Beyond Appearances_ Building Real Continuous Improvement with Patrick Adams

12 | Beyond Appearances: Building Real Continuous Improvement with Patrick Adams

What is the difference between authentic cultures of continuous improvement versus superficial displays? 

In this episode, I invited Patrick Adams, Founder of Lean Solutions and best-selling author of Avoiding the Continuous Appearance Trap, to share his insights on the heart of organizational culture and transformational leadership.

Strengthening Leadership for Real Company Culture Improvement

Patrick explains what constitutes real cultures of continuous improvement versus mere illusions of it.

And the truth is, there are no quick fixes, “silver bullets,” or pre-established tools to achieve a genuine culture of continuous improvement. Patrick emphasizes that long-term commitments to positive leadership behaviors are necessary to sustain cultures that foster growth.

Our discussion pivots to Patrick’s reflections on joining my executive Japan Study Trip in May 2023.

He details his experience in Japan—seeing where lean and continuous improvement principles and practices originated with people and culture – and why it was a pivotal experience for any lean practitioner or executive seeking to build a real culture of kaizen and lasting continuous improvement.

Chain of Learning: Interview with Patrick Adams

You won’t want to miss this episode of Chain of Learning where Patrick and I discuss how you can create a real culture of continuous improvement…

… one where leaders embrace personal development and lifelong learning as critical components for driving and sustaining change within their organizations.

… one where there are stable processes and a clear, long-term vision that aligns with the organization’s continuous improvement goals, ensuring that efforts are not just random acts of change but are strategically directed.

… one where a leader’s role embodies and promotes the values of respect, humility, and continuous learning to foster an environment where continuous improvement can truly thrive.

In this episode of Chain of Learning you’ll learn:

✅ The 12 elements that make up an authentic continuous improvement culture, including deep respect for people, stable processes, leadership behaviors, and more.

✅ How quick fixes and pre-packaged roadmaps of continuous improvement transformations do not achieve real continuous improvement cultures.

✅ The warning signs that your company has a continuous appearance culture, including KPI instability,  silos, and not understanding employee and customer value. 

✅ Patrick’s reflections from joining me on my executive Japan Study Trip and why it’s a pivotal experience for any lean practitioner or executive seeking to build a real culture of kaizen and lasting continuous improvement in their organization.

✅ How continuous improvement is about focusing on long-term success and value for the customer, fostering a stable environment, and ensuring that improvement initiatives are aligned with the company’s overarching vision and goals.

Listen Now to Chain of Learning!

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

Watch the conversation

Watch the full conversation between me and Patrick Adams on YouTube.

About Patrick Adams

Patrick Adams with His BookPatrick is an internationally recognized leadership coach, consultant, and professional speaker, best known for his unique human approach to sound team-building practices; creating consensus and enabling empowerment. He founded his consulting practice in 2018 to work with leaders at all levels and organizations of all sizes to achieve higher levels of performance.

Patick motivates, inspires, and drives the right results at all points in business processes. Patrick has been delivering bottom-line results through specialized process improvement solutions for over 20 years. He’s worked with all types of businesses from private, non-profit, government, and manufacturing ranging from small business to billion-dollar corporations.

Patrick is also the author of the best selling book, Avoiding the Continuous Appearance Trap, of which I had the honor to write the foreword.

Patrick and I have been connected in a Chain of Learning for many years and after waiting through the pandemic shutdown, he joined me on my executive Japan Study Trip in May of 2023.

Reflect and Take Action

Take the Katalyst™ Self-Assessment

If you haven’t yet downloaded my free Change KATALYST Self-Assessment, be sure to do so now, as this can be an enabler for your own personal development.

Then reflect on this episode and your results from the Change KATALYST Self-Assessment and identify one behavior that you’re going to focus on to improve yourself and help move your organization towards a real culture of continuous improvement.

Embark on the Trip of a Lifetime on my Japan Study Trip

Come join me for the learning experience of a lifetime on one of my upcoming Japan Study Trips. Patrick and hundreds of other leaders from dozens of countries have joined me in an immersive week of learning and connections that have forever impacted how they are leading change in their companies.

“Being able to commit to this full week of learning, is it worth it? The payoff, the ROI is massive and it’s been a game-changer for me.” – Patrick Adams

When you come to Japan with me you get curated insider access to diverse companies and unique cultural experiences that will revitalize your energy and deepen your knowledge about what it takes to create a successful culture of continuous improvement, innovation, and engagement.

I am actively taking applications for my next trip to Japan (the next open trip is November 2024).

Trips fill up far in advance so if you are ready to invest in your leadership impact and a life-changing week of learning, culture, and connections, apply today to secure your spot now!

Learn more about the program and submit your application for the next upcoming tour.

Patrick Adams - Isao Yoshino - Katie Anderson

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:

04:18 What an authentic culture of improvement looks like
13:06 How people development, critical thinking skills, and leadership behaviors lead to company-specific tools for continuous improvement
14:52 Why committing to long-term plans, not quick fixes, is key to building continuous improvement cultures
20:20 What makes a culture of continuous appearance
25:21 Practical tips for internal CI leaders to create positive change immediately
31:18 Patrick’s highlights from Katie’s May 2023 Japan Study Trip

Full Episode Transcript

Patrick Adams:
I literally had the ceo of a company ask me for the silver bullet. Give me the silver bullet. Tell me what’s the one thing that we need to do? And I’m like, there is no silver bullet. This is not a short term fix. We’re not going to be able to do this overnight. The reality is, if leaders are not willing to commit to the long-term play, then they’re wasting their money.

