Leading Change from the Middle with Pennie Saum

17 | Leading Change from the Middle with Pennie Saum

Can you influence change from the middle?

Does successful change always have to start from the top?

How can you stop pushing change on your leaders and instead create pull from them for the organizational culture you envision?

If you’re leading continuous improvement internally, these questions are crucial because they address the challenge of how to cultivate a workforce of capable, engaged problem-solvers across all levels.

That’s why, in this episode, I welcome Pennie Saum, a Process Improvement Program Manager at the Port of Seattle, to discuss how to lead organizational transformation from the middle by engaging people’s minds and hearts and bringing them along on the journey.

You’ll hear Pennie share how the Port’s Continuous Process Improvement (CPI) program has been pivotal in creating an engine of change by developing employees across the organization. From basic foundations to a selective Lean Specialist program, leaders at all levels are being empowered to lead improvement as part of their daily work.

In this episode you’ll learn:

How successful change initiatives can, and sometimes should, be led from the middle of an organization rather than from the top down

Why belonging and community must exist within the workplace to foster an environment that nurtures continuous improvement and engagement

The benefits of immersive learning experiences, such as study trips to Japan, which provide hands-on learning, enhance team-building, and boost collaborative skills

How leaders and internal process improvement consultants shifting from doers to coaches allows for broader ownership of improvement initiatives across an organization

The importance of meeting people where they are at to increase engagement and ownership of process improvement and change leadership

Katie and Pennie off to Japan in November

I’m thrilled to be hosting Pennie along with another cohort from the Port of Seattle on the next Japan Study trip in November 2024 – and would love to host you too.

These executive trips are a high-value opportunity to observe lean principles in action and understand the heart and soul behind creating a culture of continuous improvement.

If you want to hear more about the incredible impact that these Japan Study Trips have, check out the testimonial webpage and hear past podcast guests Shawn Carner and Patrick Adams talk about their experiences. You can also watch Mark Graban and me talk in more detail about the November 2024 Japan Study Trip program in this previously live discussion.

If you’ve ever thought of elevating your leadership to the next level, submit your application now to join me in Japan in 2025.

Listen Now to Chain of Learning!

Tune in to learn more about community building, inclusion, and effectively involving people in improvement processes to create a vibrant culture of continuous improvement. 

Watch the conversation

Watch the full conversation between me and Pennie Saum on YouTube.

About Pennie Saum

Pennie Saum is a Process Improvement Program Manager at the Port of Seattle with over 20 years of experience in lean and is a certified Six Sigma Black Belt.

She is passionate about people development and helping people reach their full potential. Pennie focuses on combining process improvement and people development, meeting people where they are at to bring lean process improvement to them in many different creative ways. Her expertise also includes change management, leadership, project management, and analysis.

Outside of her Port improvement work, Pennie runs the non-profit Brave and Unbroken Project that supports survivors of sexual trauma and is the host of the Unsilenced Sisterhood podcast.

Reflect and Take Action

I encourage you to reflect on this episode and consider how you can meet your team, leaders, and organization where they are at right now. Consider:

  • Where are they right now?
  • Where do they need to go or grow towards?
  • What strategies and tactics will be the most helpful to you for them to move forward?

And reflect on your own approach to leading improvement:

  • How can you shift from doing improvement to them to doing improvement with them?

Set your intention for your improvement

In our conversation, Pennie and I highlight many of the core qualities of being a successful change leader I call being a change Katalyst™:  someone who accelerates the rate of learning as the source of organizational progress and change.

If you haven’t already done so, download my Change KATALYST Self-assessment to learn more about the eight competencies you need to master to step into your full transformational leadership impact. And be sure to listen to Episode 9 of Chain of Learning for a deeper dive into each competency.

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:

00:00 – Leadership and learning unite for continuous improvement
04:32 – Pennie’s transition from trucking to lean operations challenges
11:16 – Methods for sharing wins and addressing frustrations
16:06 – The importance of adaptability and flexibility in organizational leadership
23:16 – Encouraging workplace learning and its personal impact
27:38 – Leveraging middle managers to drive change
32:43 – What it looks like to create a culture of bravery and transformation
38:22 – How the #MeToo movement opened platforms for lesser-known voices
44:04 – More on the “Port of Seattle”

Full Episode Transcript

Pennie Saum:
There is no way every organization and every environment can go by the book, cover to cover whatever book it may be and be successful. Top down does work in some places, right? And works very, very well. It doesn’t always work everywhere.

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.

Does successful change always have to start from the top? How can you stop pushing change on your leaders and instead create pull from them for the changes that you envision? If you’re an internal continuous improvement change leader, you know how hard it can be to create an organization filled with capable, engaged problem solvers at all levels, one where people across the organization and up and down see the benefit of continuous improvement as part of their daily work, and that improvement isn’t reliant solely on a team of internal or external continuous improvement consultants. This can be especially true if you’re working in a large, complex system such as healthcare, multinational corporation or government agency. Approaches for creating a real culture of continuous improvement are not one size fits all. Your strategy and tactics for leading change might need a shift based on your organization’s specific condition, but no matter what, it’s important to meet people and your organization where they are at. And this can often start by leading change not from the top, but from the middle to help you discover how it’s possible to build an engine of improvement that drives the development of an organizational culture from the middle.

