Now. Not later or tomorrow. Right now! The Toyota Way to Service Excellence ends with Jeff Liker, my coauthor, and I asking our readers to START, and here’s why:

How many times do you have an amazing idea, whether it’s to improve a process, or solve a work or home problem and then, instead of doing it right away – starting – you think to yourself, “I’ll do it as soon as…as soon as I’ve finished working on this PowerPoint deck…as soon as I’ve finished preparing for this meeting…as soon as I’ve washed the dishes or taken out the trash…the list is endless. Don’t put off starting work on your idea right away. Because, in my experience (and yours as well, I’m sure) ‘as soon as’ NEVER actually comes. And the ideas you have are too precious to lose. So, when you have an idea, START! Now! Before you forget it or get distracted or lose courage or get convinced out of it by well-meaning but misguided people who tell you ‘YOU CAN’T’.

Taichi Ohno, the father of the Toyota Production System tells us that “The wise mend their ways”. That means don’t wait until tomorrow to change what’s not working this morning; change it this afternoon. Think about how many improvement efforts never get off the ground because ‘other things took priority’. Think about how many books never get written, art pieces never created, movements never started because someone waited for later. Your ideas are important and life changing. Don’t wait for later, because if you do, they might never turn into reality. Start now.

Bring your whole self! And your creativity!

How many times do you reject an idea – your very own great idea! – because that little creeping, nagging voice inside your head says, “I can’t possibly do that…I don’t have the training, the skills, the support…and besides, it’s not a very impressive idea or important contribution anyhow…” I bet it’s quite often. I say, “Stop doing that.” Stop focusing on what you can’t do (and all the reasons you’ve made up for why you can’t and why it’s not important) and focus on what you CAN do. Right here, right now, today! If we all do one thing more thing that we CAN (and yes you can…), if we all turned one more idea into a reality, the world would be a much better place.

So, whatever it is that YOU are passionate about, start doing it. The great thing is that we are all passionate about different things. Our world needs that diversity because there are a lot of different things that need improving. If your passion is knitting, knit hats for preemies, or homeless people…if you’re passionate about the environment, grow a garden, make better food choices, turn your thermostat down two degrees…whatever it is, I assure you, you can do it and YOUR EFFORT AND YOUR PASSION COUNTS…We’re all put on earth to fulfill our unique purpose. Every action, and every decision you make counts. We’re all responsible for creating the world we want to live in – and that our children and grandchildren will inherit. Our creativity IS our humanity. So, bring your whole self. Be exactly who you are. The world needs you.

Find a coach to help you be disciplined enough to turn your ideas into reality. It will really help.

A lot of getting something done, especially if you’re learning a new skill, is simply plain old hard work. What I call a ‘slog’. It’s not glamorous and it’s not easy. Like writing and rewriting and then rewriting again because it’s still not what you want to say to readers. It doesn’t matter what it is you’re learning, after the excitement of starting wears off (because it’s going to) you’re going to need someone to help you keep going. To give you encouragement, to keep you honest, to challenge you when you want to give up and remind you that for all things, “What is now easy, was once difficult”, so don’t give up, just keep going. That person is your coach!

As humans, we tend to think if we didn’t get it exactly right the first time, we failed. Let me assure you, you didn’t fail, you just learned something that will help you in your next attempt: whether it’s to stop smoking, write a book or facilitate a training. So when you want to give up, don’t. Keep slogging through. Your coach will help you!

Think your coach needs to be a trained professional? They don’t. Your coach can be a friend, family member of colleague. They just need to be there to share your joy when you are making progress, and make sure you are disciplined enough to keep going through the not so joyful, frustrating, slogging bits, because once you’ve started it’s going to be easy to give us at the first rough patch.

So, my question for you today, then, is what’s stopping your from starting?

