11 | Fulfill Your Transformational Leadership Potential with Karen Martin

What’s your purpose as a continuous improvement leader? And how can you fulfill your potential as a transformational change leader?

Tune in to my conversation with master operational excellence change leader Karen Martin to find out!

Move from Purpose to Greater Potential

Becoming a transformational change leader means balancing your technical skills to deliver results while cultivating the influence, coaching, and facilitation skills to lead change and develop people to create a high-performing organizational culture.

Whether you are an operational excellence professional or a leader that has a passion for continuous improvement, this episode will inspire you to excel in both the formal role that you were hired to do and the greater potential of the role that you want to have to lead transformational change.

From learning how to more effectively navigate the complexities of business language to influence leaders, cultivating effective coaching and facilitation skills, and becoming aware of the limiting pitfalls that can hinder your impact – this episode is a must listen.

TKMG Academy – Master Classes in Achieving Operational Excellence

TKMG Academy offers flexible, self-paced learning that helps individuals, work teams, and entire organizations become more effective in improving performance and developing their people.

Karen Martin generously gifted listeners of the Chain of Learning Podcast a free class PLUS a 15% discount for any product. If you would like to be notified of my next giveaway, enter here.

Chain of Learning: Interview with Karen Martin

In this episode of Chain of Learning you will learn:

✅ The difference between the purpose of your role as a continuous improvement leader and your potential to become a transformational change leader

✅ How to effectively transfer knowledge, tailoring approaches between reflective and directive coaching

✅ The importance of speaking the language of the business by influencing decisions that align with your organization’s goals and growth

✅ The risk of short-term improvement events without follow-up to sustain improvement by building skill sets among the team

✅ The importance of having a coach or mentor to support your growth

Tune in now for actionable strategies and insights to equip you to step into your greater transformational leadership potential and position you to lead lasting impact in your organization.

Listen Now to Chain of Learning!

You can listen in to Chain of Learning on your favorite podcast player.

Watch the full episode on YouTube

The full video interview is also available on YouTube.

About Karen Martin

Transformational Leadership with Karen Martin

Karen Martin, president of the global consulting firm TKMG, Inc. and President and Founder of TKMG Academy, Inc., is a leading authority on business performance improvement, problem-solving, and Lean management systems.

Her clients have included Fortune 500 companies in nearly every industry and government agencies at local, state, and federal levels. She’s also the multiple award-winning author of Clarity First and four other books, and is a highly rated speaker.

Karen and I first met in 2014 at the Lean Coaching Summit in Long Beach – the same conference at which I met Isao Yoshino and shortly after learning that my family and I would be moving to Tokyo.

She and I have become good friends and colleagues and she is a strong link in my Chain of Learning®! We continue to enjoy exchanging thoughts about leadership, Lean, and coaching practices.

Karen’s Endorsement of Learning to Lead, Leading to Learn

She was an early reader of my book Learning to Lead, Leading to Learn and her endorsement graces the front pages:

“Wow! It’s rare for a business book to pack a punch the way Katie Anderson’s Learning to Lead, Leading to Learn does. This gem illustrates what truly makes Toyota tick. …. Want to be a better leader, a better improvement professional, a better human being? Read this book!”

Clarity First Interview and 10 Ten Book List

Karen’s book Clarity First on my list of 10 top books on culture, organizational change, and strategy and I did an author interview with her back in 2018. Be sure to check these out after listening in to this episode of Chain of Learning!

Reflect and Take Action

In our conversation, Karen and I touched on many of the critical competencies that will enable you to realize your potential as a transformational change leader.

All of these are part of my Katalyst™ change leader model, including competencies like being a knowledgeable business expert, a lifelong learning enthusiast, a skillful facilitator, and an analytical systems thinker, and more.

Take the Katalyst™ Self-Assessment

Reflect on this episode with Karen and go through the Change KATALYST™ Self-Assessment to determine the competencies that are your strengths and which are the ones that you need to work on to move into your full potential.

And if you haven’t yet already, be sure to tune into Episode 9: The 8 Essential Skills to Become a Transformational Change Katalyst to learn more about each competency.

Work with a Coach

As Karen and I highlighted in our conversation, we all need mentors and coaches to help us develop.

I encourage you too to seek out your own mentors and coaches, formally and informally who can help you grow and achieve even greater potential.

If looking for support for you or your leaders as you continue to advance your skills and to create a culture of learning, I’d love to help you.

Learn more here about how we can work together through my trusted advisor, group coaching, and leadership development programs to achieve personal and organizational impact.

Important links

Listen Now to Chain of Learning

Listen now on your favorite podcast players such as Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and Audible. You can also listen to the audio of this episode on YouTube.

Timestamps:

3:39 Definition of a Transformational Change Leader
8:57 Coaching and Asking Better Questions
11:29 Coaching Styles: Reflective vs. Directive
20:04 Understanding Value Stream Mapping
27:46 Challenges with Kaizen Events
30:54 Importance of Developing People
40:37 Balancing Results and People Development
43:42 Observations on Training and Development
46:19 Joy of Seeing Learning Moments

Full Episode Transcript

Katie Anderson:
Thanks for tuning in to Chain of Learning. Before we dive into this episode, I have an exciting announcement. My guest, Karen Martin is giving away five free classes to the TKMG Academy for listeners of this podcast and everyone who enters will get a 15% discount code. Be sure to tune in to the end of this episode where I share details of how to enter. The giveaway is only open through February 28, so be sure to register as soon as you finish listening. Now it’s on to the podcast. What’s your purpose as a continuous improvement leader and how can you fulfill your potential to be a transformational change leader? Find out on this episode of Chain of Learning with my guest, Karen Martin. Welcome to Chain of Learning, where the links of leadership and learning unite. This is your connection for actionable strategies and practices to empower you to build a people centered learning culture, get results and expand your impact so that you and your team can leave a lasting legacy. I’m your host and fellow learning enthusiast, Katie Anderson. Do you have a vision for creating a people centered learning culture in your organization and find yourself hitting walls when.

Katie Anderson:
Trying to influence the senior team to.