Katie Anderson:
I’ve invited my client and friend Pennie Saum to Chain of Learning. Pennie has over 20 years of experience in lean process improvement and is a certified Six Sigma black belt and for the past eight years has been leading transformational change at the Port of Seattle. Pennie and I have been connected in a chain of learning since 2019 as we’ve partnered together to help lead her organization’s transformation to a people-centered culture of continuous improvement. And it’s been an honor to host multiple cohorts of port leaders in Japan over the last few years and lead custom leadership development programs for the port of Seattle and other government agencies.

Katie Anderson:
I’m excited for you to be inspired and equipped by this conversation with Pennie about how you can meet your organization and your people, where they are at, to create impactful change and improve the work as part of the daily work. We started off our conversation addressing a challenge that I hear all the time we can’t do it here, how can we do lean? We aren’t Toyota, we aren’t in manufacturing. We aren’t in Japan. So we started our conversation there about what it’s like leading transformational change towards a learning organization in a bureaucratic, traditional organization, like a government agency. Let’s dive in.

Pennie Saum:
It’s very different. I come from the publicly traded organizations in the trucking world, which is also not manufacturing. So, there’s some similarities, but there’s a lot of bureaucracy when you’re talking about government. I found the port of Seattle to be a unique place to do lean. Transactional work is a great place for lean. It doesn’t have to be manufacturing. And so anything with a process and the ability to show people that they have processes and to eliminate waste and reduce frustration is a big piece of it. But when it comes to bureaucracy, comes to the port of Seattle and government, I think in general, meeting people where they’re at is a really big piece of getting people on board to lean.

Pennie Saum:
And as you know, in the work we’ve done with you, we’ve been able to be successful in big pockets of areas at the port with my, with my team, and as a collaborative team, we work with these organizations within our organization to really move the needle. So transactional is a great place for lean to apply as long as you’re willing to change things up, not go by the book and be creative.

Katie Anderson:
I love that. And, you know, I’d say that goes for manufacturing as well. It’s about how do you change things up and how do you leverage the creativity of all the people to contribute to that as well. It’s just not as visible, perhaps, in more of a transactional environment, and especially ones where there’s a lot of process and history in place for how we’ve always done things. Tell me a little bit about your group as internal change leaders in the organization and how you got introduced to this type of work at the port of Seattle.

Pennie Saum:
So I came from, like I said, the trucking world pAccar, which is really big at one point in six Sigma, received my master black belt with them, and then moved to the port of Seattle, which was a lean environment. They worked with some consultants. I didn’t work in the lean department right away, then moved into the lean department and realized that we needed to change some things up, and we needed to be able to figure out how we were going to push lean and have more pull from our customers within the organization. And that was really difficult because most organizations want to work top down. They want to have a consultant come in and help with these big transformations. And at the port of Seattle doesn’t really work that way. And I think a lot of government agencies, especially with electeds, you find that there’s really big things happening and lean needs to be a component of that. But it’s not necessarily the biggest priority always, even though it should be.

Pennie Saum:
And so what we found is we took our team of four, which we’re four now. We were two for quite a while during COVID and we really started to focus on that middle management level, directors, senior managers, supervisors, and said, what can we do with this level? Who has direct impact on the folks as well as coming from the ground level, the grassroots. So we’re kind of going from the middle down and the grassroots up. We had commitment from above. We said go, do we support you? We agree, we give you time and opportunity, but we really had to really focus in on this middle area, what we call lean champions at the port of Seattle and really develop them out and then also what we call a lean specialist and really get them understanding what we’re talking about. So they’re doing lean and process improvement in everything that they do every day.

Katie Anderson:
That’s great. I remember when I first met you and your boss, gosh, five, six years ago now, you were in that transitional phase of moving from more of that focus on the top of the senior executives and mainly government elected officials to really focusing. How are you building that engine, the internal engine of change leaders across the board? Can you tell me more about this, the strategic shift in how you are thinking about how to get the capability and build the culture within the organization, especially around these. I know you use the word CPI, continuous process improvement specialists. Did I get that right? CPI being continuous process improvement specialists in the organization. And how that differs then from mainly like having people come into say a lean team or an internal consulting team like yours.

Pennie Saum:
We are four and there’s 2500 people at the port, so there is no way that four people can do process improvement across the board. And so years ago, eleven years ago, when this team was built before me and before most of who is in the team now, they started this, what we called lean specialist program. It was just snippets. They had a few people in maintenance, a few people here and there, and they taught them what lean was and they asked them to practice it and they kind of coached them through the practice and that’s when we realized that it was working in pockets, but we needed to expand that legal department finance department, like, really help people understand how it applies no matter where you are across the port. And so we developed that into, I think we have, like 150 lean specialists now doing improvement within their teams. And that’s the difference. Four to 2500 or 120 to 2500. So that we have front lines represented, folks.