Katie Anderson:
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. What’s your company culture really like? Is it a healthy, thriving organization of real continuous improvement? Or is it a culture of continuous appearance with no substance beneath the surface, one focused on tools, invisible artifacts of lean and operational excellence, but without the leadership behaviors and attitudes that foster actual learning, engagement or innovation. To be a transformational change leader, you have to know what you are transforming the organization into and to make sure that you are laying the foundation for the real culture of continuous improvement that you want. This episode continues the theme of some of the most recent episodes of chain of learning, exploring how you, as a transformational change leader, can really create this culture of continuous improvement. In episode ten, sean carner shared his leadership superpowers that helped him move from an operational excellence practitioner to a transformational change leader. And in episode eleven, karen martin and I explored how you can step more fully into your leadership potential to lead this change.

Katie Anderson:
In this episode, I’ve brought patrick adams to chain of learning to highlight the difference between a culture of continuous improvement and a culture of continuous appearance, and how you, as a change leader, can really make sure that you’re building that right culture through your own actions and by influencing the leaders in your organization, too. Patrick adams is the founder of lean solutions, a lean consulting and training organization that’s on a mission to help equip and empower leaders for positive change and is a leadership coach, consultant and professional speaker. Patrick is also the author of the best-selling book “avoiding the continuous appearance trap,” which, along with my book “learning to lead, leading to learn,” was recently awarded the shingo publication award, and patrick and I have been connected in a chain of learning for many years. Patrick invited me to write the foreword to his book, which I was honored and pleased to do. And finally, after waiting patiently through the pandemic shutdown, patrick joined me on my executive japan study trip in may of 2023. I’ve also been a guest on patrick’s lean solutions podcast several times, and he’s been a guest on earlier iterations of my own podcast. I’ll link to all of these on this episode’s webpage. We started our conversation off with the premise of this episode that to be able to lead transformational change and create a culture of real continuous improvement, you have to know what you’re transforming the organization into.

Katie Anderson:
So I started off asking patrick, what are the key attributes of a real culture of continuous improvement? So without further ado, let’s dive into the conversation here.

Patrick Adams:
I’ve had a lot of people ask me for that vision of what an organization looks like when they’ve, I hate to say, arrived, because the company continuous improvement, which is what I call the company in the book, they didn’t arrive. They were on a journey, but they were very far along on their journey. And I’ve had a lot of people ask me, like, what did that look like? What did it feel like to be part of an organization that had a true culture of continuous improvement to its core? I’ve also had organizations, and people ask me for the roadmap, too, which, again, is not something that I can provide. And we can talk about that, too, because the roadmap for company continuous improvement is going to look a lot different than probably what your listeners need if they were asking me for the roadmap. It’s not a mechanistic approach of, like, here’s the ten steps, or do these five things and you’ll arrive there. It’s a journey of constant learning and constant adjusting that brings you to a point where you’ve developed this culture of continuous improvement. So I think that’s a really key aspect to talk about before I dive into those key attributes. The other thing I want to mention, too, is in the book, I take two different companies that I work for, the company continuous improvement, which is what we’re going to talk about, and then company continuous appearance.

Patrick Adams:
Those two companies that I worked in, if you were to walk into those companies at the surface level, they would look very similar, right? You would have a hard time telling them apart. So visually, when you ask me, what are the key attributes, we have to go deeper than just visual representation. What we see at the surface level of artifacts, things that are hanging on the walls, tape on the floor, pretty scorecards, right. Those are visual aspects, maybe, of a positive or a company that could potentially have a true culture of continuous improvement. However, it’s not necessarily an exact representation of one, because, as I said, the other company in the book that I talk about had those same attributes. They had tape on the floor. They had. When I say tape, I mean five types of activities and things.

Patrick Adams:
They had scorecards. They would say that lean is their business system. However, underneath all of that, they had a toxic culture where people hated to work. Their kpis were in the dumps. They had high turnover. It was a very difficult place to work for. So again, you have to get past the visual aspects, although some of those I will mention, because they are definitely some attributes. In fact, I’ll even start with one that might sound kind of funny, but when you walk into the bathrooms at company continuous improvement, they’re very clean, they’re well taken care of.

Patrick Adams:
And again, I’m sure people are wondering, like, what does this have to do with bathrooms? But here’s the reality. When we look at an organization that has a true culture of continuous improvement, they lead with respect for people. And that respect isn’t just surface level, it’s deep. And so when you walk into the bathroom, it’s an easy representation of, does this company really respect their people? Because I’ve worked at many companies where the bathrooms were terrible. They were trash, they weren’t taken care of, and it’s an easy representation of disrespect for your employees. Right. And it makes me even think about an individual at a company called micron manufacturing here in grand rapids, dan vermeiche was the plant manager at micron, and he created a cleaning schedule for the team. And as the plant manager, he was involved in deploying that cleaning schedule.

