A conversation with Lori Serna. Lean Change Agent at Atlas Lean

“But the thing that I hear the most from the students is that they’re afraid that they’re not going to know how to help. They’re going to stand up in front of their peers and say, “I’m here to help you guide you through this, A3 problem solving workout or this kaizen, but at the core of it, I’m really just got this structure that I’m following. I’m afraid I’m going to sound like a robot or I’m going to be like, ‘We are in current state. We are in root cause analysis’.” Because they’re learning the structure, they don’t feel natural in it. And that is totally what I went through. But I knew I had that cheat sheet of the structure next to me so I could look down at it. And maybe what my practice was is just to feel more comfortable knowing that I don’t know exactly and I’ve got to kind of follow a guide.” –Lori Serna

In this episode of Control the Room, I had the pleasure of speaking withLori Serna about her career leading business transformation initiatives at Cal Poly.  She starts with tips on how to facilitate transformation at a large organization.  Later, Lori explores common fears that facilitators share during transformation work.  We then discuss the nuts and bolts of Lean and Kaizen Methodologies. Listen in for insight that spans industries.  

Show Highlights

[1:30] How Lori Became A Lean Change Agent.

[9:40] What’s Needed For Business Transformation.

[15:10] How To Feel More Confident Facilitating.

[27:31] The Benefits Of Play.  

[30:20] The Principals Of Kaizen 

Lori on Linkedin

About the Guest

Lori has 15 years’ experience in lean thinking and application.  Most of her experience is lean in higher education, first as a lean-practitioner & manager of Payroll Services, then launched the department of Business Transformation in 2016 to lead kaizen initiatives/projects and provides training and mentorship to division staff through her “T-Core” (Business Transformation Core) program. During the campus pandemic response she pivoted to provide lean facilitation and project management to campus-wide projects that delivered the Cal Poly saliva testing program, testing compliance program, and the COVID Help Center.

About Voltage Control

Voltage Control is a change agency that helps enterprises sustain innovation and teams work better together with custom-designed meetings and workshops, both in-person and virtual. Our master facilitators offer trusted guidance and custom coaching to companies who want to transform ineffective meetings, reignite stalled projects, and cut through assumptions. Based in Austin, Voltage Control designs and leads public and private workshops that range from small meetings to large conference-style gatherings.

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Full Transcript

Douglas: Welcome to the Control the Room Podcast, a series devoted to the exploration of meeting culture and uncovering cures to the common meeting. Some meetings have tight control and others are loose. To control the room means achieving outcomes while striking a balance between imposing and removing structure, asserting and distributing power leaning in and leaning out all in the service of having a truly magical meeting.

Thanks for listening. If you’d like to join us live for a session sometime, you can join our weekly controlled room Facilitation Lab. It’s a free event to meet fellow facilitators and explore new techniques so you can apply the things you learn in the podcast in real time with other facilitators. Sign up today at voltagecontrol.com/facilitation-lab. If you’d like to learn more about my book, Magical Meetings, you can download the Magical Meetings quick start guide, a free PDF reference with some of the most important pieces of advice from the book. Download a copy today at magicalmeetings.com.

Today I’m with Lori Serna from Cal Poly San Louis Obispo at California State University campus where she is the business transformation manager and serves in the administration and finance division. She facilitates transformation and operational excellent initiatives for a broad range of operations and service units. Welcome to the show, Lori.

Lori: Thanks, Douglas. Glad to be here.

Douglas: So great to have you. It was such a pleasure meeting you in San Louis Obispo back at the conference that was being held there at Cal Poly around Lean. And I know we’ll, we’ll talk a little bit about Lean and that being part of your background today, but been really looking forward to this chat ever since we went on the wine tour and talked for hours about all this stuff. So we’ll be revisiting those same topics a little bit. So before we dive in, let’s hear a little bit about how you got your start in this work.

Lori: Yeah, I think it’s interesting when you have this 10 or 15 year history to look back on. Suddenly what emerges in the long view is all the things that kind of were the trajectory points, the things that changed your thinking, or you saw work really well and you said, “Oh, I’m going to go do a little bit more of that.”

I think the way I see my origin story is in 2004, I moved to the Central Coast of California to take my role in payroll services at Cal Poly not knowing anything about lean, not knowing anything about where I was going to be. So I took a payroll technician job because it was a job that was offered to me and I wanted to move to this area. Started in payroll and kind of learned the ropes the first few years. But what I really noticed that was different about the CSU system and Cal Poly in general is that Cal Poly is this great learn by doing philosophies, technologically advanced, brilliant instructors, great facilities, great programs, but in the back office folks were struggling.