Pennie Saum:
We have lean leaders in leadership roles who are doing improvement. We have lean specialists in the front lines doing improvement. And that was really the key, was how do we get them to see waste every day? How do we get them to eliminate their frustrations? How do we get them to think in this way and everything that they do versus, oh, you’re asking me to do this on top of my regular work, especially through COVID, because we had limited resources, limited staff, limited budget, and we needed people to see the benefit within their daily work. And that’s how we found this. Like, I compare it to the Internet, that spider web, right? The more that’s out there about a topic, the more you’re going to see. And this is what we happened. The spread just started and really expanded, I’d say, over the last four years, a way that we didn’t expect, especially with COVID happening, because we had to shift. We had to shift and do improvement and trainings and everything via remote.

Pennie Saum:
And people were like, yeah, there’s no way we were doing improvements with 39 participants that made huge successes. And those are the key things that we saw was like, because people cared, because they understood, because they could apply it, they were able to expand that and stretch it out, even in an environment that nobody understood. Teams and mural and everything like that.

Katie Anderson:
What are some examples that come to your mind about those changes that really made an impact? Or you were like, oh, wow, this is incredible, that people are really taking it on and leading it themselves.

Pennie Saum:
One good example was creative problem solving, kind of a Karen Ross example, actually, where we had people stop thinking about lean from a book and started thinking about, I think it was actually k two, c two. If we turn the cants into I cans, what do we do with that? How do we get people to think about waste differently versus the lean six Sigma Toyota transformation system? Because I had a lot of people that made no sense to them, especially frontline folks who are tool users, who are applications. They wanted to understand how to apply this. They could care less about what the word gemba means. So how do I meet them where they’re at and get them to understand it? And that was the key. Okay, let’s talk about why you keep telling me you can’t let’s turn this into why you can, this is a problem for you. You’re walking 500ft three times a day. Why? So really getting people to understand that and think about their whys really helped us connect those dots.

Katie Anderson:
Yes. And for those who might not know, Karen Ross is also a good friend of both pennies and mine and is Karen and I led a coaching, online coaching program for many years, even before the pandemic that we called k two c two. So Katie and Karen’s coaching communities, which is part of how I got to get originally connected with Pennie and really highlights getting back to those principles. Right, like you’re talking about, what are the principles behind the tools? People’s eyes can glaze over if we’re using words that don’t connect or we’re just trying to, you know, do this. Kamishi by board. Like what does that mean? Like some of you might know what that means, others don’t. Is that empowering or is that disempowering? And so I love this concept, Pennie, of meet people where they’re at. How are you continuing to help your CPI specialists and other leaders understand that too and carry forward that meeting people where they’re at as they’re growing the capability across the organization?

Pennie Saum:
Well, we have so many ways that we’re doing this, so we do a live report outs, what we call live report outs. It kind of started COVID kind of kicked off so many things, but one of them was let’s share our wins and we created a portal within the port of Seattle where people could submit the improvements that they’ve done, but they could also submit frustrating processes that they were struggling with. You know, every day I have to do this and I’m so sick of it and really draw attention to the things that were wasting time so that their bosses were aware. But it was kind of a brave, safe space for them to explore that. The other thing we do is we have monthly what we call lean coffees, but in a unique way, we have a couple of these lean specialists and champion leaders who will present on a topic. A three is a good example that happened this month. How do we use a three? How do you use it for personal development? How do you use it within the organization for problem solving? We’ve looked at the whole creative problem solving. So we tackle these monthly, we bring everybody together, they learn from each other and then they go out and they practice and they come back and do it again.

Pennie Saum:
But we also do a lot of go see and do walks with each other and these leaders are grabbing each other and saying, come and see this with me. What do you think? We have a real big collaboration right now with two lean specialists in our loading dock area with the innovation team where they’re like the lines, the paint lines are wearing off the ground so fast, like within weeks of being painted. How do we get safety lines? So they’re looking at led lighting that shines down from the ceiling. Yeah. And they’re partnering with CPI and innovation. Like, and this is only one. Like, we’re also doing this with equity, diversity and inclusion and we are changing the way the port does business because we are becoming such an equitable, diverse and inclusive organization. But we’re partnering with process improvement because it’s everything that we do and personal development.

Pennie Saum:
So those things help people apply across their work and be excited about this versus you’re asking me to do another thing. I’m already maxed. I’m working 60 hours. We’re beyond that at this point.

Katie Anderson:
I hear that all the time, too. When it becomes something other and extra, we’re overburdened and people are overburdened. At a client site last week and I was like, you need to practice as part of your daily work, as part of the work and meeting people where they’re at, that’s a huge part of it. It’s like, how is this not something so incredibly burdensome to do, but actually is an enabler to do your work better and to improve the work as well? So I love that. I love that example of the lines and problem solving is innovation. So there’s the continuous improvement of the work we’re already doing and then what are totally new creative ideas we can bring in to do something totally different?

Pennie Saum:
I know maybe it was in one of the classes I did with you, but the cell phone, the smartphone, this didn’t just show up. It’s a combination of multiple things and that’s what we’re talking about. What kind of special tools do we need to do something that we’ve never thought about? And that’s, we’re really trying to get people to think that way. And in their personal development, they have personal goals, right? To meet every year. They have what we call a performance link. They’re using a three s to work on their personal goals. Now, like a lot of people, like, it’s fascinating that it’s sticking so well.