Patrick Adams:
And one of the things that he did as the plant manager was on a regular reoccurring basis. He was one of the people cleaning the bathrooms, cleaning the toilets. And think about that. For the workers in that company that are running a machine or whatever, working in the office to see the plant manager rolling up his sleeves and in the bathroom cleaning toilets, there’s just a level of respect that he has for the people and for the environment that they work in, and making sure that he shows that he’s humble enough as a leader to make sure that we have good, respectable bathrooms. Right? So again, it’s kind of funny, but I’ll just throw that one out there.

Katie Anderson:
Well, when I first moved to japan in 2015, that was something that really struck me about the organizations and companies I went to there, that the presidents always talked about how they regularly cleaned the bathrooms because it demonstrated their respect for their employees and also modeled the way for how you take care of the environment. And in this episode, we can talk more about your experience of joining me in japan and some things that you learned, but that was a real fundamental takeaway, as well as like, you’re not higher than the janitor. And also, if everyone’s contributing to keeping the environment in a clean, respectable way, respect each other, then it’s not a big lift. Right.

Patrick Adams:
So important.

Katie Anderson:
And for those of you listening who don’t know what five s, patrick mentioned some of these sort of visible artifacts. And five s is a workplace management system that originated in japan, but it’s been really an entry point for a lot of organizations for starting the management process of lean and continuous improvement. So a little bit more on that.

Patrick Adams:
Just a couple of other things that I’ve seen or that I experienced in company continuous improvement. Stable processes, right? I mean, stability has to be number one. You can’t improve in a state of chaos, right? So you have to have stable processes. So, as you’re walking through, you’re going to experience things that show that this organization has stable processes and that you’re not living in a state of complete chaos. I’m working with a company right now that the plant manager himself and the director of operations are spending their entire day running around looking for lost parts in the plant. I mean, they’re in a complete, unstable operation, right. That has to be fixed before you can look to make any kind of improvement. So I would say stable processes.

Patrick Adams:
Another one is organizational long-term vision. I worked with another organization that they said, well, we help to support any kind of continuous improvement ideas that any team members have. It doesn’t matter what it is. We just go out and make it happen. Now, I can understand that in the beginning, you want to create some motivation. You want to empower people. You want them to feel like they can implement ideas and suggestions. But at some point, you have to have an organizational long-term vision that is then cascaded down through the organization with specific goals and alignment to that vision, so that someone that’s coming in knows exactly how their work is connected to that long-term vision.

Patrick Adams:
So now, instead of just this shotgun approach of improvement ideas for the sake of improvement, let’s actually get focused and let’s work on improvement ideas that are going to drive us closer to meeting our goals or drive the organization closer to its long-term vision. So I think that’s also key. And one of the things that you would see in a culture of continuous improvement. I want to go back to dan vermeesh, who I spoke about earlier with the bathrooms. The other thing, I was talking to him the other day, and he is currently at adm. He used to be at micron, but he told me about trips that they used to take at micron, where the micron employees would go over to the veteran home and they would provide lunch for the veterans. At the veteran home. Well, the veterans were brought in in a bus that they provided the parts that went on that bus.

Patrick Adams:
And so when the bus would come in, he would take his employees over and he would show them where the parts are on the bus that was bringing the veterans over to this lunch that they were providing. And it was a way that he was helping to make the connection for the team members from standing behind a machine for 8 hours a day, bending the same part over and over again to the fact that you’re doing something for someone down the road, an end customer that’s impacting their life in a positive way. And so he was making this connection to purpose and their work, and now they could actually see how some of those organizational goals or that long-term vision that they had where the connection was to me coming in and running a piece of equipment for that end customer. So I thought that was really neat. Just a couple more that I want to touch on real quick. Leadership behaviors I think are important. You think about just standing and watching leaders in an organization, depending on where they’re spending their time, what their values are, you can see that in their actions. But that’s going to be an indicator of whether or not you have a culture of continuous improvement versus a culture of continuous appearance, shared accountability, decision-making that’s pushed to the frontline employees, no silos.

Patrick Adams:
I mean, again, I could go on and on, but these are all indicators that I would say would show us that there is a true culture of continuous improvement.

Katie Anderson:
All this goes back to, you said, leadership behaviors, but really it gets to leadership principles and leadership behaviors around all of that. I’m not hearing you talk about the actual process improvement tools and things that you do. I mean, of course, you need the tools to help you stabilize. You need the tools to help make things visible and all of that. But really it’s about how leaders are showing up with that humility to help rein in the chaos, to keep that long-term view, to keep a connection to purpose, and showing up each and every day with that humility to be with their people. I mean, those examples you shared are.

Patrick Adams:
Really powerful, and I think that that’s the key. Right. I mean, again, you can’t go and just read about a bunch of tools that were applied at a company in a book, and then try to take those tools and apply them to your organization, because those tools were a result of very specific problems or challenges or issues that those companies were having in that industry with that team at that time. And you’re completely different. So what you have to start with is developing the people side of things, developing the critical thinking skills, developing the leadership behaviors, and all of the inputs that are going to give you the right tools, because the tools become an output of specific things that you’re dealing with. And if you have the culture corrected and things happening properly that would support a continuous improvement environment, then the tools will come. The right tools that help to close the gaps on some of the problems and challenges will come as a result of having the right culture.

