Author Interview with Lynn Kelly

Author Interview with Lynn Kelley: Change Questions

Are you a leader struggling with creating change in your organization? Trying to figure out how to not be the 70% of failed change initiatives? Or wondering how to get everyone on board with your vision?

Then the book Change Questions is for you!

Trust me – I’ve read the book, and there are some powerful questions.

(And you know how much I love questions!)

Written by seasoned executive and change leader Dr. Lynn Kelly, in partnership with Lean Global Network Chairman John Shook (who authored the foreword of my book Learning to Lead, Leading to Learn), Change Questions is the answer to your challenge to how you will successfully lead sustainable transformational change. Ask these questions, and you – and your organization – will be set up to implement change that sustains and creates value for customers, stakeholders, and employees.

I am happy to welcome Lynn to my author interview series to talk with Change Questions. In our conversation, Lynn shares her learning as an executive and change champion, her advice for other change leaders from her rich career in multiple industries around the world, and what she learned from writing the book.

Author Interview with Lynn Kelly

About Dr. Lynn Kelley

Lynn Kelley retired from Union Pacific Railroad in 2018 as senior vice president of Supply Chain and Continuous Improvement. In this role, Lynn was responsible for sourcing, logistics, warehouse operations, fuel and water infrastructure, and industrial engineering/continuous improvement. She was also the executive co-owner of the company’s Innovation program. She reported to the chairman and CEO and was a member of the Senior Leadership Team.

Before joining Union Pacific in 2011, Lynn was employed at Textron, where she was vice president of Operational Excellence and served as an officer and a member of the Executive Leadership Team. She was responsible for Engineering, Integrated Supply Chain, Procurement, and Corporate Six Sigma/Quality Councils across all business units, which included Cessna Aircraft and Bell Helicopter. During her Textron career, Lynn had several international assignments, where she was based in France and South Africa.

Lynn holds a Ph.D. from Wayne State University in Evaluation and Research, an M.B.A. from Michigan State University, and a bachelor’s degree in Business Management from the University of Detroit-Mercy.

Author Interview with Lynn Kelly and Book Giveaway

Double Book Giveaway:

Lynn and Katie teamed up to giveaway signed copies of their books, Change Questions and Learning to Lead, Leading to Learn, to three lucky winners in the US.

This giveaway ended on September 5th 2023, but if you would like to be notified of future book giveaways, click here.

Author Interview with Katie Anderson and Lynn Kelley

Enjoy my conversation with Dr. Lynn Kelley about her book Change Questions.

We discuss various topics including:

  • Learning from failure
  • How to use Change Questions as leaders
  • The importance of purpose
  • Lynn and John’s purpose in writing this book
  • …plus much more!

In addition to reading some of the highlights from our conversation, you can access the full interview by watching the video via YouTube or listening to the audio via downloading the podcast on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

We have timestamped the questions and lightly edited Lynn’s answers below for your reading convenience.

Questions and Interview Highlights:

1. How did you and John Shook come to collaborate on creating this book out of the change questions you’d been using? (3:40)

I can thank Covid for that because John and I were on a board together and we had a call right at the beginning of Covid. I said, “So what are you doing during Covid?” And he said, “I’m writing a book.” And I said, “Ah, I’m writing a book. What’s your book about?” He said, “Change.” I said, “My book’s about change!” And what we decided to write together.

So what we ended up doing is we said, let’s write a chapter a month. Let’s send it to each other a week ahead of time. We’ll have a call every month and we’ll give each other feedback. And it didn’t take us long. It was like the second month. And we realized that over his 40 year career, and he was instrumental in working with Lean Global Network for the Lean Transformation framework – and that’s the book that he was writing. So when we compared what I developed over my long career, there was a 90% overlap. And the things he was missing I had, and the things I was missing, he had. So we both chucked out all the work we had previously done, and we started all over.

2. The book is inspired by you learning from failure. Could you share with us one of the “failures” that really stuck with you and that helped influence how you lead change? (9:21)

Oh, yeah. And, in fact, this is the one that I learned the most from, and that ended up in the book as one of the change questions which seems to be one of the most powerful things in the book. People always say, “Oh my gosh, that changed the way I approach change.”