Katie Anderson:
That’s great. That makes me excited because I think I was one of the people who helped introduce the concept of using the, a three template that we usually use for problem solving for also improving ourselves and thinking about like what are our habits and what are ways we want to improve. I mean, that same cycle of problem solving thinking can be applied not only for process but for personal improvement. So that’s awesome. It makes me really happy to hear how things are embedding and evolving. One of the things I really enjoyed through the pandemic time was partnering with the port of Seattle to do a custom leading to learn accelerator. You’d participated in one of my online cohorts and then we decided to do one that was just for CPI specialists. And so it’s really exciting to hear how some of those skills learned are carrying out and through what are some of the value that you’ve seen or of bringing in external people.

Katie Anderson:
You mentioned Karen Ross, who’s definitely going to come on the podcast at some point, or me and others to really help you as that internal change, one of the internal change leaders to bring things forward and keep learning.

Pennie Saum:
When I first started in this particular role, we had a multimillion dollar contract with a consultant and we were challenged to step away from that. What we needed to do to be self managed and be able to handle it ourselves, and we did. But what we find is that I’ve been doing this work for 20 plus years, probably close to 25 years, and it’s ever evolving. Right. Like I learned from PAccar, it was very old school. Here’s your, you know, all of your books. Here’s what happened at Toyota. We’re going to do the little launch practice game.

Pennie Saum:
We’re going to, you know what I mean, very traditional. And as, as I changed jobs and I ran a CPI office for a trucking company and then I worked at the school district helping improve things and then moving into this role, there is no way every organization and every environment can go by the book, cover to cover whatever book it may be and be successful. The port is a great example of that. I think government entity is a great example of that. And really figuring out what works for your organization top down does work in some places, right, and works very, very well. It doesn’t always work everywhere. And so having times where we identify that we need to do the leading to learn, learning to lead with you to get that champion leader level folks built up, or a Karen Ross on kind leadership in another environment or whatever it may be, there’s areas where it’s like, okay, we could do this, but someone does it better. So we’re not going to have multimillion dollar contracts necessarily, but we’re able to bring in consultants to help us advance these components that we’re missing for whatever reason.

Pennie Saum:
And that also expands our ability and our time to continue to do other work while this is also parallel happening. So I think the things that we’ve done with you, the Japan trips, the expansion of that middle management and the lean specialists that we really want to get them to the next level of this work, I think has been tremendous.

Katie Anderson:
Super helpful, and it really is embodying this, growing the chain of learning. Right. So how do we introduce concepts? Doesn’t all have to be top down too, from a, you know, a consultant coming in but helping share ideas and knowledge, and then how do you apply and continue to practice that? And this is the concept of being.

Katie Anderson:
A lifelong learning enthusiast, right.

Katie Anderson:
We all have to embrace like continuous learning. And, you know, I’m the same way. I love partnering, you know, with others. You know, Karen and I and other consultants always talk about that. We’re, we are collaborators, not competitors, because we learn from each other and help each other get better and then help the people that we’re touching get better as well. And that’s ultimately serving our broader mission in the world. Well, I’d love to talk about the Japan trips because I have had the pleasure of hosting several cohorts of port leaders in my Japan study trip program, starting what we planned for May of 2020. But of course, we had to wait very patiently, but hosted two cohorts in 2023 and have two more cohorts coming up in 2024, including yourself, in November, which I can’t wait to finally have you come with me as well, Pennie.

Katie Anderson:
But it’s a huge investment from the government, from port to invest in their leaders to go to Japan and so many leaders.

Katie Anderson:
What is the value that you have.

Katie Anderson:
Found from investing in these cohorts of six, seven leaders coming at a time to go on an immersive study trip to Japan?

Pennie Saum:
I think that’s the key, the immersive study trip part. You know, we spend a lot of time with these leaders. They are pretty much hand selected. Where are they at in their lean journey? What have they been doing? How have they been applying the work? And we want them to go to the next level of leadership in this work. And I think that, you know, you hear, I’ve heard so many different things like leadership should only be trained by leadership people and this should, CPI should only be trained by CPI people and equity and da da da da. The reality is for things to be successful, CPI and leadership need to go hand in hand, right? EDi and leadership need to go hand in hand. And I think that this is so key, the immersion that happens, what is seen in the organizations, the hands on learning that they get, also the learning from the other organizations that are with you as well. The networking and collaboration has taken some of our teams to the next level.

Pennie Saum:
The huddle information that they’ve learned, the ability to take their leadership and bring folks in and teach them the new concepts and the idea of the way leadership is done right, that we’re lifting people up, that we’re, you know, the things that I hear them report on when they come back is like, they’ve never heard these things before, right? Like, it’s like, ah. Oh, my gosh. Like, I should be this kind of leader. And it’s like, yes, and you should know that. But because they’re seeing it. They’re seeing it actively. They’re seeing these folks applying it, they’re seeing how it’s working. They’re seeing that, you know, folks on the line are using water bottles and rocks and making adjustments and changes, and it’s okay to let people own their work and make it better.