Katie Anderson:
Both share and act on this vision? It’s not because something is wrong with you, your leaders, or your organization. It’s because something is going very right, especially for you. You are stepping into a new role of a transformational change catalyst that is built on the expertise you have developed and honed as a technical expert or accomplished independent contributor. Now it’s time to develop and hone this expertise as a change catalyst.

Katie Anderson:
If you’re not super clear what I.

Katie Anderson:
Mean about being a transformational change catalyst, which I spell with a “K” K-A-T-A-L-Y-S-T each letter representing eight essential competencies to become a transformational change leader. I unveiled the details two episodes ago, so if you missed it, be sure to check out episode nine of Chain of Learning for all the information. And if you want to better appreciate the difference between your formal role as a continuous improvement leader, either as a full time practitioner or operational leader, and how to fulfill your potential in a bigger, more influential role that you’re wanting to step into, then listen in to this episode with Karen Martin. I invited Karen, a master operational excellence change leader, to Chain of Learning to share with you her decades of experience in leading change and helping leaders create high performing organizations. Karen is the president and founder of TKMG Academy, an online learning platform that provides courses on operations, design, business performance improvement and lean management, and is the founder of TKMG Inc. Karen has a master’s in education and is a leading authority on business performance improvement, problem solving and lean. Her clients have included Fortune 500 companies in nearly every industry and government agencies at local, state and federal levels.

Katie Anderson:
She’s also the author of many award winning books including “Clarity First,” “The Outstanding Organization” and “Value Stream Mapping.” And Karen is a strong link in my own Chain of Learning, personally and professionally. Our conversation will inspire you to excellence in both your formal role that you were hired to do and the purpose of that role you are starting to see and wanting to step into. So to kick off our conversation, I thought we should start at the foundation at the beginning with purpose. I asked Karen how she defines and how she came to discover the real purpose of a transformational change leader. Without further ado, let’s dive into Karen’s answer.

Karen Martin:
Yeah, it’s such an important question isn’t know. It directs everything. It’s how we learn, it’s how we behave, it’s how we think. And to me, anyone that’s involved with transformation, whether a full time improvement professional or a leader that just has a real interest in and passion for improvement and transformation of any sort, it’s about being a teacher and paying it forward and coaching and drawing it out of people so that they become higher potential. They are the ones that are higher performing and I think all too often people think that, especially people that are full time improvement professionals think that they should be the experts in doing. And doing for others is a common thing. I see. And that’s not really what I believe our role in the improvement community for sure is. And same with a leader. A leader is not. Their role is not to do for their employees or team members. It’s to help them develop and learn and become a higher version of themselves and a more fulfilled version of themselves.

Katie Anderson:
This is where we have to pair our technical knowledge, regardless of it being an operational excellence practitioner or our technical knowledge that we’ve developed in our industry or our field. And we’ve been promoted for when we step into that people leadership role, either as a coach or as an actual manager or leader, our role shifts. As you said to about paying it forward and this is really that core concept of a Chain of Learning. How do you pay it forward and keep helping other people learn to grow and improve as well? You work with so many organizations around the globe for decades and what are you seeing as some of the challenges that change leaders have in really applying their expertise? Because we all have expertise, but really creating a sustainable learning organization that’s going to be there when they move on.

Karen Martin:
One thing is do the leaders above them in the organization view that as their role? A lot of times we’ll hear people get stuck into improvement. Professionals especially, get stuck in this place where the leader wants them to go and do for the team and go and do for the middle managers. And so if leaders are expecting that, then it’s going to be tough for that person to really navigate out of that and put the teacher hat on and the developer hat on. So that’s one thing. And then the other thing is that you have to love teaching, you have to love helping people develop. And if you want to hoard the information and keep it to yourself and become a doer, that’s really not what I view the role of an improvement professional to be. And again, middle managers as well, and director level and vice presidents and all of that. So I think that the environment needs to encourage that in the first place in order for it to have a chance of emerging.

Katie Anderson:
Yeah, I hear two things in what you just said in particular stand out and resonate with sort of what I have experienced personally and observed in the organizations is one, leaders or executives sort of wanting to hire a group of expert problem solvers as their continuous improvement lean team and just doing the doing and executing. And so that’s even defining or the challenge and even contracting for what your role is. And then two, many people in those roles also not personally seeing that, to really step into their influence and their true potential to be transformational change leaders. It’s not just them being the expert and doing the doing. They also personally have to go through that transformation themselves. So it’s like on two levels, what’s the expectation from the executive team? And then how are they defining and shaping their true impact in role as well?

Karen Martin:
Right. And there’s actually a third prong too. Someone in that role has to be pretty darn knowledgeable about the plethora of practices and principles and tools and methods and analyzes that you can do in order to do that work. And so it’s important for someone to first of all, always learn, never stop learning, and always understand that no matter where you get your knowledge from, there’s always more to be had and more to be gained. And so that appetite for learning and developing, and also seek mentors, seek people that will help you develop and help apply content that you’re reading about or watching or whatever it might be in the real world so that you get stronger. So I think I always say with confidence comes competence, and you have to be knowledgeable to be confident and then to behave in a very competent manner. So appetite for learning is really critical.

Katie Anderson:
Absolutely. And it’s both the appetite for learning and really grasping the technical side and the appetite for learning and practicing those social competencies that we’ve talked about and that I also go through in the last episode in my catalyst change leader model, which we have to have both. We have to be great at executing on the work and we also have to be great at creating those influence and the human dimension skills and the coaching and the teaching and all of that as well to truly be effective. Yeah.

Karen Martin:
And this gets into, we talked a little bit about facilitator development and how does one wearing an improvement facilitator hat become the best darn facilitator that ever existed? And it’s having the knowledge to pass on that’s important, but then it’s also knowing the right way to pass it on. So, for example, let’s say that there’s some kind of value stream mapping going on. And let’s say that I see very clearly a future state design idea that would very likely help a lot with performance. The last thing I’m going to do is say, have you ever considered blah, blah, blah? That’s not what my job is initially. My job is to try to see if they can see it. Do they see it? Ask questions to get them seeing what you see. And then if you’ve really done a good job of asking and they’re still not getting it, then you have to assess, do they maybe not even know about what that is? And then put on truly a teacher’s hat and say, let me show you something that may work here and introduce it to them that way.