Somehow, as human beings we always think we need so much more than we do before we start: need to know more, need to be more, need to have more (money, training, experience). But we don’t. We just need to start – we’ll learn what we need along the way – and gain the confidence that only comes from doing. When I started out, I didn’t go to formal lean training courses, I didn’t have a huge support structure, I simply wanted to make things better for the three hundred customers I was caring for and the other people who I worked with. So I started by reading books and trying things out. And I found some really great coaches along the way too!

So, whatever it is that you want to do, if you want things to be different this year (and I assure you, the world needs – and is waiting for – your particular contribution whatever that may be) the best advice I can give you is to simply START!



Words Matter.

It was a cold, rainy, blustery fall day. By the time I got inside I was totally drenched. Wondering what I was going to do with my dripping umbrella, you can imagine my relief when I saw a rack of umbrella bags conveniently placed in the lobby. Taking one, I couldn’t help thinking to myself that it was great that the building provided this convenience for customers, but the wording of the sign above the bags felt a little off-putting to me:

“Please help keep our lobby floors dry. Use our complimentary wet umbrella bags.”

If you’re wondering why I thought the wording was odd, contrast it with the wording on an umbrella bag rack in another building just up the street:

“For your safety and convenience.”

Notice the difference?

  • Sign 1 used the word ‘our’: Please help keep our lobby floors dry. Use our complimentary wet umbrella bags.
  • Sign 2 used the word ‘your’ instead: For your safety and convenience.

Maybe you’re thinking to yourself, “So what? Who cares? Both buildings are giving out exactly the same umbrella bags. How much difference could one word possibly make?”

In my opinion, that seemingly tiny wording choice makes a huge difference – both for customers and for the people who work for each building company. Here’s why.

  • The wording of Sign 1 focuses internally on the company. The sign actually tells the customer what they can do for the company: ‘Help keep our floors dry.’
  • The wording of Sign 2 focuses on the customer. It lets customers know what the company is going to do for them! ‘For your safety and convenience.’

As a customer, I can assure you that I’d prefer to know that the focus is on me – on my safety and convenience – and not on how I can improve the efficiency of a company’s internal process such as mopping a wet floor numerous times a day, which is what I immediately thought about after reading Sign 1.

Although Sign 1 may imply that keeping the floor dry will improve customer safety, Sign 2 states it explicitly. And as important as that is for how customers feel, it’s just as important for the building company’s employees. Because service is about caring for other people and putting their needs first. Choosing to use words that make that explicit reinforces that the company expects its team members to have a ‘customer first’ orientation. In a nutshell, how your employees feel about and treat your customers will depend, in a large part, on the words your company chooses to use, in internal and external communications of all sorts, including signs.

As well as choosing internally focused words instead of customer focused words, many service organizations also use what I call “machine words”, instead of “human, organic words” to describe the organization itself. This always surprises me, because what service organizations are all about is people! People creating value with other people during each service interaction.

In The Toyota Way to Service Excellence: Lean Transformation in Service Organizations, coauthor Jeff Liker and I describe the negative consequences of viewing organizations as ‘machines’ instead of as the ‘living human systems’ that they are (see Chapter 3: Principle 1: Philosophy of Long-Term Systems Thinking). Unfortunately, when we use machine words to describe our customers – and the people who serve them – we create the conditions that allow us to ‘forget’ that our customers are human beings, just like we are. And when we forget that they are human beings, it becomes easier to ignore the fact that they have feelings, wants and desires that we need to satisfy through our service.

As organizations, we’re often so used to using machine words to describe our customers that we might not even notice we’re using them. Some examples to look for in your organization are:

  • Referring to customers as ‘client or account numbers’
  • Referring to customer requests as transaction types such as invoices, tickets, work order number or out of service items (If your organization practices lean, take a look at your huddle boards and see what language they use.)

As well as being ‘machine words’, these are also words that have to do with internal processes. Like the umbrella bag sign example earlier, using these types of words takes the focus away from the customer and puts it squarely on internal processes. Imagine how differently service representatives might care for customers if, instead of referring to them as a number, they were accustomed to referring to them by company or contact name and by the specific service need each one has.

