The Lean Remedy – Leadership Development

Dr. Relly Nadler:
 Today we are going to talk to Pascal Dennis. He is going to talk about the Lean System that many of you may have heard about, and also how leadership ties into that. He is a professional engineer, author, and advisor to North American firms making the Lean Leap. Pascal developed the skills as he worked at Toyota on the shop floor in North America and Japan. He’s on the faculty of Lean Enterprise Institute.

He has been a Manager of Operations, of Human Resources, Finance, Health, and Environment, so he really has seen it all has been on the bottom floor of exactly what is going to allow your organization to be more efficient.

He has supported Lean implementations at leading international companies in various sectors; automotive, process industries, construction, and healthcare, so he has a wealth of information.

He also held some leadership positions at Toyota, in Canada. He supported several major model launches and construction of a new facility and also the hiring of 2,000 new team members.

In spite of all that, Pascal is quite the author. A couple of his award-winning books include Getting the Right Things Done: A Leaders Guide to Planning and ExecutionThe Remedy: Bringing Lean Out of the Factories and Transform Your Entire Organization, and also Reflections of a Business Nomad.

I got an opportunity to meet Pascal and sit in on one of his trainings. We share an agricultural client that he has come in and really helped them over the last few years around their strategy and then looking at their processes. The focus of his Lean practice is strategic planning and execution. We’ll get him to talk a little bit about Hoshin management. I’ve seen him in action. He’s very knowledgeable, he’s entertaining, humorous and the organization that we share has really embraced this Lean practice wholeheartedly. It’s not just a one-shot deal, they’ve really shown the commitment as Pascal has. Pascal, welcome to the show.

Pascal Dennis: Thanks, Relly, I’m obliged for the invite.

Dr. Relly Nadler: Pascal has a website at and has a series of books, and a series of iPhone apps, all to help you. Let’s start off with who and what have been some of your key influences as a leader that help make you who you are today?

Pascal Dennis: My influences kind of varied. I grew up professionally at Toyota Manufacturing so senior leaders there like Andy Watanabe and Shin Futokowa had a tremendous influence on me not just because of their strength as manufacturers but because of their fundamental decency and strong bedrock of values.

I was also heavily influenced by my Aikido sensei. I studied the martial arts and Aikido in particular for many, many, years so people like Yamada, a sensei in New York, and Akani sensei in Boston, and a Chiba Sensei in San Diego, really influenced my character, I think. Again, their fundamental values were optimism, commitment, attention to detail.

Those are probably my two biggest influences.

Dr. Cathy Greenberg: As I listen to you speak, Pascal, I know that you have probably not thought of the influences consciously that I’m about to recommend that you share with us. I’m very interested in knowing a little bit about your spiritual influence. How about the influence of what we might call subject matter experts, family members, community leaders? Did anybody like that have an influence on your life?

Pascal Dennis: Yes. In my family, in particular. I grew up in a Greek restaurant, right out of central casting. If you look in the dictionary under Greet restaurateur you see my dad. In a Greek restaurant, you learn to respect people, you learn how to talk to customers and respect them regardless of who they are or where they come from. Attention to detail, showing up for work, order, and organization in the kitchen and the stock room, teamwork.

A restaurant in a major downtown center, Mel’s Diner in San Francisco, at lunchtime, if you don’t have teamwork, you don’t have standardized work and visual management, all of those other elements in the Lean system, you can’t get along.

Probably, that was foundational for me because it underlined the importance of good process as good values. That was the best training that I could have possibly had for working at Toyota, ironically.

Dr. Relly Nadler: So before the Toyota floor, you worked on the restaurant floor growing up.

Pascal Dennis: I did and it’s very similar. Restaurants are the most basic factory. It’s funny. I run into a lot of restaurant rats, as I call them, they all say, weren’t we lucky to have that experience.

Dr. Cathy Greenberg: Absolutely, because it’s also a place where you learn a lot of sophisticated models for reacting to different situations and keeping that customer service spirit alive.

That says a lot about where you come from in your Lean thinking. Let me ask you this. What is Lean thinking and why is it so important for leaders today to understand, even more importantly than we have in the past?

Pascal Dennis: The Lean Business System is about 100 years old. It goes back and starts with Fred Taylor in Philadelphia and industrial engineer. It really came together in the period 1946-52 when America, to her eternal credit, invested heavily in bringing her former enemies, Japan and Germany, back into the community of nations. In particular, in Japan, General MacArthur brought the best and the brightest of America and the West to Japan to meet the best and the brightest of Japan.

In that six-year period, something utterly unique happened. We’ve been learning about and practicing enough for 50 years, so we’ve not quite mastered it because it’s literally Yen and Yang. Again, American optimism, managerial skills and mechanical skill mixed with Japanese attention to detail and grasp of what happening right now in holistic thinking.

It’s a business system that represents the best of East and West. I genuinely think that what happened in that time is as important or maybe more important than the Cold War. We just have to figure out how to spread the thinking and continue to refine it.

Dr. Relly Nadler: So for the folks that aren’t familiar with Lean, how’s it either similar or dissimilar to Sig Sigma, Process re-engineering, are they the same or is it different?

Pascal Dennis: Business process re-engineering and Sig Sigma are powerful tools and they can generate very good results. Those are part of the Lean System, but where Lean is different in that it has a foundation of respect for people. Lean is based on getting better every day by involving everybody in your organization in improvement, and that means giving them the skills to improve, it means giving leaders the skills they need to improve, emotional intelligence for example, and committing to employment security.

The fundamental deal is that you have a job here for life, but you have to help us improve and you have to be involved in developing the work. It’s a different kind of a deal, and it takes great leadership and integrity to stick by it especially in very tough times.

Dr. Cathy Greenberg: What are some of the key principles, or a key principle to start with, when you start thinking about Lean and using it as a business enabler?

Pascal Dennis: Great question Cathy. One of the fundamentals is the idea of standardized work. We involve our people, especially the people at the front line, in figuring out the best way that we know now to do this particular job and we standardize it on one page. Simple, visual, standard work, with the understanding that as we get better, we are going to change it, but that’s our sheet music, to begin with.

Standardized work is fundamental.

Visual management: the idea of making the invisible, visible, especially in business processes. Most of the time the information is in the box known as the computer and as a result, we won’t wander around in the fog. I call that a big part of big company disease. So, visual management is a third element.

A fourth element is a deep understanding of the customer; a personal understanding of the customer. Not dissimilar to being in a restaurant where you look at the customer in the face and you see if she’s happy or not? Is she treated well? Was the food nutritious, was the atmosphere good? So that deep connection to the customer and an understanding of the value that they are buying.

Those are some of the key elements.

Be sure to listen to the complete interview, above!


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