Katie Anderson:
Absolutely. You touched on sort of two of the skills, a skillful facilitator and being this transformational coaching leader. One for being a skillful facilitator, how are you guiding people through a process of learning and getting to the outcomes and then being a transformational coach, it’s important to learn how to ask better questions. And exactly what you said. How do we start with understanding where their current understanding is? Do they know or not know? And if they don’t know, then how do we move into that teaching role? And I’ve seen, and you’ve talked about this before, too, that a lot of times people start learning how to ask questions and then they see coaching as only asking questions. But there’s actually a lot of other dimensions around that. How do we walk alongside people? How do we give feedback? How do we teach?

Karen Martin:
I think it was in the outstanding organization, I defined coaching as reflective coaching and directive coaching. To me, reflective coaching is you’re asking questions to get the person to reflect on what they likely already know. But then if you discover that they really don’t know how to do something, then you move into directive coaching and at least teach them something, a practice or a tool or something that they can try and see if that’s the ticket for getting to the next step in whatever problem they’re solving.

Katie Anderson:
Totally. And if you stay in that reflective coaching mode and people are really stuck and don’t know how, then you stop being really helpful. That’s like super frustrating for the other person. Right?

Karen Martin:
Rude. Yeah, it’s rude. Right.

Katie Anderson:
And the converse is true, too, that we often make the assumption people need us to teach them when actually, if we held some space for ask them questions, they may have actually have that capability inside them. They just needed some good probing questions to get there. So we can’t make assumptions on where people’s skill or ability or in that moment is at. It’s being flexible and then meeting them where they’re at. Well, let’s come back to the concept of facilitation later because I think there’s some really great things we can explore about how people in these continuous improvement facilitator roles can even get better at that. But I want to go back to another question. As you’ve had over your years of experience, if you were to look back, or I’m asking you to look back on your career and what you have learned, what advice would you give to your younger self to, I guess, more effectively get to your discoveries faster?

Karen Martin:
Yes, good question. So I do think that there are many. One is, I don’t think I ever truly appreciated, and I certainly didn’t appreciate it early enough, the importance of understanding how business actually works. I was fortunate that I got to move around a lot in an operation, so I got to be on a sales team. I got to be in the marketing area. I actually got to be in the legal team, and I asked for those roles. And so getting to really understand business and how it works is important, including and especially the financial aspects. How does money actually flow? Does it flow? Where’s the money coming in? For the organization and even a nonprofit, you’ve got to know where the money is coming in, and you have to have enough money to pay for expenses and hopefully more than that so you can reinvest in the organization. So understanding business was something that I just didn’t. I started out as a scientist. And so business wasn’t even something I was gravitating toward. And now I’m obsessed with business. And so it’s interesting how that transition, once I started learning about business, I was like, oh, this is really fun.

Karen Martin:
I like this. So I think that’s one thing.

Katie Anderson:
Yeah, before you move on. I mean, I think that’s so true. I mean, I came from academia. I was an academic researcher. And I think it’s interesting, I run my own business now, but I had a similar realization that to be effective once I’d moved into consulting roles, that I had to understand more of the business aspects. How has being able to speak the language of business, or be what I call a knowledgeable business expert help you in an internal or external consulting role in speaking that language that executives understand like they need business results. So how has that been helpful for you? And why is that? Some advice you’d give for your younger self?

Karen Martin:
Instant credibility. When you’re able to speak someone’s language and use terminology in the correct way that they’re using and be able to demonstrate that you understand the pressures, for example, and those types of things, it’s just instant credibility. And when you get instant credibility, then someone’s going to give you a little more latitude to do more. So then you can grow more as a professional and it becomes this really lovely feeding machine. And so it’s critical. And I think you just start by going in and talking to executives, asking for meetings, asking them questions about the business, asking them what the financial pressures are, asking them how revenue is actually brought into the organization. Most people don’t even know where all the variety of revenue streams coming into an organization. And so seek, seek, seek.

Katie Anderson:
Yes. And you even shared with me, like, one of the executives you worked with gave you a book and said, read this, and you’re like, whoa. It opened your eyes and fill the gaps in the knowledge and the skills that you have across these different dimensions so that you can step into that full potential and grow not just in the small area of expertise you have initially, but broader.

Karen Martin:
Well, yeah, and if I can add, it’s not just know. I was really excited to learn all, you know, I felt like it really opened my eyes to how improvement really does help business. But I was in a Starbucks and there were these two young women sitting in a table, and they were all very excited and I couldn’t really hear them. I was over ordering my coffee, but then the barista, the place where you stand to get your coffee, was right near where they were sitting. And so I was kind of like eavesdropping a little bit and listening in. And the one woman was relaying this situation where she was, I don’t know if the CFO invited her in or how it happened, but somehow she got into a conversation with the CFO, chief financial officer at her company, and she was explaining to the other woman, you know, I learned so much about how the money comes in and what it does, and I didn’t even know what revenue meant, and I didn’t know what difference what sales was versus revenue and pretax and post tax. And she was so excited. And I think the more, you know, the more you do get excited about the world that we’re in.

Karen Martin:
It’s a complex world, but it’s fun.

Katie Anderson:
It is. And as you’re talking, it sparked another thought in my mind, too. It’s not that any of us have to become full experts in all areas of the business, but if you’re going to be coaching executives or leaders at any level, and it doesn’t matter if you’re in a role called coach or if you’re working together as a management team, to be able to ask those provocative questions that relate to the business so you have some understanding so that it helps other, maybe helps them think in a different way so you’re not taking over again. You’re not always just telling them what to do, but you’re asking those provocative questions because you have a baseline understanding of how business works and the results that matter is a super important skill, especially as you get more senior in working with more executive levels as a coach or an external consultant as well.