Katie Anderson:
I’ve been talking with others in some of my solo episodes here on chain of learning about that very concept, too, is like we get focused on the outcomes and the results and want that quick fix, but it really is about the being, how we’re showing up, how we’re cultivating thinking and respect for people. That is what enables us to get to the results as well. I want to go back to your comment that you made earlier about people asking for the quote-unquote roadmap to get them there. There being a culture of continuous improvement. How do you respond to people or leaders when they approach you with, it’s almost like wanting a quick fix, right? I want the quote-unquote answer that’s going to get me there. If I implement xyz, we’re going to magically create this culture of continuous improvement. So how do you deal with that when leaders are like, I want the roadmap. I want the answer.

Katie Anderson:
Let’s just do it now.

Patrick Adams:
I literally had the ceo of a company ask me for the silver bullet. Give me the silver bullet. Tell me what’s the one thing that we need to do? And I’m like, jim. That was his name. Jim, there is no silver bullet. This is not a short term fix. We’re not going to be able to do this. Know, the reality is if leaders are not willing to commit to the long-term play, then they’re wasting their right.

Patrick Adams:
So, and that’s what I told like, we’re not here to come in and try to do a short term. I’m not going to do one five-day kaizen event with you, and it’s going to change your entire organization. That’s just not the way that continuous improvement works. The results of committing to a long-term plan and a long-term play, the results will pay off. You will be happier in the long run. And I think one of the biggest struggles that I’ve had with that is so many leaders now are coming into organizations in new roles, and they’re only staying in those roles for probably two to three years at the most. And then they’re shifting either either promoted and moved into another role or they’re moving to another company. The problem with that is these leaders are coming in, and they’re doing as much as they can, as quick as they can to show that they’ve been able to make an impact as a leader, right? So they come in, and they just wipe out everything, and they bring in their own leadership team, they bring in their own management system and they implement that, and then they leave and they’re gone.

Patrick Adams:
And then the next leader comes in and does the exact same thing, wipes that one out, brings in their own stuff. And that’s a huge problem because we talked about instability earlier. Well, instability in your leadership team or your management system is a huge problem. There’s no way that you can ever create a continuous improvement culture in that type of environment. So leaders have to commit to a stable business system. And sure, leaders have their own flavors on how they lead, but if the organization can commit long term to a business management system, that they are onboarding leaders to support that system, and sure, bring in some of your own flavor to that, whatever. But it has to be minimal, and it has to be controlled. The business system becomes the stability that an organization needs in order to then build on and start to improve.

Patrick Adams:
So, I’m circling back to your question, but as far as a roadmap, there’s no roadmap. So toyota did some amazing things. We’re going to talk about that again with japan on our trip over there. But you can’t take away from the fact that toyota did some amazing things. But I can’t go into a banking organization and try to take the ten steps that toyota did and try to apply that at a banking organization and think that it’s going to have the same impact. Now, were there some tools that came out of the toyota production system that can be applied and could be effective? Possibly. Maybe. They give us a bit of a shortcut to solving certain problems if they’re the same problems that toyota experienced.

Patrick Adams:
But the tools that come out of a business management system are a result of the specific industry that you’re in, the culture that you’re working in the problems that you have, the people that you are working with, those solutions, those tools are going to be different than toyota’s tools. So, I think that the roadmap is a journey of learning and adjusting on the pathway toward excellence. So what does perfection look like for your organization? And then let’s back into that. So what does perfection look like? And then what is three to five years from now? We’re here today three to five years from now, where do you want to be in alignment with perfection? And then let’s go to one year from now. Where do we want to be one year from now that’s in alignment with the three to five years? And what are the things that we’re going to do this quarter that are going to move us closer? What are the things that we’re going to do this week that are going to help meet the quarterly goals? Those are all things that need to be developed through continuous learning and dedication to a long-term view of perfection for your organization and a long term.

Katie Anderson:
View, as you said too, of the management system and how the organization is being run, and the leadership philosophy. So either developing people internally and promoting them within so that they’re cultivating this chain of learning internally, or when you hire from external, making sure you’re hiring people that have the same leadership mindset and that are integrating into the system rather than blowing up the system and creating that chaos and instability again, unless there’s time and place for blowing up the system as maybe you need in continuous appearance organization as well. So let’s switch gears. So much richness that you just shared, patrick, and we’ll continue to explore this people side of leadership and what that means for continuous improvement. How does that relate to your experience of this concept of the continuous appearance? Know externally, maybe it’s looking know they have a great continuous improvement culture, but internally, it’s either toxic or just leaders not showing up there.

Patrick Adams:
Again, it’s thinking about the two companies that I worked for and walking into those two companies, and again, at the surface level, you wouldn’t know the difference, right? So you really have to get deeper. And I would say a couple of things that would become very apparent very quickly. If you spent any time at company continuous appearance, which is the other company, what you would find is there were very little to no discussions around this concept of value as it relates to the customer, whether that’s the external end customer or even an internal customer. There was never any understanding of what’s important to the customer. It was more about what’s important to me. And how do I make sure that my process is the best that it can be for me? So I think that that was a big one. I think there was no focus on the big picture. Right.