So I was reporting to the CEO at Textron, a fortune 200 company and I was responsible for change at the holding company level, but over all of engineering, all of manufacturing, all of supply chain, and all of those areas.

I was gaining traction and using the change questions and really, really starting to gain a lot of traction. And then I rolled out a change to the continuous improvement folks that were my buddies. They were the Lean Six Sigma folks. They were like, we’d gone through the trenches together and I thought it was so easy and I don’t need to go through the change questions. I don’t need to do all of this. So I just rolled it out and I just sent an email, “Hey, effective, blah, blah, blah, this is gonna be, if you have any questions, call me.”

Oh my gosh, I got slammed. I mean…emails, phone calls, everything. Some of the business units said, “We’re not doing that. We’re not doing it.” And I’m like, “What, what?” So that’s when I really latched on to the 20 60 20 curve, which Michael Hammer popularized and applied it to change. But when I went back to the original research, which is done at the, you know, at the PhD level and all of that, basically it’s this curve that has been around with these probabilities – 20%, 60%, 20%. So almost like a bell curve, but a little modified. But these probabilities had been around in terms of human behavior for certain things, and then somebody thought to apply it to change, but then a bunch of researchers went in and said, well, wait a minute. What does the 20 60 20 model really apply to?

And they found that it did apply to change. Basically that means 20% of the people are change agents open to change, 60% are neutral and 20% are resistant in general or standoff and, and not really wanting to do it initially.

And what I realized is, even though this is a simple change, it should be like, it could be the advantage of a lot of people. I have to think about those people who resist and the middle part that are neutral. So then we built change questions all around that.

In other words, try to implement change as a pilot, especially if it’s a wide scale organizational change that targets change agents, because Change Agents will work with you, they like change and then try to bring over the neutral through recognition rewards. And suddenly the neutral folks are going, I want that, I want that, I want that. And pretty soon you’ve got Malcolm Gladwell’s tipping point. So, that was a big deal.

3. Where do you advise change leaders to start with these change questions? (13:50)

So with the questions themselves, John and I have been very careful because one of the differences between the change questions and a lot of the change methodologies that are out there is that the change questions – you can use them in any order. You could pick and choose. There are 11 questions that really do cover a multitude of things, whereas we’re not calling it a model where you go step one, step two, step three.

But the very first one is about purpose. And so as lean professionals, we have always been taught, you start with the purpose. “What is the problem I’m trying to solve?” So in terms of where to start – purpose is the very first one. I have never done a change initiative where I haven’t started with purpose no matter what, if it’s lean or anything, a new ERP, or a supplier portal or whatever it is.

4. Could you share a little bit about your personal change experience and how that helped you learn how to lead change even more effectively when working with others? (16:33)

Well, personally, I think I fall in the Change Agent category, but, what I found in implementing change and what’s been so powerful is just the recognition. When I look at the research for the people that naturally resist a lot of the research says that we do so much damage to the change initiative and to even those people when, and I even hate the word resistor, but it’s almost like Voldemort, he who must not be named, I want those that would not be open to change. I mean, but shortcut resistors. When people are resistant to the change that we want initiative by labeling them as as bad people in our minds, or can you believe it as so and so, and we all, we’ve all had those experiences where once that person flips, they’re our biggest advocate.

But it takes effort. It takes time. And I guess one of the things I’ve learned personally is as a Change Agent, always anxious to change, I don’t like to start with people that naturally resist when I’m introducing change. I always like experiments and pilots, and if I do that, I really try to find people that are at the minimum neutral, but mostly a person open to change. Because there’s a time to address the needs of the people that are not in favor of the change, but not at the beginning. In the beginning, it’s all about momentum. It’s about influencing that middle 60% and getting the tipping point. That’s what it’s all about. And in terms of what my experience has been, that’s what it’s about.

5. What have you learned through the process of writing the book (and perhaps in the collaboration with John as part of that process) that helped you understand the change questions differently? (22:52)

I learned a lot, but I think one of the biggest things I learned right off the beginning is, we decided that we were not going to make this like a set methodology. We were going to let people own it, engage in it with their intellect, choose the things they wanted to do and really make it fluid. We decided that we wanted to make it alive for people.