Pennie Saum:
Like, it’s been phenomenal.

Katie Anderson:
It’s been such a pleasure to have all these different leaders at different levels. You know, I’ve had some very senior leaders and. And also some frontline leaders, and the diversity of the group and then the learnings and ahas and the contribution to our broader cohort is also really incredible. And we have a good time at karaoke as well. Some of the port people are the most enthusiastic karaoke singers, so. But, you know, what happens at karaoke stays at karaoke, so I will leave it at that. Yes, I loved an example, too, of one of the, you know, the more frontline leaders who came to Japan with me last year. Now, you know, I suggested him as a speaker at a conference, and he spoke enthusiastically about the impact and so other career opportunities, too.

Katie Anderson:
So I was really, really happy to be able to help bolster and support people in their growth as well. So I’m curious, too, pennie for you, because you have gone previously on a Japan study trip before the pandemic with a different group. What are you especially looking forward to in coming on my trip and the.

Katie Anderson:
Programs that I put on?

Pennie Saum:
You know, the reason that we, you know, my previous boss and I selected yours, your immersion and your study trip is because of the things that you are going to do are more applicable to what the port does. And I think that one thing that we want to always make sure is that we can connect the dots for folks on how what they’re seeing can be applied back at home. And I don’t want anyone to go on this trip and not come back with something to apply and understand. I know you don’t either. Me neither. And so that was the key because the other one that I went on was fabulous. It was fantastic. And yet there was some missing components around five s, you know, and cleanup processes and organization and some of the things that you’re giving exposure to that I think applies more.

Pennie Saum:
And so I’m really excited about that. I’m also excited about who’s going with me and being able to help them connect the dots. Some of the leaders that are seasoned in CPI but a little bit newer, maybe to the port but are really excited and doing amazing things with their teams. So I think all of those things is going to be great. I’m looking forward to it.

Katie Anderson:
Yeah, I can’t wait to have you be part of the group as well. And I think that speaks to, I have a lot of people who come as individuals, which is fantastic on the programs and organizations like the port or others have had small manufacturing companies send a cohort of people, healthcare organizations sending their executive team. And the power though, as you talked about just now, of being able to share that learning together and have those conversations really can embed and accelerate the impact of how you take it home as well.

Pennie Saum:
Yeah, I think that’s really true. And you know, the one thing I tell people a lot is that work is a big chunk of our lives. It’s a huge chunk of our lives. We’re at work more than we’re at home half the time. And so really getting people to take that stuff that they’re learning, everything they’re learning and how they can apply it to their personal lives, their work lives, their leadership lives, anything they want to do outside of work too, like it just encourages and exposes them to things that make them a better human all the way around. And it just really excites me when we have Adelmas Whitaker who comes back and is so excited to lead his folks in something new, something he saw, something he wants to apply, that they have a plan, they have their CPI plan for the year laid out and they’re following their plan. Like those are the kind of leadership things we’re talking about is that CPI is important, it’s a top priority and we’re going to continue to move through it. And so seeing that immersing themselves in these organizations and the study mission and the training that you’re giving is really taking that to the next level.

Katie Anderson:
Yeah, well I’m excited. And a little plug for those of you listening, you know, come to Japan with me. I promise it will be an incredible week of, of learning and transformation. And great other thinkers and leaders like Pennie, Mark Graben and others too.

Katie Anderson:
No matter what cohort it is, it’s.

Katie Anderson:
Just great people who come along. And Mister Yoshino to the subject of my book, learning to lead, leading to learn. I’m really excited he’s still doing well. I want to go back, Pennie, and circle back to the concept of the CPI specialists in the program because you talked about the Japan trips, part of their learning journey, but it’s so much more. And that you hand select these people not just coming in Japan, but the people who have leadership potential who at all different levels. How do you identify who’s going to come into the CPI program and what does that actually their learning journey look like?

Pennie Saum:
So at the port we kind of have a stepped process. So we have simple things like CPI foundations. What is process improvement at the port and why do we do it? Simple, 45 minutes, no big deal. Then you can step into a five s boot camp. We went into bootcamp style training to where people can learn concepts and go practice and come back, report out on it and practice. So there’s like this repetitive learning that happens. We also have the frontline improver which is similar. It’s just simple, find the ways to eliminate it and move on all the way to our lean specialist program, which is how do you facilitate cross functional improvement? What does that look like? How do you be good facilitator? How do you know departments are ready for improvement? How do you use an improvement thermometer like all the components and pieces? Not everybody who does a five s bootcamp or a foundations of just waste elimination is going to be a lean specialist.

Pennie Saum:
There are folks who are interested in lean in process improvement. They’re folks who are visionary and they’re folks who don’t necessarily see it as an add on job and they stand out. It’s very obvious typically who those folks are and some of them raise their hand and we give them a go. And so we’re not necessarily always going out and like picking people, you know, necessarily, but they’re showing up, they’re working through our training, they’re doing what they need to do and then they jump into lean specialists and then we find that 90% of them blossom like crazy. We even end up with that lean champions being assigned out of those folks because the middle managers don’t have time. So those folks are really shining and really, really where they need to be and embracing the work.