As a company, using non-human machine words to describe the people who serve your customers, or to describe what people do each day is also problematic. Again, it doesn’t encourage a culture of human beings helping human beings – which is what customer service is all about. Some common ‘machine words’ used to describe employees that I hear often are:

  • Employee numbers
  • Resources
  • Human capital
  • Talent
  • Brand

Why can’t we just use people’s names instead of giving them a number? After all, each one of us is a unique individual with something special to offer. And what if we referred to people as colleagues, co-workers, team-mates or team-members? What a difference that would make in how people view themselves and their roles; instead of separating, dividing and dehumanizing, these words connect people in the shared purpose of caring for customers.

And what about words like ‘leverage’, ‘drive’, and ‘move the needle’? More machine words. What if we substituted words like create, grow, develop, blossom and help instead? We want our team members to treat our customers (and each other!) with caring and compassion, empathy and understanding. if we use machine language to describe our people, how can we expect them to feel and act, not like ‘cogs in the machine’, but like the caring human beings they are, and that our customers need them to be?

Words both create and transmit organizational culture. To both customers and the team members who serve them. So, if you’re in the business of serving customers (and truthfully, what business isn’t?) and you want to make sure that your customers are being treated in a kind, caring, compassionate and human way, take a close look at the words that you are using. Because every single one of them matters.

Of Course We Can Help You!

Practicing Kata for Service Excellence

Recently I had some service experiences where the person who was supposed to be helping me gave what I call the “list of I can’ts.” I can’t help you because …our computer system isn’t set up to do that, …we don’t take credit cards in my department, …our company policy doesn’t allow it. This list can go on, and I’m sure you’ve experienced it too.

For a service customer it’s frustrating, but for a service organization it can be devastating. In today’s marketplace customers can – and do – easily find alternate providers with comparable services and prices (think banks and insurance companies). At least 50 percent of customers switch service providers after one poor experience.* And what’s almost guaranteed to give a customer a poor service experience? Hearing the two words no customer wants to hear: “I can’t…”

As a Lean consultant, coach, and coauthor, with Jeff Liker, of The Toyota Way to Service Excellence, I’ve been working exclusively in the service industry. The best thing I’ve found to help service representatives learn how to go from “I can’t” to “Of course we can” is practicing the scientific thinking routines of Toyota Kata. Here’s why:

  • In services, value for the customer is created immediately during each service interaction. Think phone call to a call center or a meal in a restaurant. Because the Improvement Kata pattern is a structured way to develop people’s ability to overcome obstacles and meet challenging goals, representatives who practice it regularly develop a habit of “figuring out how” very quickly. And that’s exactly the habit a customer service representative needs.
  • Because service work often seems ‘invisible’ – decisions take place in people’s minds and transactions are completed behind the computer screen – it can be difficult for managers to ‘see’ how their service representatives are thinking. The Coaching Kata makes those thought processes visible, giving the manager a deliberate, structured way to develop their team members critical thinking and scientific problem-solving skills.

I’ve seen the Kata approach work over and over again in many service sectors and organizations. Here’s an example from the insurance industry.

A prospective customer indicated they could give the insurance company a large amount of business if policies could be underwritten within two hours. Since the process normally took at least 48 hours, you can imagine the list of “I can’ts” that followed! Wanting to satisfy the customer – and grow their business with the large number of accounts promised – the underwriting team practiced the Improvement Kata / Coaching Kata approach to work their way through all the obstacles that previously prevented them from being able to produce these types of policies within two hours. Within two weeks, with a lot of experimentation – and great coaching from their supervisor – the policies were being produced within the required time! The customer was happy and the company was too!

Here’s a challenge for you… If you work in a service company, or the service portion of a manufacturing company, take some time to go to gemba – the place where service representatives are creating value with your customers with each interaction – and listen carefully. Do you hear a long list of “I can’ts?” Wonder how practicing Kata can work for your service organization? First, check out The Toyota Way to Service Excellence, where you’ll find case studies and stories of Kata application-practice and success from service organizations as diverse as healthcare, software development and even a taxi company. Then…..