Karen Martin:
Yeah, and you need to seek out facilitation opportunities in various parts of the company, because when you’re facilitating, you’re learning a lot about processes and the environment and things like that. And I’ll never forget the first time I facilitated a product development team. And I was scared to death because I had done product development on the health insurance side of things. But this was a manufacturing product and I was very nervous. And one of the things I learned, or I thought I learned, and I was like, I’m not sure about this. Let’s see, was that there’s a propensity in some organizations when there’s technical capability to engineer something, there’s a propensity in some organizations to build it and then fling it into the marketing area and hope that they in the sales area and hope that they can sell it. And I thought that can’t be, this must be just this organization and I saw it over and over and over to where it’s now a pattern that I see where there are a lot of products being developed that they really haven’t tested to see if the market has any appetite for it. And it’s like, wow, that’s a lot of money and a lot of time to get a product out there that ultimately very often pops.

Karen Martin:
But that’s knowing that and knowing that’s a propensity. Then as a facilitator, you can start kind of poking a little bit and asking better questions that get people focused in a little more on, well, should we really be doing this, that type of thing?

Katie Anderson:
Also, because of the unique role in nature, of the role of working across the organization, I think we start to see the system’s connections outside of maybe functional silos that maybe leaders sometimes unintentionally get trapped in. Like I’m a finance person, so I’m looking here or I’m looking at this segment of operations, but you start to see everything. So how can you help the leaders make those connections and pose those questions too, so that there is a kind of more eyes wide open on the impact of the whole system?

Karen Martin:
Yeah, that’s where value stream thinking and value stream mapping and value stream everything is really helpful in helping leaders make those connections. Because one thing about value streams is we find that there’s hardly ever one leader in an organization that can describe with any level of accuracy how they actually deliver value to a customer. The actual steps that the work flows through from some sort of a request to delivering on that request. And when you’ve got not one leader who can explain that, even really high level, that’s a problem. Imagine the decisions that are being made with that lack that. They don’t understand that. So the more you can do value stream work, also the more knowledgeable you could become about all the different pieces that go together to make a company soar or not.

Katie Anderson:
Absolutely. And for our listeners who maybe don’t know what value stream mapping is, how would you, I guess, have a quick summary of the difference of value stream mapping versus, say, looking at a process map that maybe people are more familiar with?

Karen Martin:
Value streams are a holistic work system at a high level where work is being passed through many, many different parts of an organization. And there’s enterprise wide value streams, and then there are smaller value streams and there are also customer facing value streams and internal facing value streams, like the hiring process, for example, hiring value stream. So it’s just looking at the flow of work through all these handoffs, they tend to be longer in duration, and they tend to have more hands in the pot than a process is. And you need process level views when you’re document standard work, for example. But you need value stream views in order to prioritize what needs to happen across the entire work stream, the whole system, to get work to flow more easily.

Katie Anderson:
Absolutely. So there’s also the interconnection of information flow and material flow, and all through creating value for a customer on one particular product or service. So it’s just a different way of actually seeing that system level interconnection. So again, we’re talking about, so you need to have that technical side of how do you do these things, but then the social competencies of how to communicate that information and get people to see and get bought into the different elements of how that might work. When we were reflecting for you earlier, Karen, you shared sort of two key areas that you’d recommend to yourself. That first was really understand the business, speak the language of the business, understand the financials and those drivers for executives. And you said another, which is really around the people system, like psychology and behaviors. So speak to me more about what would you recommend or share with your younger self about why that’s so critical to really becoming an effective leader or change leader.

Karen Martin:
I think we fight human nature a lot, and it doesn’t serve anyone well. We fight how people are wired, we fight how people have a soul and a heart. And we often criticize people and blame people when they have, for example, resistance to an idea. Resistance is a great opportunity to find out what’s really going on psychologically, what’s going on. I’m not saying we have to have PhD in psychology or anything like that. It’s just being present and sensing what’s going on and then asking questions about that to find out why someone’s resisting. And most of the time when you probe, you’ll find out they’re right. There is something wrong with what’s going on that maybe no one else is articulating. And maybe if someone’s a complainer, they’re not very effective in dealing with what they see, but it doesn’t mean they aren’t right at what they see. And I find that a lot, that someone who’s a complainer and a resistor is often onto something. And so when I hear someone is not going to be a good team player because they’re always resistant or always complaining, I’m like, bring them on. I want them on the team.

Karen Martin:
On the team now.

Katie Anderson:
Well, right. And highlighting the things that maybe other people aren’t seeing. And also, if you get that person, bring them along the journey and then they’re really bought in because they played a role in creating the solution or the next steps, they are going to be a much bigger champion. Huge. And as you said, too, I always think there’s some reason I don’t like calling people resistors. There’s a reason there’s something going on why this change isn’t feeling good. And so being able to understand that change process for people is a really important skill in being able to influence change and bring people along and the whole process on that as well.

Karen Martin:
Yeah, sometimes people resist change because what they have seen is change isn’t an improvement, it’s just change. And that’s not very helpful to have just change again back to they’re often right.

Katie Anderson:
It’s these human skills that we have to pair with our technical skills and we definitely need both to really to be effective. One of the things you and I talked about is that we can’t forget, though, as operational excellence practitioners and enthusiasts about at the end of the day, businesses and their leaders need and want to get results. And so we see developing people as the way to get results. But sometimes we either just focus on the results or focusing just on developing people. How do you think about this balance or tension between getting results and developing people?

Karen Martin:
It’s about getting results, but you can’t get consistently good results if you’re not developing your people. You won’t attract top talent. You won’t retain top talent. In order to build this high performing workforce, you have to have the environment for people that are top performers to want to be in. And so it is about getting results. It’s about delivering value to customers. I mean, I saw this on LinkedIn over the weekend. Lean is about developing people. No, it’s not. That’s one element toward getting results. It’s about getting results and delivering value to customers and people. Development is the means to that end and building strong problem solving capabilities and all those things that make people come into work buzzing with excitement because they’re there and buzzing when they leave because of these great days they had, applying what they learn and learning more. There’s no reason not to have that. I mean, that is absolutely doable. And then it becomes a win win for employees, customers and shareholders. And leaders can sleep at night too, by the way.