It really felt like everybody was operating from a place of, keep your bottom in the chair, data entry, not really a lot of communication or collaboration, a lot of silos. And I really noticed there was a lot of regulatory requirements that guided how we operated. And I came from a customer service background so I’m used to thinking about the customer, providing great service, how can we do better, how can we create excellence. And coming here, it kind of felt like if it wasn’t easy for us internally, we didn’t do it. It didn’t matter what the customer wanted. They had to engage with us in the way we delivered our service. So that was kind of my entry into this new world.

I’ll never forget my kind of pivotal transformational moment came in 2007 when I represented payroll on a kaizen event to look at temporary faculty hiring. That was the process we were looking. And what I came to when I joined this workshop was I saw all the people that, I’d been there now about three years, all the people that I talked to on the phone in person, all of the voices were represented in the room. We started talking about current state and we got current state completely down before we ever talked about solutions, problems, reasons for problems. So watching the kaizen event, watching what we were able to accomplish as a team, seeing the structure that it added and the way that everyone was respected, every voice was heard, everybody’s perspective was included was to me I could not unsee it. I enjoyed that experience so much.

That was where I met Eric Olsen, who is the Central Coast Lean director that you met as well. He’s also a professor here on campus and I said, “I want to know more. I loved what we just did. Tell me more about it.” And he started inviting me to kaizens. What’s great about kaizen is it’s not just a thing. It’s not just an event, but it’s a spirit. It’s a way of interacting. It’s a way of thinking. And so for the next kind of five or six years, he called me his perpetual kaizen attender. He just invited me and let me be the outside set of eyes for probably 15 different events, all ranging in the community, ranging on campus. And I really just started to connect to not only learning about Lean, which to me is what’s rooted in Toyota production, but comes from a long lineage all the way back to the industrial revolution. So it’s got some great bones to it that just are self-evident, principle based, behavior based.

So it really spoke to me about a purpose, right? There’s a reason why we do this. There’s a reason why we examine our work to make it better.So as I’m going along, learning more and applying now back in my payroll office and over the course of the next 10 years, I slowly increased my responsibility, my role, my leadership, the things that I took on. I started learning project management and change management. And then one day Eric told me, “One day you’re going to stand up and facilitated kaizen event for yourself.” And I was like, “No,” because what I worried about was, I wouldn’t know what to say in the moment. I would find a moment and it would be all on me to figure out what to say.

It truly was changing at that moment, because then once I started putting on this new hat of those new role that I could do with this work, not just in my own office but with other people, I started saying, “Okay, I think I want to try it.” So then he started splitting roles with me on a kaizen event. He would do current state, I would do future state. Or I would do current state and he would do future state. So he started letting me practice. And that really showed me when a moment came up, I knew what to do because it was the structure that gave me the confidence and gave me the tools to help move people through the structure of a kaizen event.

Somewhere around 2014 or 2015, I started to realize how powerful this work I was doing was. I was able at that point to bubble outside of payroll to start bringing in accounts payable, HR, academic personnel, ITS, the cashiers, office accounting, property accounting, all these different places that we work with as partners in our process, bubbling it out into more high impact processes that had long been static and stagnant. So we were able to apply at that level. And then I had the idea that I really wanted to do this full time. I needed to pull myself out of the world because the impact I was seeing that could be potentially there was so much greater than just keeping it suck in this little bubble. I was slowly pushing out of that.

Around that time, we had a new vice president who is our vice president today and pitched the idea of creating a department of business transformation specifically to run these kind of initiatives and process improvement and to have a focus on our customers and the services and value that we add. And that’s what happened. We launched in 2016 Business Transformation and I became immersed in I would say a flurry that first year. My goal was to try and get one project with every department in our division. At that time it was like 37, 38 departments. So that was a busy year, but it was so great because I didn’t know what it looked like to do it as my full-time job. So I really practiced cadence, timing. Of the kaizen events that I’d been involved in, what could I translate to whoever was in front of me? So if it was counting or this is HR, how could I translate this event to work for them?

And at the end of that, I think I really got down what I now call the power of kaizen. It’s the thing that we made work for our environment. It doesn’t require you to be in a room for eight hours a day until you’re done, which is what a typical kaizen asks of the team. But it does have all of the great elements of a kaizen, which is involving the right people, all the voices represented in the room. We go to where the work happens and we talk to the people who do the work when we’re making any kind of solution. And we ensure that we have metrics and things to go back and validate what we thought was true. Did it work? Try it. Then go back and pivot when you need to.