Join Us at KataCon3!

The annual Kata Summit is affectionately called “KataCon” and the next one is February 21-22 in San Diego. You have the opportunity to learn more about how to practice Kata in services during my keynote on Creativity and Kata for Service Excellence, as well as during the interactive Kata in Services session I’m facilitating and by networking with other service Kata geeks. And if you have questions about The Toyota Way to Service Excellence, I’d love to answer them as well.

Your service organization can’t afford not to practice something like the Improvement Kata and Coaching Kata, because the last words your customers want to hear are, “I can’t.”  Learn how to practice the IK & CK so your representatives will be able to say: “Of course we can help you. Let’s figure out how.” That’s what every customer wants!


This mini-article was originally published in the KataCon3 Newsletter.

If You Can’t Explain It Simply…

Does it seem that your team is working on projects that aren’t getting you closer to where you need to be? That they don’t seem clear about your organization’s priorities, even though you’ve talked about them over and over again? Maybe you’ve even written a great vision and mission statement and posted it on your company website and around your office.

If your team members don’t seem to be working on priority work, maybe its because those priorities aren’t as clear to them as you think they are.

As a lean consultant and coach, and coauthor of The Toyota Way To Service Excellence: Lean Transformation in Service Organizations, I’m often asked to give coaching ‘tips and tricks’. In this post, I’m going to share an approach I often start with when asked to help an organization determine why priorities don’t seem to be clear to team members.

A simple exercise that I use to help leaders find out whether their team members clearly understand the priorities is to pick a team member – any team member – and ask them to state the organization’s vision and/mission statement – without looking it up somewhere – like the company intranet or poster displayed somewhere in the office. Most people can’t do it. This is often surprising to leaders, but it’s not to me. And here’s why. As human beings, we can only easily remember sequences of four to seven items. Yes, that’s four to seven words or numbers. And in my experience, when priorities are communicated to employees, they are in formats much longer than that with many words, and often, even more metrics. As our work world get more complex and we have more and more added to our plates, unless something is short and sweet, its not likely that we’re going to remember it, or make the space for it in our already overly cluttered brains.

Also, as Einstein so eloquently reminds us in the above quote, when things aren’t stated simply, it’s an indication that they aren’t really understood. If you are a leader, here’s an experiment you can do to see how clearly you really understand the priorities that you are communicating to your organization: State your organization’s purpose in ten to fifteen words or less. Then state the three metrics (yes, you can only choose three) that are most important for your organization to reach those priorities. Go ahead and give it a try. I think you’ll find that it’s not as easy as it looks. If you’re a leader in an organization today, chances are you are managing in a very complex environment. Customer needs are constantly changing, as is the market. Acquisitions and reorganizations only compound that complexity.

As a leader, its not easy to sort through it all and come to the very deep understanding of what your customers – and your company – really need. But it’s essential. Because if you, as the leader, don’t truly understand the priorities well enough to state them very simply, then you can be sure that you aren’t going to be able to communicate them in a way that’s simple, clear and concise enough so that each person in your organization is able to remember them. And if each person in your organization can’t remember them easily – easily enough to be able to repeat them when asked – how can you expect them to be able to prioritize the many different things they are asked to do each day?

When people come to work, they want to know that they are working on the things that satisfy customers and help their team, their organization and their company flourish, thrive and grow. They want to be part of something – engaged in something – ‘bigger than themselves’. It’s human nature. As organizations, and leaders, then, we need to make sure that those priorities are communicated simply and concisely in a format that’s easy everyone to remember.

So, if you find that your team isn’t working on the projects that are getting your organization closer to its goals, take a look at how you’re communicating your priorities. They simply might not be stately as clearly as you think.

‘Leaning Out’ Processes? Or Creating Service Excellence?

This weekend I took my husband for a medical procedure. The procedure was conducted at the outpatient facility of a large, regional medical group that my husband’s doctor belongs to. And yes, as you can imagine (and as I’m often asked), as coauthor of The Toyota Way to Service Excellence, I do pay careful attention to service experiences of all sorts. Not having had to visit this kind of outpatient facility very often, I was particularly interested in what my husband, and I, as customers, would experience.