Katie Anderson:
Yeah, and we all want to work in an environment that feels good, but we need to be aligned in what we’re trying to achieve. And ideally, the results are driven as we know about value as defined by the customer as well. Toyota’s model, one of their motto is we make people so that we make cars or we make people while we make cars. It’s like the focus is we make people, but it’s the result so that we can deliver the results that we need for our customers. And so we can’t forget either side of that equation. And we can’t just focus on results so myopically that we forget about people as well.

Karen Martin:
That’s a horrible place. That’s a horrible environment. I don’t want to work in that environment when it’s just about results and no one cares about developing me. That’s horrible. But I think the chicken and the egg is important to keep in mind here that developing the people comes before you can actually create the thing that you’re actually trying to go after.

Katie Anderson:
Exactly. So know where you need to go and focus on developing the people, and you will more effectively get to there or achieve the thing that you need.

Karen Martin:
To do in parallel. At the same time, develop the people.

Katie Anderson:
Through the, you know, I talk about how the advice that Mr. Asa Yoshino gave me, and this is in my book, learning to lead, leading to learn a leader’s role, is to set the direction, like what are the results we need or the things we need to achieve, and then provide support, which is developing people so that they can get there and then develop yourself as well, which is you’ve talked about. It’s the importance of being a lifelong learner. I want to shift into, you and I, of talking about continuous improvement, change teams, not just the executive leader, too, but we’ve worked, both of us, with a lot of different organizations, different industries around the world, and have different configurations of how people are setting up, building internal capability for leading improvement. I’m curious, what are some of the things that you have been observing recently that have been effective, and what are some of the gaps that you’re starting to see in how change is happening, or these lean or continuous improvement cultures are being led internally?

Karen Martin:
Well, so let’s talk about some of the things that I find aren’t effective. First, I don’t think it’s effective to put people into a certificate program with a project and have them come out and expect them to be able to perform at high levels. And I think there’s been decades of that being some sort of model for developing people. You put them in some sort of a program, whether it’s a belt program, or another program. And by the way, we used to offer a lean certificate program that we delivered on site. And I quickly stopped it when I saw that 24 people in a classroom six months later weren’t applying any of it because the organization wasn’t ready for it. They didn’t have the infrastructure and the environment, and leaders weren’t engaged, and all kinds of reasons why those people didn’t really get to apply what they were learning. And so knowledge is the first step, for sure. But applications, when you start really building your skill set, and then the other thing that was happening, or is happening still is people go through a program and they get like, this much of what you need to know to be effective.

Karen Martin:
And that doesn’t negate that. That’s a good start. But a lot of people stop, and a lot of organizations think that’s it. And then leaders wonder why the people aren’t able to perform, and then they start kind of sort of blaming the team, and then we’re seeing actually a fair amount. You and I’ve talked about this, there’s shockingly high numbers of improvement professionals being laid off right now. And when people are laid off, it’s generally because leaders aren’t seeing the value. And it’s not that the people don’t have value, it’s that there’s a variety of reasons why they’re not able to provide the value that would otherwise keep them employed.

Katie Anderson:
I’ve observed the same thing, and I think there’s a false sense of how much skill has been developed through an introductory, sort of belt type of program. And it’s not teaching with all the other influence skills. You need to really keep both the technical skills and those social competencies to grow and really be leading change.

Karen Martin:
Yeah, and I think we’re still dealing with the long path. When lean became popularized in the United States, it was through the prism of mean. Everyone gravitated to mean. When you look at the indexes of some of the early lean books, there weren’t even words like leadership culture. Those words weren’t even in the index. We’re getting better. The problem solving movement with the a three books that came out in the Ankata and with the understanding that leadership development is the big part of it and culture is a big part of it. We’re getting there, but we’re still, I think, dealing with the beginning days where it was about technical capabilities and not that social. What’s Jeffrey Liker call it? The social?

Katie Anderson:
Is it the sociotechnical system?

Karen Martin:
Yeah, that’s it. I love that term. It’s so apt. It’s a perfect term to describe what it is that we’re building.

Katie Anderson:
Right. And it speaks to what we’ve been talking about here today. You need the technical side and the social side together, which are going to help you achieve results by developing people. Something else you and I have talked about, and I know this goes back to sort of how some of the challenges and how lean and continuous improvement was being introduced 1520 years ago, and certainly was my experience of doing a lot of Kaizen or rapid process improvement workshops. So one week workshops where a consultant would come in and either train the internal team or lead this, bring in a multidisciplinary team together to work on a problem, and then they have output. And that was certainly how I was trained and developed. And we saw some gaps in that because then there was no follow up, there was no coaching and follow up. But it also had some benefits that maybe with. I feel like there’s been a pivot away in many organizations from doing extended day improvement events as well, because that was also a training opportunity, a learning opportunity for internal facilitators. What have you been observing around that? And I can share some thoughts as well.

Karen Martin:
So Mike Lesterling and I wrote the Kaizennet planner. It was published in 2007.

Katie Anderson:
I remember getting that when I was learning.

Karen Martin:
Awesome. I’m glad we helped you in some way. Yes. The problem with Kaizen events, as you’ve articulated, is that I almost call it a fake universe. And what I mean by that is it’s not the real work day. People are sequestered, they’re focused. There aren’t interruptions. If you run them the right way, but you’re able to get a lot done because of that. Then what would happen with Kaiser Mets is people would go back into the regular work environment and they didn’t have that environment. And then they just got sucked into the dysfunction of organizations and weren’t able to apply what they learned. So it was almost worse than not exposing them to that excitement and euphoria at all, because then they get really deflated going back into the regular world. So the way to use Kaizen events effectively is to make sure it’s running in parallel of developing the organization so that people are able to start getting better and better at making improvement part of the daily work and not require a five day kaizen. Remember, five day Kaizen events were developed by consultants.

Katie Anderson:
Yes.

Katie Anderson:
So it’s easy.

Karen Martin:
Come in for the week, fly in.