Katie Anderson:
How is creating this sort of engine.

Katie Anderson:
From the middle of like CPI knowledge and enthusiasm impacting the broader port organization, including potentially influencing up to those executive levels?

Pennie Saum:
When we paused and thought this might be the way we need to go, we decided that we had to really think about this and we wanted to push up and we wanted to push down. And it was really important that we found an opportunity that we could pause and do that. And so we had a consultant in that was helping us do this top down, like transformational approach. And every time the transformation was scheduled and we were going to put them in this big immersion, there was something that happened. Our executive team, we can’t do five days, we can’t do one day, we can’t do two days. We’ve got this priority, that priority, this priority. And that was when it was like, okay, we need to pause and we need to think about what’s happening. They don’t, it’s not that they don’t support, they absolutely support.

Pennie Saum:
Our executive team supports, our electeds above them support, everybody supports. But the reality is they don’t have the capacity with the level, the way our organization is leveled out to engage at the level that we were thinking they could engage. And you may go to Packard and it’s like everyone from the top down does this training and everyone from the top down is going to do. Just couldn’t work that way. So how do we get there? We had certain ELT members that a little more involved, our executive team members that were a little more involved than others. And so a couple areas we’re like, okay, aviation and maintenance and marine maintenance or maritime is like our biggest organizations. Let’s look at our middle managers and let’s decide how we can like leverage them to really shift and change and move the needle in their departments. And that’s what we did.

Pennie Saum:
We found two or three, what I would call beta areas. And we dove in deep and we went and trained everybody we could. We really got them up to speed. And that just started going right. It just started flowing down. They had expectations for their people. They were applying and then it became part of the organization. It came part of their everyday Dalmatians area.

Pennie Saum:
Maritime is a great example of that. Aviation, different parts of aviation, the same thing. We have some areas that we’re still pulling and pushing, right. We’re still working on, what does that look like? How do we get there, but this whole middle management, we have proven that the model works. It does take a lot of our time, it takes a lot of their time. But we’re really seeing that just kind of flipping over on its head and getting people engaged in improvement across that organization.

Katie Anderson:
That’s exciting. What are some of the signs that you can see that you’re sort of tipping into something different or more?

Pennie Saum:
Right now, more and more teams are doing daily huddles. More and more teams have what we call a bug me board, where the teams have this big board on the wall. They’re putting down problem processes and they’re meeting around it, talking about it and solving those problems. And it’s not the leaders who are solving it, it’s the teams are solving them together. So we’re seeing that more and more, we’re seeing more requests for larger scale improvement, we’re seeing more requests for more people to be trained. So it’s like the pull for us is getting bigger and stronger, but the pull is different. The pull isn’t come and do this improvement for us. It’s help us, guide us, show us, work with us alongside of us while we do this improvement, while we look at this data, while we do this.

Pennie Saum:
And that, I think, has been a distinctive shift in many areas of the board.

Katie Anderson:
That’s super exciting because a lot of internal lean or continuous improvement teams are seen often as the doers of the improvement work. And so you’ve now made that shift of you’re the sort of the coaches and the enablers, but they’re owning it and doing it. So that is really exciting. Listeners, too will probably resonate with you being like, our executive team are the top leadership. While they’re supportive, they’re just, for whatever reason right now, not immersed or taking on the same level of ownership. I know that was true. And I worked in a large healthcare system and we too decided to work from getting those, like, changes, change leaders from the middle and some pockets and expand out and grow from there. And so it is possible there are different strategies.

Katie Anderson:
And of course, having the senior, most executives totally on board is going to be the hugest accelerator for change. But you can have a really tremendous impact on culture as Pennie sharing here by growing that capability across the organization and that starts moving up and down as well. You just talked a little bit about how your role and your team’s role has shifted a bit. You know, how are you thinking about your own role and impact within the organization as these shifts and changes are happening in the organization and it’s evolving in terms of capability.

Pennie Saum:
I have noticed through COVID, after COVID, even now much more coaching and mentoring, spending a lot of time with a lot of catch ball, a lot of what do you think about this? What about this, what about this? But also a lot of setting up psychological safety and space, brave and safe spaces for folks to be able to speak out. Maybe it’s running a swat without leadership in the room to help people. There’s definitely improvements that we’re handling and we’re leading, but it’s a lot, a lot of coaching and getting people through a little bit of the hiccups and the bumps of, you know, I need my sponsor more on board, how do I handle that? Or I need someone from this other team but it’s not a priority for them, how do I handle that? So we find ourselves more in a coaching and mentoring project management, change management as we expand our team, if you will, our army of CPI at the Port.

Katie Anderson:
And for yourself. Pennie, you’ve been doing this work for a long time and you were trained as a six Sigma master black belt and really on the technical side and now have grown really into this.

Katie Anderson:
You’re leading transformational change.

Katie Anderson [00:32:31]:
What have been some of the key shifts that you’ve had to make in your own behavior or how you’re showing up to become really this more transformational change leader?