Here’s how it went:

  •  As soon as we entered the building, a narrow hallway led us directly to the reception area. My husband was checked-in immediately and given a clipboard with a short form to fill out.
  • A friendly admin then asked my name and my relationship to my husband, which she wrote on the top of my his admission paperwork.
  • Next, I was handed a pager (just like one you get when waiting for a restaurant table or take-out food) and told: “Keep this with you. When the procedure is done, it will buzz. Come right back here and we’ll let you know which recovery room to go to.”
  • My husband and I found seats in the waiting room, and moments later a prep nurse came over, collected both my husband and his paperwork and whisked him back for the procedure.
  • I nervously settled in to wait for my pager to buzz so I’d know when to head back to the recovery room.

The whole check-in couldn’t have taken more than 7 or 8 minutes. Quick. Efficient.

Although I don’t know for sure, I could imagine that the regional medical group used some kind of lean six sigma strategy to make the intake process more efficient by removing waste. After all, no one likes to wait, and with the large volume of patients coming through (the waiting room was jam-packed), finding ways to gain efficiency for the staff by using things like pagers could be quite helpful. Patients moved quickly through the check in process and ’things’ really seemed to flow.  On the surface, everything appeared to be great. But was it really?

I don’t think so. And the reason is that although the process may have been efficient, the whole experience made me feel like my husband and I were ‘things’. Especially when the pager went off (buzzed loud enough to make me and all the others waiting around me jump). As I leaped up to find out how to get the pager to stop buzzing, and, more importantly, where to go to be with my husband in recovery, (no one had updated me on his progress during the procedure), I thought to myself, “This is really terrible. Maybe the pagers are an easy and efficient way for the staff to let people know their loved ones are ‘ready’, but I’m not picking up a sandwich — a thing — my husband is a person, and I am too.”

Contrast this with an experience I had a couple of years ago with a different medical group.

  • Similar type of facility and intake process. No waiting time to be checked in.
  • My husband and I were then taken by a nurse to a prep room. My husband was able to stay with me while the nurse did my prep and while the doctor explained what would happen from start to end of our time at the facility.
  • Once I was wheeled into the operating room, the same nurse took my husband to a group waiting area. She then updated him regularly on my progress and when the procedure was over she brought him back to the recovery room so he would be there as soon as I was wheeled in.

At no time during the experience, which, even though pretty routine, was still quite stressful, did I — or my husband — have to be alone. We both heard all of the same instructions and were able to ask questions the other didn’t think of. The process itself was very efficient, but that wasn’t the most important part of the experience; more importantly, the personalized care made both my husband and I feel not like ‘things’, but valued and cared for as human beings. And isn’t that what a service experience — especially one in healthcare — should make us feel like?

As Jeff Liker, my coauthor, and I explain in The Toyota Way to Service Excellence, service excellence is not about simply ‘leaning out’ processes to remove waste, improve internal efficiency and drive short-term financial results. Service excellence starts with a deep understanding of what each of your specific customers want, need and value as a human being (see Principle 2 of The Toyota Way to Service Excellence. 17 Principles). Once you know that, you can continuously strive towards creating those peak service experiences that connect with each of your customers to improve their lives.

I often hear lean practitioners say, “Focus on the value stream first. Start by improving the value stream.” The problem with that is it is very easy to become focused only on driving internal efficiency. Service, by definition, involves focusing not on ourselves, but on others — our customers — first. I say, “Focus on the customer. Start by really understanding what you can do to improve things for your customer.” Once you understand what each of your customers — the people your business serves — need, you can then find unique ways to improve the way value flows to them to create the peak service experiences each of them wants.

That’s good for your customers and good for your business.