Karen Martin:
Fly out, five days. But that doesn’t mean that there’s not tremendous value now. We don’t do five days anymore. It’s just a little too much for most. We usually do three to four, but we are starting to do more now. We also stopped doing them for a while, not entirely, but very limited, but we’re starting to do more now because we were able to work with organizations in getting the whole vibe of the organization ready to support that kind of work. And they’re still the best thing I’ve ever experienced in all my years of business for getting people to sit down together and look at a process cross functionally, understand each other’s worlds, understand the decisions that they’ve been making that have been very adverse to the people downstream or upstream that are in the system. There’s just nothing like it to achieving some of those types of benefits.

Katie Anderson:
I completely agree with you that if you have these offline as I events, you can get a lot of improvement and they have so much excitement. But if you don’t also have the development of the management systems and coaching for people on how to implement and sustain and continuously improve, it’s going to fail. So you have to have these in parallel. But I also see pivoting away and a lot of my clients and other organizations that I work with have been telling me they’ve almost completely moved away from doing any kind of focused improvement work. So that offline, it’s like just a few hours maybe here or there, and I feel like there’s a few things missing. One, that energy of coming together as a team, of having that focused time. If you really want innovation, sometimes you need that focus time outside of the work, that engagement, and also as a development opportunity for your internal change team and facilitators. If I think back to my own pathway, I was paired at first with and I was really lucky. So I was one of the sort of fire starters for lean at the hospital system I was working at.

Katie Anderson:
And so I was chosen as the first internal facilitator know coach to be trained, which is like a blessing in my own career. But I was paired and it was a series. It was like five workshops. First it was observe one and then work in partnership. The last one was observation and I was in parallel with them teaching me the technical side about how I look at process and then how I’m looking at all that. I was learning how to work a room, how to create a project charter, how to do all that facilitation and influence and all of those social competencies. And a lot of the organizations I work with now some of their executive leaders are saying they don’t have that. And so people are coming in and still just trying to do their best work, which is great, and I totally understand that. But we’re missing like a development opportunity for those social capabilities that are really going to create transformational change leaders and move just from that technical side to leading change. So I’m curious, for those of you listening, what’s going on in your organization? What are the challenges and things that you’re being enablers for really creating internal capability for people in change leadership roles and for managers and executives, too, to lead these change?

Karen Martin:
Well, there’s a practical side of it as well that I think is important to acknowledge is that when you have people that are getting together periodically to work on a problem or make some sort of improvement, there’s that whole mental ramp up period that you have to go through in order to get your head back where the team was whenever you met the first time or the previous time. And that is a form of task switching. And so you lose all that momentum that you get in a Kaizen event or a rapid improvement event because you’re moving from day to day and you’re still focused on the same thing. And so it takes so much longer to get results. So you’re missing out on the development. To your point, you’re not getting as good a results. It’s taking too long. There’s a time and a place for these kinds of multi day focused improvement, and it’s an important technique.

Katie Anderson:
Absolutely. So I’m not advocating for going back and just only running Kaizen events, but I would like us all to consider where can doing some of that offline focused work be an enabler for learning and change and seeing it as a development pathway for people as well so that you’re partnering and developing those skills.

Karen Martin:
Yeah, I just had a situation with a prospective client where we were talking about value stream mapping, and it was a very big value stream, so it absolutely took at least three days, if not four, it would have to do it. And they just were like, we can’t give that time. And I tried to get them to see that they’re already spending that time times 100 because of the problems in the value stream that they deal with day in and day out that are recurring, that aren’t going away, and that they’re spending well more than three days worth of time over and over and over with the systems problems that they’ve got. But I was unsuccessful, and so they said basically they wanted to meet once a week for a period of time and fly me in once a week and all that stuff. And I said, not only will I not do it just logistically, but it’s not the right way for you to take a look at your value stream. It’s just not, you’re not going to gain from this work the way you would if we just spent three days together.

Katie Anderson:
And what you just shared, too, is an important skill for all of us to learn, too, is how do you speak to leaders? To be able to say, I’m also a trusted advisor and this is not the right way. And to have that influence to say, not just go and do it because that’s what someone wants, but I’m also in an advisory role where I’m giving you my expertise on how to do this.

Karen Martin:
Yeah, and it’s a hard call when you’re internal. It’s a harder, I guess I should say call when you’re internal, because people always are afraid that they’re going to be known as the difficult person or whatever it might be. But if you’re being judged on results, and you are, then you need to get results so that you can be judged in a really good way. And so you have to be able to lobby, advocate, whatever it is, for the right combination of people and days and focus and what the charter is and metrics and all that stuff. You have to be able to advocate for that.

Katie Anderson:
I want to just put in one comment around the Kaizen events and follow up what you just said, because it reminded me of something you shared recently with me. But on the Kaizen events, I think it’s really interesting. GE, with Larry Culp’s leadership, has talked a lot about how they’ve really been focusing on the strategy of having these focused improvement events as a way to teach people the skills. And then, of course, you need the follow up and coaching. And I talked about this with some of their executive transformational leaders in my episode six, inside the lean mindset, and it’s been a lot in the papers recently about GE’s turnaround and how they’ve been using lean to do this and how important having some focused improvement events has been. Not the only strategy, but really seeing it as a way to bring people together. Karen, you shared an example recently, a client that you’d worked with where the leader was like, yeah, man, I just need these results and need them fast. But you’re like, oh, okay, I got to work on that. So I got to speak the language that the executive needs. But you knew that also the way to get there was to do these other things.

Katie Anderson:
I think it’s a really important skill that you see this vision for what’s actually needed, but also there’s the thing right in front of them that they need. But the bigger thing is actually going to be what’s going to achieve the greater success. So how did you approach that situation, this one, or in the past?

Karen Martin:
Well, so as an outsider, that particular situation, I was able to quickly help him see that if we just go and do it and just jam results out of a team, that that’s not going to build any skill sets amongst the team, and that what actually is better is building the skill sets as we’re going. It may take a little bit longer, just a little bit, not a lot, a little bit longer to get there because they’re learning. But ultimately, then I go away. And he liked that.