Patrick Adams:
There was value stream maps on the wall, although they were very old and not dated, not used for anything. Usually only current state maps, never a future state or a plan for how to get from current to future state. So there was more of the shotgun approach to ci, to continuous improvement. It was like I talked about earlier, where if you see something, just fix it. But there wasn’t really ever any structure around that. No ocean for alignment to a long-term plan. I would say a lot of instability in the processes, instability in their kpis. You’d see ups and downs frequently in kpis.

Patrick Adams:
No stability there, leadership instability. Like I mentioned, many artifacts, no dates, no owners. A lot of stuff kept in computers, not visually displayed. If you were to ask anybody, how do you determine success for your day? Or how do you determine success for your week? They would have no idea. Like, I clock in and I clock out, I get paid, I get my paycheck. That’s my success for the day. Right. And it just brought a story to mind, too.

Patrick Adams:
When I was working at company continuous appearance, there was this big us versus them mentality. I mentioned silos earlier. No silos at company continuous improvement. Company continuous appearance had a lot of silos and a big one between management and the shop floor. So I remember a time when the team members at company continuous appearance, they asked for better gloves, cut gloves, and they expressed concerns about safety. In fact, I think our largest incident was cuts for near miss or actual injuries related to incidents. So when it was presented to the plant manager on this suggestion or this request of better gloves, the plant manager’s response was, here we go again, using safety to get what they want, because you hear that and then, well, we’ve already done verification of these gloves, and these gloves are safe. And by the way, we also did a cost justification for increased cost in gloves.

Patrick Adams:
And there’s no return on investment for more expensive gloves. This would be something that you would see regularly happening at company continuous appearance, where. Same scenario, similar situation at. At company continuous improvement, where I remember specifically a tool maker in the tool room asked for different types of gloves. He said the type of equipment that he was working on and things he was doing, he needed a different type of glove. And the plant manager himself was the one that went out to different glove products and brought in, I think, five or six different types of gloves and brought them to this tool maker and said, try these out. Let me know which one is going to be the best one for you, and then we’ll make that adjustment with your gloves. Right? I mean, that’s the difference.

Patrick Adams:
Leaders who really care about their people genuinely care, versus leaders who are only looking at the bottom line and saying, will this save me money? And of course, companies exist to make money. We know that. Right? But at the same time, those companies that are taking care of their people first are the ones that are going to be here for the long run, the ones that are going to have lower turnover. The team members are going to stand behind a higher purpose and they’re going to get ideas about how to reduce costs, and you’re going to see the benefits. But again, it’s a long-term play, it’s not a short-term play, right?

Katie Anderson:
We have it backwards so often in many companies, and it’s backwards in these companies of continuous appearance or just who aren’t getting it. We’re focusing on that profit and the shareholder value, and the short-term gains. It was interesting that akio toyota, at a press conference in january of 2024, said that he realizes that toyota also lost its way because it got overly focused on shareholder value and profit rather than creating great cars and focusing on their people. And I think about the tree ring management book and one of the companies we visit on my japan study trip where the chairman of this company wrote a book, and in it he said, profit is excrement. It is a natural byproduct of a healthy, functioning organization. We need to focus on the inputs to make a healthy, functioning organization of real continuous improvement and excellence. The profit will come if we can do that and have that long-term view. So whenever we talk about profits, that phrase comes to my mind.

Katie Anderson:
It’s very powerful. You and I both help organizations create these leadership behaviors and the cultures and structures that are going to really create cultures of real continuous improvement. What advice do you have for the internal ci leaders that you support or who are working organizations who are really trying to know? They want to avoid the continuous appearance trap and they really want to get their organization on that pathway to a real continuous improvement culture. What are some things that they can do to influence their leaders and sort of create the structures for this positive change immediately?

Patrick Adams:
What popped into my mind while you were talking is dr. Jeffrey leicher’s leadership development model. And I think that obviously executive leaders, mid management team leaders can all benefit from understanding and committing to that model, but also lean practitioners, lean advocates, ci practitioners, and organizations can also benefit themselves. So, if you think about the four different areas that dr. Leicher talks about, the first one is personal development, and there’s a reason why he chose personal development as the first one mirrored off of toyota and what their leaders were doing to develop their own skill sets. Personal development is, you know, tying into great podcasts, obviously, like this particular podcast, books like katie’s book, my book, other books that are out there. But ask yourself, what podcasts are you listening to? What books are you reading? How are you developing your skills so that you can be a better coach to those in the organization that you’re working in? First and foremost, take care of yourself so that you can then do the second one, which is coaching and developing other. So now I’ve developed my own skills.