And so that kind of cycle of taking on a process or a project helping the team achieve and end and then helping them implement it was great because I didn’t have to leave. Unlike a facilitator or a consultant, I got to be there and check in with them, do 30, 60, 90 day. 120 reflections. And actually, they see me now as a partner with them forever. And so what I started seeing is I’d finish one and they’d want five more. I’d finish one, they want five more. I’d finish one, they want five more instead of recognizing I’m my own bottleneck in what we are capable of. And that’s really where the idea of the transformation core came from. It was how do I train folks to do this internally themselves, because we will do more by the sum of us than just me going out and then waiting for me to come to do improvement.

So that’s kind of where we were at the point at which the pandemic hit. So as most of us know, the pandemic changes all of the things we thought we were going to be doing. We literally, within a week, had closed down the campus and everyone was at home. That was a scary thing because for me, at that point I was still really working on projects with departments and they all dropped. Every single one of them dropped and I thought, “Oh wow, what is my role now? What is my purpose?” We don’t know when we’re going to pick back up projects. We don’t know when folks are going to even do work the way they used to. Suddenly everyone’s got to do work that they have to do. How do we continue moving forward?

And that was really what propelled me to finally sit, write a T-Core program, find folks in our division that were willing to pilot it with me. And that’s what we did in April, May and June of 2020, as we pulled everybody who would say yes. I did it all virtually. It took us six weeks. It was amazing. Literally every day I felt like I was flying by the seat of my pants. But by that point I feel like what was emerging in me was the ability to discern in a moment what needed to come out. That was something I didn’t notice until I look back now.

My big fear about not knowing what to do in a moment, I got to practice with this T-Core team, this first team, in that I didn’t know what I knew would land in their minds, right? And so I’m taking a risk sharing all these things that I’ve learned over the course of 12, 13 years, but they have no idea and I’m not a trained teacher. So I don’t know how to present the information maybe necessarily in the best or optimum way. So I really was able to practice that feeling of opening it up for dialogue as I was teaching it. And I found that that worked really well. And at the end of it, we put 13 people through that first initial T-Core program and I was hooked. I was like, “We got to do this at least once or twice a year and see how many more folks we can enable to be Lean champions in our division.”

And that’s kind of where we’re at today. As we start to emerge from the pandemic and life as we know it is getting back to some semblance of where you can see the future instead of being stuck in the moment, we’re opening our eyes to the things in our world that worked really well during the pandemic, surprisingly, and the things that we would like to go back to doing again in person and together.

Douglas: I was going to ask you about that comment you made around you were worried about what to say. It’s like I’m super curious, as a fear… Because it’s always, well, I would just say often difficult when someone’s gotten to a point of mastery or a point of great knowledge, it’s hard to get back to that beginner’s mindset. So it’s really interesting to hear you talk about that moment years ago when you’re kind of just attending those kaizens and just faced with that fear of being worried about what to say. And then you actually shared that those formative moments of the T-Core were actually an opportunity to practice and to hone that skill. I’m wondering if you had other observations around those moments and what made that practice more worthwhile? What made it really effective to where you got more comfortable?

Lori: Yeah. I feel a lot of it was confidence that I didn’t discern yet in myself, but emerged when it needed to be. It was kind of one of those things where you can move the car when you need to get it off someone you love. It’s just there. So there was a little bit of that. But I think also it was kind of an intentionality on my part that I really cared and I wanted to say the right thing in the right moment. And so I found myself whenever I had stumble, maybe not publicly, but I left something and knew I stumbled in a moment. I tried to learn more about what I could have done differently and I’d go and talk to people. I talked to Eric, I’d talked to other mentors and just say, “This came up and I froze. I felt like I froze. I wasn’t really sure.”

And for some reason, somewhere in those conversations, someone would point me to a tool or someone would point me to a method or someone would point me to, “Have you considered adding this?” And just by saying that totally makes sense and then going back and doing it, it was almost as if my love to learn and my intention to always try and bring the best of me in every moment steered me to the right things to build this toolkit, to now I feel like what I love is that I don’t know what’s going to emerge. That’s the part that gets me going with every problem and every process to improve. I go in knowing I’m not going to know from moment to moment what’s coming out, but that I know enough to be able to help, still be empathetic and compassionate, still make sure all the voices are heard, still understand a structure to get out what we need to solve.

So I feel like it was that confidence and that intention that I set early on that I really cared to show up correctly and appropriately and to help. I feel like that’s kind of been my purpose. My purpose of service is to show up in any moment and understand what I need to help add to the moment. Maybe I’m the one that with the most awareness in that moment. And so I can bring something to… Because I’ve seen it happen over and over where someone brings something and it transforms what occurs. And I love that and I love listening to other people tell stories. I know you and I have talked about that. I think it’s so interesting to hear that because that is really my intention moment to moment.