Your customers have many different choices of where to purchase their services and products. Unless you can provide the experiences that they truly want and value — that will improve their lives as human beings — you are in danger of losing them to competitors who figure out how to do just that. Years ago, I actually had the same doctor my husband did. As an independent practice, the experience was personal and human. Once they joined the regional medical group, however, I began to feel that I was just a ‘thing’. So I ‘shopped around’ until I found a practice that had the human, personal, caring experience that I wanted. Then I switched.

Service excellence isn’t about ‘leaning out’ processes. It’s about people. And about finding the specific ways for your service providers to deliver your services efficiently and effectively and connect with your customers in ways that makes them feel like valued human beings in each and every interaction.

This week’s challenge. Take a look at your company’s service processes. Are they simply ‘lean’ or are they delivering service excellence? Your customers really care. And you should too.

Looking forward to hearing your thoughts and experiences on this topic.

Karyn Ross


Does your company have a ‘lean’ program that’s focused only on driving internal efficiency and not on service excellence? Or, have a question about how your company can get started on service excellence? Contact me at I’d love to help.


Creativity Takes…Time and Practice!

In my role as a service excellence consultant, as competition for customers gets tougher, I’m hearing a lot more talk about innovation and creativity than I used to. As I work to help people rediscover and use their creativity and Toyota Way principles, practices and tools to turn those ideas into peak service experiences, I’ve come across quite a number of what I call ‘misconceptions’ about creativity and the creative process.

One of the biggest misconceptions is the idea that creativity is something that ‘just is’ or that it’s something that ‘happens’ in one fell swoop, like a bolt of lightning coming down from the sky: that ‘innovation’ means a new idea that simply magically appears out-of-the-blue and all-of-a-sudden – and definitely only to other people – not to us!

In my experience, that’s not how it works. Creativity, the basis of innovation, is a natural part of our humanity; we all have the propensity – whether we acknowledge it or not – to be creative: to synthesize experiences and ideas together to combine what we know into something that is ‘new’.

Misconception #1: Creativity happens suddenly out of nowhere!

If you think carefully about it, many of the products and services that seem suddenly to have ‘appeared out of nowhere’ actually just combined a number of tried and true ideas in a different way:

  • Your smartphone is really just a handheld computer + a wireless phone. Over time and countless iterations synthesizing already known ideas, people simply figured out how to make a computer small enough to be held in the palm of a person’s hand and combine it with wireless phone technology!
  • Uber. Although ride-sharing might seem like a new business model, it’s actually been around since the mid 1910’swhen jitneys drove people in unlicensed cabs for low fares. The folks at Uber simply figured out how to synthesize app technology and an already tried business model to connect riders and drivers in a way that works for both.

As my mother (and maybe yours) often said, “There’s nothing new under the sun.” If you look carefully at many other innovations, you’ll be able to unravel the synthesis of those ideas over time as well. Small, iterative changes and ideas that built on each other allowed people to do things in what only appear to be radical new ways. Creativity, then, is something that ‘happens’ over time.

Misconception #2: Creativity can’t be learned

Another common ‘misconception’ about creativity is that you either ‘have it’ or you ‘don’t’: you’re a ‘creative type’ or ‘you’re not’. Once you realize that creativity involves synthesizing past experiences and ideas over time, then it’s easy to dispel this common myth too.

We’re all creative. If we want to be more creative, it doesn’t take sudden inspiration or a bolt of lightning, what it takes is practice. Regular, deliberate practice. Just like learning and improving any other skill. If you want to improve your golf game, you head out to the driving range and practice. You might even engage a golf pro to help direct you, give you feedback and make sure that you’re practicing correctly.

Like anything else we want to get better at, we need to Include regular time for deliberately ‘practicing creativity’:

  • Set aside a specific time each day to spend thinking about how to solve a problem that seems impossible to you right now. Think about situations you’ve been in previously that were similar and what you could apply from those situations that could solve this problem.
  • Then think about situations you were in that seem totally dissimilar. What could you apply from those experiences to this one? How could the learning from that situation help you here?
  • Draw or write your ideas down (yes! Stick figures and poor spelling are totally fine!) and share them with a friend or colleague. Add in their thoughts and ideas too!