Patrick Adams:
I can go and help coach and develop other people to understand the same concepts, the same principles, and provide some coaching to them as they’re working through problems or developing their critical thinking skills. And then the third one, daily management and kaizen. So, even us lean practitioners within organizations, how are you involving yourself in daily management for the organization or for your ci team? What are the things that you’re doing on a daily basis, incrementally, that are again, inputs to developing an amazing culture of continuous improvement? So what are you doing on a daily basis? What is your team doing and how are you supporting them through that? And then what’s your daily improvement? Do you have one thing that you’re doing every day to improve yourself? What’s your one-two-second improvement, as polyacres would say it? And then the last area is your hostion, your long-term vision, your goals. So, understanding, as an organization, what are the organizational goals, and how am I, as a ci practitioner, helping my team to align to that? How am I coaching team members, ensuring that they have goals and they understand how their work is connected to that overarching organizational vision? So that would be one thing that came to mind also. We talked about this, but helping your organization to develop a structured business system that you’re committed to, right? Long term. So as an organization, what is your system? The importance of that is developing stability in leaders, in people that are onboarded, and making sure that everyone understands how you approach improvement through the organization, that you have some level of stability. And what does your training look like and how often are we training, and what are we training on? Right. All of that needs to be built into your management system.

Patrick Adams:
Just a couple of other things. I would say. One thing that I’ve seen work really well in organizations is find an executive leader or a founder or the owner of the company or somebody that can be super passionate about continuous improvement and that can be invested and being involved and excited and out where the work is being done on a regular basis. Just passionate about the changes that are happening and excited because that can really drive some positive behavior for the rest of the organization. And then the last one, I would say, is start small. Small improvements can make a big difference. So choose a model area. Right.

Patrick Adams:
If you have a large organization that you’re involved with, pick one area that you can start with. Make it your sandbox and start improving and bringing leaders along. Bring them over and show them the things that are happening and show them how people are being developed. Let the team members explain how they’re improving, what they’re doing, what they’re learning, and that can create some really good motivation and excitement within a team that will then can be replicated and spread across the organization.

Katie Anderson:
Those are some great suggestions there. And a lot of the things you referenced also align directly with what I call my katalyst model about the eight competencies that internal change leaders need to have to move from just being those sort of operational excellence doers to really leading transformational change and partnering with their leaders to make it happen. So I’ll put some information there in the show notes about that as well. Patrick, I want to dive into your experience in japan, and not just about the awesome week we had together, which I would love to hear about, but also how, almost a year later now, how that’s really influenced you as a change leader as well. So a little backstory. So patrick was the very first person to register for my may 2020 japan trip back in 2019. And of course, we all know how 2020 went down. And so he waited very patiently and was part of my very first post-pandemic japan study trip in may of 2023.

Katie Anderson:
Go to my website to learn more about that. But patrick, I’d love to hear some highlights from you about the week. And then now, in reflection, how that experience has really helped inform and shape your understanding of what a culture of real continuous improvement is all about.

Patrick Adams:
So much to unpack with this one. It’ll be hard to fit everything into the short amount of time that I have, but I did pull up my study book for those of that are watching the video. I have my study book here that I was given my workbook during the study trip, and I actually refer back to this frequently because there was so much that came out of the trip. I mean, just so many amazing lessons learned. I consider myself a lifelong learner. And this trip was so impactful for me because, obviously I coach and train people on the toyota production system, on lean. But me personally, I had never been to japan. So I was thinking, for me, it’s like going to my, that’s.

Patrick Adams:
That’s the gemba for me. And why have I never been like, I need to be there. I need to see where everything originated. I need to see the culture. I want to talk to the people. I want to understand, have a deeper understanding when I’m talking about these different concepts with team members here in the us. I want to be able to really understand how that concept originated, where that principle came from, and the importance behind it. And it wasn’t until I was in japan and actually meeting the people there who were so amazing, by the way, but meeting the people that are walking on the streets, meeting the people in the factories, and having open conversations about just the culture there and understanding that finally, my eyes just were open to a lot of the things that I didn’t realize before.

Patrick Adams:
So I was learning things. One example would be five s. Five s is not a toyota production system concept or philosophy. It’s actually a japanese philosophy that toyota brought into their facility and utilized that to help streamline. Well, it wasn’t even something that they had to bring in. It was already embedded in the culture. So they were just so fortunate to have people coming in who already understood the importance of sorting out the things that I don’t need and making sure that I have the things that I need in a very specific place where I need them. So I don’t have to search, I don’t have to look.

Patrick Adams:
That’s something that they’re learning in elementary school. And we went and visited an elementary school and saw that happening where they were three s in their area and they had five s in kaizen certifications at this elementary school, that these kids were going through the classes and learning things at a very young age that were then being utilized at some of the toyota suppliers or even other japanese based companies that we visited. So it was super amazing. But one of the things, too, that I’ll mention, because I’ve had people ask me about that, the commitment from a resource perspective, like even taking a week off of work for me and being able to commit to this full week of learning and really just shutting everything off and was it worth it? And did you get the benefit out of it? It was so worth it to me. In fact, it’s something that we’ve been talking about going back because I have other questions now that have come in this last year that I’m like, I wish I would have asked this. So there’s so much benefit that comes from that. The payoff, the roi is massive. It has been in my company and for the companies that I work with because I brought a lot of that to them and been able to really show them where some of the principles came from, the tools, the background, and some of that.