Katie Anderson:
Yeah, we got to work ourselves out of a job.

Karen Martin:
That is the work ourselves out of a job. Absolutely. I mean, that is everyone’s job, including internal people, and aspire to something else once you work yourself out of the job. But he likes that. For internal people, I think it’s also important for them to constantly be lobbying and advocating for. We are developing people, so we don’t have to keep doing these five day Kaizen events or four day kaizen events. We’ll just be so cross functionally wired and we will be so good at surfacing problems that we’ll just be able to start solving problems cross functionally and that’ll be how we operate. It will be our way. I think you can just use the same logic, whether internal or external, to get people to see the value in the people development side of things. Businesses can’t get results without people. I mean, they don’t just fall out of the sky. So you might as well train them to do good work and develop them.

Katie Anderson:
We need people at all levels to be capable and confident of solving problems at the right level and doing it while doing the work. Right, so making improvements, developing people while we do the work. And there will always be times where we have to pull, like, come off to whether or not you call it a Kaizen event or it’s just a focused brain power on working on a problem or initiative. But the goal is ultimately having that be truly leader led, where you don’t have to have this whole cadre of external or internal or external people coming in to do it. They have the capability. Maybe there’s a few people sort of leading the charge and the thinking to keep the continuity there. But that transfer of knowledge, which is where we started off on the purpose of change leaders, is about creating the capabilities across the organization for solving problems, for aligning on strategy, for leading and teaching as well. So both understanding the technical side and that social side too, right?

Karen Martin:
It’s so critical.

Katie Anderson:
Karen, you started the TKMG academy a few years ago, and what are some of the observations you have about the topics that people are really interested in and filling their skill set and any, I guess, observations you have too, that would be helpful. They’d be interesting for our audience here.

Karen Martin:
Yeah. So one of the things that I did not see coming was how I call it juicy, like when there’s lots and lots of fodder in things to learn. I didn’t realize it was going to be so juicy because we have so many organizations that are using our services. When I was only consulting, we might have six big clients a year because most of our engagements are longer. And so I get six data points about what they’re doing internally and how it’s working. And yes, I did it for a long time. So I get six times years that I was doing only consulting. But now I’ve got hundreds, soon to be thousands of people that we’re talking with. And we do a lot of gratis coaching. We do paid coaching as well, but we do a lot of gratis coaching just to help them understand what we offer and how to help them achieve whatever it is that they want to do. So getting a lot of data points, and one of the things that I still see a lot of is organizations not valuing developing people, not wanting to spend the budget on it, not wanting to invest in people.

Karen Martin:
And that’s heartbreaking. But those that are taking it seriously are getting tremendous results. And by taking it seriously, it isn’t just offering a library of courses to people and then let them be self directed learners, because the reality is a lot of people are not self directed learners. But when you direct people to learn in a way that’s tied to real world needs and real world work, and they’re able to get the cognitive development and then go and apply, I mean, that’s just magic in terms of building capabilities. So those are the clients that are really fun to work with because you see all this tremendous growth happening and the results speak for themselves. So I love that part of it. When I hear an organization saying, yeah, no, we don’t really do much in terms of training or developing our people.

Katie Anderson:
Then, well, how likely are they going to get the results that they need on a sustained way. They’re not focusing on developing their people to get results.

Karen Martin:
You know what someone told me once, a really wise, lean old geezer that is long, long retired now. He said, you know, Karen, there’s a reason why dinosaurs don’t exist anymore. And it’s because they became extinct because they weren’t able to adapt.

Katie Anderson:
Yes. We all have to grow and adapt and be these lifelong learners, and then how do we grow that Chain of Learning across our organizations so that we have innovation and continuous improvement to stay ahead of the time and thrive? I mean, that’s what we all want and need. Yeah.

Karen Martin:
And one last thing that, that just sparked. For me, there’s nothing more exciting than seeing a light bulb go on. It’s just like, oh, when someone gets it and they get excited. I mean, I don’t know anyone that finds learning of something that they’re interested in a downer, like, I don’t want to learn. No, I don’t see that.

Katie Anderson:
Sometimes people haven’t been given the space or the opportunity to learn or contribute. I have to say that is what got me so excited and fired up when I first switched roles into moving into a more of a continuous improvement facilitator role. It was first leading those Kaizen events, but then it morphed more like just the direct coaching or helping people see things. Like just even the workshops I’m leading for clients right now to help understand those leadership capabilities and eyeballs lighting up, they’re like, oh, I understand that I’m going to be so much more effective. It can be small changes that we make or the big transformational things, too. But it gets me excited. That’s where my passion comes from as.

Karen Martin:
Well, and healing people’s day to day existence in a positive way. So our leader standard, back to your question. Our leader standard work course is the number one seller. And I get the most feedback from people, maybe because it’s the biggest seller, it’s the emotion that you hear from leaders saying, oh, my gosh, thank you so much for helping me see what was wrong with my daily life and what I can be doing and should be doing that’s more supportive of the team and how that helps us get results. That excitement, it’s addictive, that buzz of seeing people get excited.

Katie Anderson:
Yes. And that is our purpose, truly as leaders and as change leaders. Going back to where we started. Right. It’s about creating that spark and that capability to learn and contribute and move us. Our expertise becomes how to do that and how to pass on that knowledge and that skills. And so it’s not just moving from the doing the improvement work itself, but creating that passion and the capability for everyone to do that improvement. Yeah, we’re spreading, oh, spreading joy while getting results. I mean, what could be better? Well, thank you, Karen Martin, for being here today on Chain of Learning. We have so much more we can talk about. I’d love for you to come back in the future. How can listeners get in touch with you or learn more about TKMG Academy or other work that you do?

Karen Martin:
So TKMG, it used to be the Karen Martin group that sometimes helps people go, what? The Karen Martin group, tkmgacademy.com. Also the consulting side is tkmg.com, so that’s probably the easiest. And LinkedIn. I’m Karen Martin Opex and we also have, both companies have a LinkedIn page as well, so that’s probably the best. I’m not doing X so much anymore. I left Facebook a while ago. I’m still on there, but I’m not doing much. And I’ve never been a TikTok or Insta person.