Then put your ideas into practice and try them out. I bet you’ll be pretty surprised at how creative you really are.

Creativity – and innovation – isn’t something mystical or magical. It’s practical. It’s the way we use our past experience and learning to solve problems and reach our goals on an ongoing basis. And the more time we spend practicing being creative, the more we will find that we are creative more often.

As people living in an ever more complicated world and as companies working to find ways to create the products and services that will satisfy and delight our customers, we’re all going to need to rely more and more on our creativity. Are you spending the time you need to deliberately practice your creativity each day?


The Toyota Way to…Peace!

Today is International Peace Day.

Although many people may not think about it this way, I believe that Toyota Way (lean) is actually a form of alternative dispute resolution, bringing people together to work in peaceful and harmonious ways. Here’s an example of what I mean:

A number of years ago, I was working with a financial services organization that was having a serious customer satisfaction problem. In order to accurately create the service their customers needed in a timely manner, two parts of the organization needed to work closely together. Problem was, they didn’t work together well at all. Each part of the organization blamed the other for their customers’ dissatisfaction and the people doing the work often spent more time arguing with each other and pointing fingers than they did solving customer problems. By the time I started working with them, both the organization’s leaders and the people doing the work seemed to have forgotten that the original problem was customer dissatisfaction. All they could think about was how miserable it was dealing with their colleagues in the other part of the organization. And, most importantly, what they didn’t see was that problems in creating the valuable work for their customers were actually causing people’s relationships to be disrupted – not the other way around.

Does this story sound familiar? I’m sure it does for many of you. Or maybe you work in an organization that has constant turnover. Or one in which people have a palpable dread on Sunday night, or after vacation, of returning to work.

In many organizations, these types of problems are considered ‘people’ problems. However, if you look more closely, in my experience, departments that are unable to get along and colleagues pitted against each other, are often really ‘symptoms’ of ways of working and underlying work processes that aren’t functioning properly.

Think about it. When you’ve been in work situations where the way work is being done is efficient and effective and work is flowing along optimally without hiccups, how have you felt? How have you felt about your colleagues? Probably pretty good. Everybody is able to do what they have to do when they have to do it. Your customers are probably pretty happy too and there are far fewer complaints to deal with. All in all, a peaceful, virtuous circle.

For me, that’s where Toyota Way (lean) comes in. With its focus on long-term systems thinking, purpose and deeply understanding (and serving) customers, the Toyota Way creates the conditions in which people are able to work together harmoniously. A few examples:

·     Finding ways to build in quality and not pass defects to our colleagues in the next part of the process means fewer opportunities to be frustrated with each other

·     Focusing on deeply understanding and delivering what each customer wants means that instead of spending time arguing amongst ourselves, we work collaboratively to solve our customers’ problems

·     Coaching people to develop them to be critical thinkers and creative problem solvers gives them the ability to think through complicated, difficult situations and make careful, considered decisions incorporating diverse perspectives. Not only at work, but at home as well.

As adults, most of us probably spend more time at work than we do anywhere else. When we spend hours working in environments that are fearful, contentious, and stressful, the rest of our lives and how we deal with others at home and in our wider community is bound to be negatively affected – like the age-old comic of the boss who yells at an employee, and then the employee goes home and yells at his spouse, who yells at their child, who yells at the dog. Imagine how wonderful it would be if instead, we worked in environments that promoted compassion, caring, cooperation and collaboration – peace. We’d certainly be more likely to come home, hug our spouses and kids and work collectively for positive change in our communities.

If we want a more peaceful world, one of the best places to start to make a change is in our work environments. Finding ways to work, like the Toyota Way, that focus on holistically improving the entire system, brings people together to promote service to others to fulfill a deeper purpose.

Every single one of us is responsible for finding peaceful ways to coexist in our world. As you go about your work today, ask yourself, what is my organization doing to create a peaceful work environment and a peaceful world? What can I do to help?

Peaceful wishes for the whole world today.

Karyn Ross Consulting

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