Patrick Adams:
And it’s been just a game changer for me. So I appreciate that you allowed me to come along with you.

Katie Anderson:
Oh, my gosh. Well, it’s so fun. And one of the benefits for me, first, I feel so grateful for the fact that I got to live in japan for almost two years, and then just that for my own self as a lifelong learner. But even more is that I can share that with others and help sort of really, truly build this chain of learning, of going to the source and all the relationships I develop not only from mr. Yoshino, but other japanese leaders and then the cohorts of amazing people like yourself, who come along and become lifelong friends as well. I’m just kicking off my next trip for this year and have another one later in 2024. And I just get so excited with talking with these amazing people like yourself around the world. And you have your duruma in the back.

Katie Anderson:
Everyone who comes with me gets a drumma. We go to the duruma temple, too. So for those of you who don’t know about me, there are these japanese figures that represent the proverb, fall down seven times, get up eight, and I’m a bit obsessed by them. So you can go learn more about that as well. Thanks, patrick. What a glowing endorsement. And I genuinely believe that going to that source, too, is so powerful. And being able to take that time away for your own personal learning.

Katie Anderson:
I mean, going back to what you said about starting with personal development, right, if we’re only focusing on developing other people and forgetting about learning more deeply for ourselves and going back to those principles and having that time to reflect, we actually then get sort of stalled out. And so makes me really thrilled to hear that the investment was not only just a great week, which it was, because we had a lot of fun together, but it had a real tremendous impact for you and your effectiveness with your company and the companies you serve.

Patrick Adams:
Yes, I appreciate that. Yeah. Many people don’t know that katie’s actually a really good singer.

Katie Anderson:
Oh, I don’t know if I’m a good singer. But there is.

Patrick Adams:
Yeah. So we did have a lot of fun in addition to learning a ton. It was almost like drinking from a fire hose, being there, which would sound negative, but it was actually. I mean, I took a ton of notes. You can see if you were to look at my book, I just couldn’t stop taking. Writing things down, obviously, coming out of that. And you did a great job at leading some reflection time throughout the trip. And then at the end of the trip, which really helped a lot, helped me to focus on some of, hey, this was my top two learnings today, or this was my top three.

Patrick Adams:
But even in the last year, going back and reading through some of this stuff has been super powerful for me to be able to think back and go, man, I remember walking through that factory and actually seeing that happening. I remember talking to one gentleman who was working on a press out of one of the plants that we visited. And it wasn’t heavy manufacturing either. We also visited a healthcare industry. We visited the school. We also went to the bullet train. And that was super amazing. So it wasn’t just manufacturing, but I just remember this one individual that was running one of the presses, and I asked him, because he was running the press, and I asked him, who does your changeovers or who takes care of your equipment for you? And he was like, looked at me weird and was like, I take care of it.

Patrick Adams:
And I was like, really? So you do all the changeovers, you do all the maintenance, you do everything on this piece of equipment. And he’s like, it’s almost like it didn’t make sense to him why I would be asking this question. And then the team leader said, they feel like these machines are their babies. That’s the way he explained it. Like, this is my baby. I take care of this like it’s my baby. So it runs smooth. It’s well taken care of.

Patrick Adams:
Just the level of just respect that he had for his equipment. And that paid off, right? I mean, their equipment runs like a champ, obviously. And he knows when it isn’t making the right noise, he knows what to do. And that goes all the way back to the visit to the school where these children are shutting down school, and they’re going and working on the school grounds to clean and take care of. They don’t have janitors. They’re the janitors. They take care of it themselves. And so that was something that they learned at a very young age.

Patrick Adams:
And that’s why he was looking at me like I was crazy. I take care of my space. I take care of my area. This is my area. Right. The ownership that they have is just amazing. So again, those are things that you don’t read that in a book. You have to go experience it.

Patrick Adams:
You have to see it and be there and talk to them. And it’s a great trip. So loved it.

Katie Anderson:
It’s a real go to gemba experience. And I purposely cultivate this trip so that you’re seeing great organizations and led by great leaders. So we’re purposely going to see cultures of real continuous improvement, not cultures of continuous appearance, because not all of japan, not all leaders and all organizations are done this way. So sometimes I get asked the question, well, is this just a japanese culture thing that allows really the principles of lean to really function? What’s your thought about that having, because we spend a lot of time talking about, is it japanese culture, toyota culture, some more general human traits? What’s your perspective on that, patrick, now, having been to japan and all the work you do in us and other countries?

Patrick Adams:
Yeah, that’s a really good point that you made, katie, because that is the truth, is that we’re going there and we’re visiting very specific companies that are doing some really good stuff. Right. You’ve identified these companies that would be considered companies of continuous improvement, and we know that there are companies there that maybe don’t fit that same bill and would fall into the bank of companies of continuous appearance. I would say it isn’t necessarily a japanese culture thing, although the japanese culture definitely is a huge part of it and an aspect of why they were able to be so successful. And many companies are so successful coming out of japan because of the culture. But it’s definitely not something that says if you open a company in japan, you will be successful. No, there’s still the need for good leadership that understands that they need to make an investment in the people and developing their people. It still means they have to have a long-term vision.