But I had always had a certain order because back then I had an Excel spreadsheet and every tab was a different question, and I just clicked through the tabs. Then John, especially like the lean transformation framework, there is a bit of an order there too. When we blended them, we both found in our brains that we were locked into a certain what goes where. For example, where does the management system go? I had management system in Engage and Develop Employees because I considered management system as infrastructure because of the research I had done. So I had it there, but John had called it management system, which I had never called it management system, but when we both defined it and tried to compare, it was the same thing, right? So we had discussions, where does it belong? And at the end of the day, it belongs wherever the reader and the user feels, it belongs for them. But, what I learned even more is that even though I thought I was making it alive and fluid, I still was trying to get it in the order that I felt [was right], and we ended up with some great learnings from that.

6. How did you learn to resolve that for yourself and accept this change, moving away from the way you had always done things? (25:50)

We did a lot of experiments in writing. So I would write it his way and I would write it my way, and then we would ask a couple of people to read it and we’d say, where does it go best? And then we had actually moved one section back and forth a couple times, and we ended up in one place. And then we were putting together the digital workbook in A P D F at where the user actually, the reader, the user, actually answers the questions. And the person putting together this beautiful PDF said, “Why is this here?” You know, it feels like they’re going to start something then stop and go to something and don’t pick it up till later. And we realize, oh my gosh it doesn’t, you know? So, again, a lot of things can move all over. But we had some good discussions. It was good.

7. I love that you have a workbook that accompanies the book to really make it an interactive and reflective learning experience. Can you share with us how you came to integrate the workbook into the book and its purpose? (27:16)

Well, actually the digital workbook for me came before the book because that’s what I was using. That’s what, that was the document I was editing all the time. If I’d add a new change question or add something to a change question or, and because I used it with so many teams globally, I had also built in examples from Textron. And ultimately the case study is Union Pacific Railroad. So ultimately from Union Pacific.

So to me it was an integral part of the book because it’s just so fabulous. Even if you’re together and you’re sitting in a conference room, you could put this document on the screen, you see the example, you answer the question, you can play with it, you can edit it. And then if you wanted to socialize whatever you did – you can send this whole document, and not only can they see what you want their feedback on, but, like an A3, you can see the progression that gets you there.

John and I, what we decided is that our purpose for writing the book right from the beginning was not to make money, it was to get this in as many hands as possible. So the digital workbook is free, and you can download it today, at changequestions.net. You can get it now and use it now. You don’t have to buy the book.

If you want more examples, if you want more research, you want explanation, you want John’s profound notes, etc. Then you can get the book. But if you get the book and you read it and you’re implementing it with the team, they can all just download the workbook. You can share it with people and you can save all your answers on your own.

(And as of starting this fall semester, it’s going to be used by students in three universities in five classes. And we’ve got about four other universities pending. People love the digital workbook.)

8. What’s one question that I haven’t asked here, or you’re not usually asked about the book or about leading change that you would like to ask yourself and answer? (30:30)

You know, no one ever asked me about Union Pacific.

The railroad, Union Pacific, was founded by Abraham Lincoln over 150 years ago – it’s iconic. A lot of people really love trains. And I went there after a whole career in manufacturing as a newbie, also reporting to the CEO, which is really hard because everyone who’s at the railroad is there forever. And so, not knowing the railroad industry…I have to tell you, it was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had. I love the railroad, I love the people in the railroad. They work hard, they’re passionate, they care about what they do. Sometimes, you know, you see a derailment and there’s all this bad press, and I get it. But the thing is, we’re talking about people who really care and, and work hard and, let me tell you what, I’ve always worked hard. I’ve always worked with people that work hard. I’ve never worked as hard as I was in the railroad. You go in on a Saturday morning and it’s like a Monday morning. I mean, it’s just hard working people who are really caring about each other and about the business.

I’m glad you asked me to ask myself a question because I really want to just say how great Union Pacific is.

Learn More About Dr. Lynn Kelley and Change Questions

To discover more about Dr. Lynn Kelley, her writing partner John Shook, and their book – check out the book’s official website: https://www.changequestions.net/

Double Book Giveaway

Katie and Lynn generously gave away copies of their books (Learning to Lead, Leading to Learn and Change Questions) to 3 lucky winners anywhere in the US in September 2023.

Enter here to be notified about future book giveaways and your chance to win!

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