Katie Anderson:
Well, we’ll put all the links Karen just mentioned in the show notes and be sure to go to the episode full page because we’ll have additional resources there as well. So thank you, Karen, for joining me here on Chain of Learning.

Karen Martin:
It was just wonderful. Thank you so much.

Katie Anderson:
Being an operational excellence change leader is first and foremost about being great at the job you are hired to do to get results and to drive change. But to step into your full potential as a transformational change leader, you have to do more than focus on you delivering the results. As Karen and I started off this episode, your bigger purpose as a change leader is about being a teacher, about paying it forward so that others can reach a higher potential. It’s about mastering the influence and social skills to do so and help others do the same. It’s about spreading joy and making the world a better place. This is what a Chain of Learning is all about. In our conversation, Karen and I touched on many of the critical competencies that will enable you to realize your potential as a transformational change leader. All of which are part of my catalyst change leader model that I described in episode nine, including competencies like being a knowledgeable business expert, a lifelong learning enthusiast, a skillful facilitator, and an analytical systems thinker. And more. If you haven’t downloaded my KATALYST Self Assessment yet, go do so now.

Katie Anderson:
The links are in the show notes for this episode, or you can go directly to kbjanderson.com/katalyst with a k and also go back to listen to episode nine of this podcast to learn more about each of the competencies. So reflect on this episode with Karen and go through the catalyst self assessment to determine the competencies that are your strengths and which are the ones that you need to work on to move into your full potential on the episode webpage. I’m also going to link to some other helpful resources for you, including my interview several years ago with Karen about her book “Clarity First” and links to other resources mentioned in this episode. Go to chainoflearning.com/11. As Karen and I highlighted in our conversation, we all need mentors and coaches to help us develop. I encourage you too to seek out your own mentors and coaches, formally and informally who can help you grow and achieve even greater potential. And if you need outside support for yourself or your leaders from someone like me, I’d be happy to help. I love supporting change leaders and executives like you to fulfill your purpose and create a thriving, peoplecentered, high performing organization.

Katie Anderson:
You can learn more about my trusted advisor coaching and learning experiences on my website, KBJAnderson.com, and the link is also in the show notes as I mentioned at the beginning of this episode, we have an exciting announcement for you. Karen Martin is generously giving away five free classes to the TKMG Academy, and everyone who enters the giveaway will get a 15% discount that they can use at the academy. So be sure to register by February 28th to get your 15% discount code and register for a chance to be one of the winners of five free courses for the TKMG Academy. The links to enter are in the podcast show notes and on the episode web page. Be sure to share this opportunity to increase your ods. Be sure to follow and subscribe now and share this podcast with your friends and colleagues so we can all strengthen our Chain of Learning together.

Katie Anderson:
In upcoming episodes, we’ll be diving into more tangible practices and strategies to help you continue to step into your leadership potential. If you’re enjoying the podcast too, please rate and review Chain of Learning on your favorite podcast player.

Katie Anderson:
Thanks for being a link in my Chain of Learning today. See you next time. Until then, have a great day and keep learning.

Subscribe to Chain of Learning

Be sure to subscribe or follow Chain of Learning on your favorite podcast player so you don’t miss an episode. And share this podcast with your friends and colleagues so we can all strengthen our Chain of Learning® – together.

Subscribe now!

Listen using your favorite app for podcasts:

Search
Get The Latest Updates

Join my Chain of Learning®!

Register below for my newsletter and be the first to know about new articles, podcast episodes, and other inspiration to deepen your learning and leadership impact.

Let's grow our Chain of Learning -- together!

Related Posts

Get my free guide 3 Tips to Break The Telling Habit & learn how to ask better questions with intention.

3 Tips to Break the Telling Habit

Take my FREE Change Katalyst™ self-assessment now!

Sign up today to get a free copy of the Take my FREE Change Katalyst™ self-assessment.

Get your own copy of the 4-Box Problem-Solving Tool

Sign up today to get a free copy of the 4-box problem-solving tool.

Download My Plan-Do-Check-Adjust Framework

I want the "Leading to Learn: People Centered Practices to Develop a Culture of Learning" webinar slides!

In addition to the webinar slides, you will also be signed up for Katie’s periodic newsletter, which you can opt out of at any time.

Get the Create a Life Tapestry Art Project Instructions

Enter your email to get access to the life tapestry instructions.

How to Ask Effective Questions

All newsletter subscribers get a copy of Isao Yoshino’s tips on “How to Ask Effective Questions” from our joint session on asking effective questions. Sign up here!

Download Learning to Lead, Leading to Learn Book Sample

Dive into Isao Yoshino’s Letter to the Reader and learn from his first mistake at Toyota. By sharing your information, you will also be subscribed to Katie’s periodic newsletter to be the first to know about new articles, events, and other learning experiences!

Download a PDF of the article "If You Think Lean is Inherently Japanese, Think Again"

Sign up below and receive a PDF of the article I wrote for Planet Lean “If You Think Lean is Inherently Japanese, Think Again”!

Get Personal Improvement A3 Coaching Tips!

Develop your coaching skills to develop others. Download the Personal Improvement A3 Coaching guide!

Start living and leading with intention today!

Do you want improve yourself as a leader, coach or learner? Getting started with an intentional practice of daily reflection can accelerate your learning. Enter your email address below to download the Daily Reflection Template.

Isao Yoshino’s Leadership Credo

Sign up here and get your copy of Isao Yoshino’s leadership credo!

Learning to Lead Leading to Learn Book

Top 10 Toyota Leadership Lessons

Receive a PDF of the first top 10 leadership lessons and insights that I learned from Mr. Isao Yoshino, a leader at Toyota for over 40 years. These lessons and more inspired us to create the bestselling book “Learning to Lead, Leading to Learn.”

Learning to Lead Leading to Learn Book

Access the Book Bonus Resources

Get the downloadable bonus material and additional resources referenced throughout the book. By sharing your information, you will receive access to all the bonus resources — as well as new resources as they become available.