Patrick Adams:
They have to have some level of ocean that ties the work that’s happening at the space where the value add work is being done. That work has to be tied all the way to a long-term vision with goals that are specifically driving that team forward. The company has to have a culture where there is no fear of bringing up new ideas and no fear of actually implementing ideas and working on things, because that is, again, thinking about the culture and learning. We went and visited and learned some historical things as well, that fear. There is some history there where fear was built into management culture, and that has had to be driven out with a lot of these companies that we visited where they’ve had to do some pretty intentional work to drive that fear out and make sure that people knew that they were respected, that they did respect their ideas, they did want them to be involved in decision making. And that leaders had to humble themselves, which, again, is not necessarily a japanese culture thing, but they had to humble themselves to a point where they’re saying, let’s figure this thing out together. I don’t have all the answers, and that’s okay. Let’s put our heads together and figure this out.

Patrick Adams:
Again, I’m maybe drawing this out a little bit more, but I also think about, and, you know, just that experiment that was done and just the ability for us to show that it is possible. It doesn’t have to be a company that comes out of japan. It can be a company in the us, it can be a company in ireland, it can be a company anywhere that commits to the principles and understanding of developing a culture of continuous improvement. It can happen at any company.

Katie Anderson:
Nummi is on. It’s not based on. It was the example of when toyota moved to the united states, joining with general motors, and it was actually near where I live here in california. And mr. Yoshino, the subject of my book, “learning to lead, leading to learn,” actually was in charge of the training program for that. And the challenge he had to overcome was, how do you teach people these behaviors, this leadership side, not the tools. How do you teach the leadership behavior? So go read the story in examples in my book, “learning to lead, leading to learn.” and definitely be sure to check out patrick’s book, too, to learn much more about how you two can avoid the continuous appearance trap.

Katie Anderson:
There are twelve great questions in there that you really can be asking yourself about your own organization. And again, as patrick said, it’s not a roadmap. It’s not just a silver bullet that’s going to get you there. But on reflecting on those questions, they’re really going to help you determine what is your company’s roadmap, what tools do you need, what leadership behaviors you need to shift? And of course, come join me in japan to go to the gemba and really enrich your knowledge as well. Patrick, how can people continue to learn with and from you and get connected?

Patrick Adams:
So obviously, I’m very active on linkedin, so reach out and connect with me on linkedin. That would be one way we try to push out as much value add content as we possibly can. The lean solutions podcast is another way to listen in and get some good content. We have started to boost our youtube channel and put a lot of our podcast information and things out there. Our website is findleansolutions.Com so you can go out there and check out all the other amazing things that we offer.

Katie Anderson:
Awesome. Well, thank you patrick for being here. Be sure to check out all the resources that we have linked in the episode, show notes, and webpage and so that you can continue to invest in your own personal development with patrick and me. And of course, come join me in japan as well. Thank you patrick for being here today. I know this is not the end of our conversations, just continuation. So until next time, thank you so much.

Patrick Adams:
Absolutely. Thank you katie. I appreciate everything that you do and excited to meet up with you in japan again one of these days. So, thank you again for having me on the podcast. Appreciate it.

Katie Anderson:
It’s so easy to get focused on the visible artifacts of continuous improvement, the tools, the templates, the results. But don’t get stuck in the continuous appearance trap. As patrick highlighted in this episode, there is no roadmap or silver bullet to create this culture of continuous improvement. It is about being based on a foundation of learning and respect for people. And it’s how each and every leader, including senior executives and internal continuous improvement change agents, model the way for the culture you want. It’s about leading with respect for people and leading with humility, creating stability in the system, both the management systems and work processes. It’s having a long-term vision connected to purpose. It’s daily demonstration of leadership behaviors that support this and it’s about being a lifelong learner, which is one of the core attributes of my change katalyst leadership model.

Katie Anderson:
And if you haven’t yet downloaded my free change katalyst assessment, be sure to do so now, as this can be an enabler for your own personal development. The link is in the show notes, or go to kbjanderson.Com/katalyst. That’s katalyst with a “k.” k-a-t-a-l-y-s-t. So reflect on this episode and your results from the change katalyst self-assessment and identify one behavior that you’re going to focus on to improve yourself and help move your organization towards a real culture of continuous improvement. I also invite you to come join me on the learning experience of a lifetime in japan on one of my upcoming japan study trips. Patrick and hundreds of leaders from dozens of countries have joined me in an immersive week of learning culture, delicious food, and connections that have forever impacted how they are leading change in their companies. Patrick talked about that in this episode here today. When you come to japan with me.

Katie Anderson:
You get curated insider access to diverse companies unique cultural experiences that will revitalize your energy and deepen your knowledge about what it takes to create a successful culture of continuous improvement, innovation, and engagement. You can learn more about the program and submit your application for an upcoming tour on my website, kbjanderson.Com/japantrip. And of course, we’ve put the links in, the show notes, and the episode webpage. Be sure to follow and subscribe to this podcast so that you never miss an episode, and share it with your friends and colleagues so we can all strengthen our chain of learning together. Thanks for being a link in my chain of learning today. I’ll see you next time.

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