Pennie Saum:
Yeah, I went from a PACcAr, which was all about tools and savings. I think I had a $6 million savings goal to meet my goals for one year to a place where relationships is what matters. And I think if I look at ebb and flow of my career, I think relationships more than ever because I think when people feel safe and not all spaces are safe, but when people feel brave, I guess when you give people the environment where they can be brave and they can say and speak about the waste that they know about or what they experience, then I think that there’s a transformation there that happens even deeper than just lean and CPI. It’s a change that shifts the organization into this culture away from fear. There’s so much fear that’s embedded in organizations. Even in my organization, we talk a lot about false evidence appearing real. We talk a lot about folks having so much knowledge that they carry with them and people retiring and this happening and that happening. But when we can bring people together, when we can talk candidly about the processes as processes, when we can talk candidly about the challenges that the human person is going through and wanting people to show up to work and feel good about their work.

Pennie Saum:
I think that’s the change that I’ve seen in my career over the 20 years.

Katie Anderson:
Wow.

Katie Anderson:
And that gets back to one of the pillars of the Toyota way is respect for people, which really means, as I talk about from Mister Yoshino, I discovered the meaning behind the japanese symbols holding precious what it means to be human. And that’s as important as continuous improvement, working on the process side. But how do we respect humanity and hold precious what it means to be human and create that space where people can work together collaboratively, build the relationships, as I like to say, and Karen and I had put as one of our mottos is one plus one equals so much more than two. But we have to have that safe space to be able to do that. And to me, that’s the real essence of what lean and continuous improvement is all about. It all starts with the human side, the humanity. And when we can do that, we can then improve the work and improve the processes. So it’s beautiful to see what you’re doing, Pennie, and how you’re bringing that humanity element so strongly into what might be considered a very bureaucratic, very process oriented, results oriented organization and helping people connect with that.

Katie Anderson:
So I love to see your journey and the impact that you’re making, not only as an individual, but growing that chain of learning across the organization. As we wind down, what is your one piece of advice for other continuous improvement leaders, either in a role called coach or consultant like you have, or in an operational leadership role, who really want to create the same kind of culture that fosters the human connection and drives real improvement as well.

Pennie Saum:
I think the biggest thing is don’t do it to people. You know, don’t do improvement and lean to people, come together with people, meet people where they’re at. And I talk a lot about, like, holding hands in Kumbaya. But the reality is, when we can build relationships and trust with each other, you can change the world. We know this to be true. And so your small, little, tiny organization, you can make a difference there. And you never know. You never know.

Pennie Saum:
Whatever little thing you’re going to say, what thing you’re going to show, what tip, tool, trick. You know, I am famous for saying, like, sending love to everyone because love belongs at work, because I know that people in my job need that. Like, when COVID happened and people were stuck at home that weren’t used to that, were scared to death, didn’t know what to do. Like, we had to figure this out. And I think that that’s the key the key is loving each other, loving humans as they are, as people, embracing them, embracing all voices. And you’re going to make significant change, especially in this work, because when we do it to people, when we do it at people, you’re never going to get there. It’s just not going to happen.

Katie Anderson:
What a great way to end and also have some segue into the other impact that you’re making, Pennie, in the world, not just in leading organizational change, but through your nonprofit work and your podcast as well. And I want to have an opportunity for you to share with my audience, too, some of that work that you do, because it is so impactful. And I’m a proud support quarter of the Brave and unbroken project. So please share a bit about that.

Pennie Saum:
Well, we appreciate you, Katie, and your organization as well. Your sponsorship is what helps us make this happen. So Brave and Unbroken project was developed in 2013 and it is a nonprofit. I run a nonprofit to prevent. Well, the core component originally was to prevent child sexual abuse and incest. And what that has evolved to is building community belonging for survivors, women survivors. And we still do the prevention work and we still do some other work. We redo bedrooms for abused children and help non offending parents when we can, and advocacy work and in courtrooms.

Pennie Saum:
But the biggest thing that we have found is part of our organization that we call soul Fire. And it’s creating a belonging space and a community for survivors to come together and to, in a peer to peer way, get the support they need for the healing and thriving that they want to do. We are solely 100% volunteer. Nobody gets a salary for this work. We run off of 100% donations. And we have helped now, to date, 50 women with our soul fire programs. We’ve trained over 500 people and 20 organizations in prevention. The port is one of them.

Pennie Saum:
They’ve so graciously allow space for that every April. And out of that, what we realized is the hash metoo movement is great. It was wonderful. It created space, but it created a lot of space and platforms for famous people. And we wanted to make sure that we had spaces and platforms for the not so famous because women specifically, and men, when they’re not sure that they are not the only one, and the average age to come out and talk about being sexually abused as a child or suffering incest or any kind of sexual trauma, is 51. That’s me in a few weeks. And it’s hard. It’s hard to talk about hard things.

Pennie Saum:
It’s hard to share that you’ve been through some traumatic thing that’s what we do. So then recently, in the last 60 days, then we created the Unsilent Sisterhood podcast. We had the brave and unbroken podcast. It was very heavy. The original podcast was really heavy. A lot of survivor stories, which we wanted that platform for. But unsylanced sisterhood, the podcast is for. It’s literally like 15 to 20 minutes at the most.

Pennie Saum:
Some of them are seven, eight minutes. There’s three or four questions. And we just give a platform for women to share who they are through a unique opportunity, like a book title. And it’s been super fun. Katie, you’re on my list. We’re having a great time with it, and who knows how long it will go. I’d love to have two women every week until the end of the year. But the biggest piece of it, the whole thing is community, belonging.

Pennie Saum:
Brene Brown talks about it, all kinds of famous people, you know, the researchers, etcetera. Belonging matters. And that’s the same thing we’re talking about with process improvement, a psychological safety, belonging, then people will make change. That’s just the reality of it. Looking someone in the eyes at the grocery store and giving them that 2 seconds of attention gives them belonging. So that’s what brave and unbroken is about. That’s what I do on the side, and it really means a lot. So thank you.

Katie Anderson:
Oh, you’re welcome.

Katie Anderson:
And I’m so happy to be able to support you, not only in your work at the port, but through this really impactful and important work as well. And you summed it up so well, Pennie, that connection, I mean, I really see this as your total person, right? We are not just, we’re not bifurcated. We’re not like a work person and a home person. Like you’re bringing your whole self and bringing community, bringing respect for people, bringing a connection on the human element to the work. And that is so essential, no matter what we’re doing, because it all gets back to being human and humanity. So thank you for sharing your, your journey here today and, and really about how to create that community, that cadre of continuous improvement practitioners and leaders in an organization based on respect for people and how to just really build that out.

Katie Anderson:
And you can start from the middle.

Katie Anderson:
You can start from anywhere. But start with the heart is really what it comes down to.

Pennie Saum:
Start with the heart.

Katie Anderson:
How can listeners get in touch with you or learn more about the nonprofit and the podcast as well?

Pennie Saum:
So if you go to bravenandbroken.org or penniesaum.com and our podcast is on, there there’s links to the nonprofit, coaching, et cetera. It’s all related, it’s all there. And again, we’re all about community. And like you said, it all starts.

Katie Anderson:
With a well, thank you, Pennie, and I can’t wait to have you join me in Japan in November of 2024 and to be hosting more folks from the port of Seattle in our upcoming trip. So thank you so much and I look forward to continuing our chain of learning together into the future.

Pennie Saum:
Thanks, Katie.

Katie Anderson:
Leading change doesn’t always have to happen from the top. It can start with a few passionate, committed individuals who lead the way and light the fire for improvement in innovation across the organization. And most importantly, leading this change is about engaging not only the minds, but the hearts of people in bringing them along on the journey and to empower them with the ability to lead their improvements as part of their daily work. As Pennie highlighted, it’s not about doing lean or continuous improvement to people, it’s about doing it with them. Coaching, mentoring, teaching, guiding and learning together. This is really what the concept of a chain of learning is all about.

Katie Anderson:
In our conversation, Pennie highlights some of the core competencies of successful change leaders, particularly being a lifelong learning enthusiast and a transformational coaching leader. These are competencies that make up what I call being a change Katalyst with a “k”, someone who accelerates the rate of learning as the source of organizational progress and change.

Katie Anderson:
If you haven’t already done so, be.

Katie Anderson:
Sure to download my free Katalyst self-assessment that covers these core eight competencies that you need to master to be an impactful change leader@kbjanderson.com. Katalyst with a “k” Katalyst and also go back and listen to episode nine of this podcast to learn more about each competency. And if you enjoyed this episode, you won’t want to miss episode ten of this podcast to learn about another transformational change leader in my chain of learning. Shawn Carner stepped into his leadership superpower to create a culture of learning at all levels in his organization. In episode two, where I talk with Jamie Parker about the importance of leading with the heart, I love partnering with.

Katie Anderson:
Change leaders like Pennie and Shawn and you to grow in your impact and help you and your organization realize your vision of a culture of continuous learning and help develop the skills to get you there. If you need outside support from someone like me, I’d be happy to help. You can learn more about my trusted advisor and leadership development learning programs on my website, kbjanderson.com. And of course I’d love to host you and your leaders in Japan just like I have with cohorts from the Port of Seattle and other companies or individuals seeking to enrich their leadership capabilities. Each program sells out far in advance, so don’t hesitate if this has been part of your leadership bucket list. This is a powerful experience to do as a cohort from the same organization. So, talk to your fellow leaders about joining me together. Learn more and apply@kbjanderson.com. Japantrip also, put the links in the full show notes I always say that reflection is the beginning, not the end of learning. I encourage you to reflect on this episode with Pennie and think about your own organization and teams that you support. Where are they right now? What strategies and tactics will be the most helpful for them to move forward? How can you shift from doing improvement to them to doing improvement with them?

Katie Anderson:
Be sure to follow or subscribe now. To chain of learning and share this podcast with your friends and colleagues so we all can strengthen our chain of learning together. And if you’re enjoying the show, please be sure to rate and review it. On your favorite podcast player. Thanks for being a link in my chain of learning today. I’ll see you next time.

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