Douglas: Yeah. It’s so critical to be comfortable with what emerges and just not knowing what will happen. I think oftentimes things get too over programmed. The structure can help us certainly get where we need to go, but we got to make sure that we don’t starve the fire of oxygen, so to speak, right?

Lori: I think that’s one of the things I’ve found because now I just finished my second T-Core program, which was awesome. We did that the whole month of April. I did a lot of kind of pivots on what I learned from the first program. One of them being is that I really recognized that the students need to start small. When I did the first one, I just threw everything at them all the topics. Learning to see, learning to approve, learning to lead yourself and others, learning to measure, learning to sustain, what’s next, I mean, I threw everything at them. And I really tried to refine it down to something they can go back today. I’m going to teach them something today. They can go back to their office right now and apply because when I thought about it, that’s how I learned, is directly applying.

But the thing that I hear the most from the students is that they’re afraid that they’re not going to know how to help. They’re going to stand up in front of their peers and say, “I’m here to help you guide you through this, A3 problem solving workout or this kaizen, but at the core of it, I’m really just got this structure that I’m following. I’m afraid I’m going to sound like a robot or I’m going to be like, ‘We are in current state. We are in root cause analysis’.” Because they’re learning the structure, they don’t feel natural in it. And that is totally what I went through. But I knew I had that cheat sheet of the structure next to me so I could look down at it. And maybe what my practice was is just to feel more comfortable knowing that I don’t know exactly and I’ve got to kind of follow a guide.

I feel like the people who are really going to dig into that are going to recognize that that is in them. And the more they do it, they’re going to feel more confident in it. And I feel like it’s like what I think about in any conversation, I’ve got an A3 running in my head and an A3 is simply just a terminology for a plan-do-check-act process which allows us to identify the problem and really dig into what it is before we make solutions. It’s a structure that allows for us to thoroughly define the problem before we even look into it and look into it deeply until we make solutions. The solutions then guide our trying and experimentation. And then the A3 furthers to guide us through pivoting or changing what we need to do and sustaining the change if we decide to move forward with it.

So A3 I found is really valuable and something that I teach along with how to run a kaizen event in our T-Core program. And then I think Douglas, the other thing that I really loved about meeting you and taking your Magical Meetings workshop and just thinking about facilitation is I feel like I kind of fell into facilitation. Me being kind of the person I am in real life helps me always be… I was always a good listener, but I’ve really saw myself over the years really move into that space willing to let things emerge, but also knowing at the same time there needs to be structure. I’ve often have folks tell me, “You’re like the adult in the room. When you show up, we know you’re serious and you’re there to give us everything so we want to give you everything.”

I’ve had folks in this environment say something about, “When you come, makes us want to apply and actually see through what we’re talking about doing.” And I feel like it’s not me. It’s the facilitator. It’s that role. The someone who is aware from a high level perspective who’s sole purposes to help them get to the goals and the solutions that they’re looking for. That role is so powerful. And I’ve seen the difference when I’m able to do it from my seat, and maybe I don’t lead the meeting but I can offer structure as a conversation goes along. So even not just in a formal process improvement, one can learn facilitation skills that are valuable to every conversation. And I love that about your Magical Meetings workshop, is really just defining what’s the purpose of any congregation of folks. And using different techniques to really bring out the magic in everyone is such a… I love learning that tool.

Douglas: Yeah. I mean, I think there’s certainly room for more facilitators in the world. We kind of equate it to leadership. Remember I was speaking with a facilitator and… Gosh, it was maybe a year ago. She told me that she never really identified with being a facilitator per se until one day someone told her that, “Well, you just think of yourself as a leader and you equate those facilitation skills with leadership skills.” And she said when someone explained that to her, then it really clicked. She’s like, “Oh yes, I am a facilitator.” But because I think there’s lots of different models, some people think facilitator equals moderator or mediator.

Lori: Note taker.

Douglas: Yeah, exactly. And so it can show up in a lot of different forms, but I agree with you. If someone is there with the intent of helping people get from point A to point B, maybe bringing structure, maybe having a mindful eye to purpose, it can just have such a big improvement on everyone’s outcomes.

Lori: I agree. It feels like sometimes meetings don’t even get going until someone stands up and says, “We’re talking a lot about solutions. I don’t really know what’s happening right now” or, “It feels like we’re talking about this, but do we really even know what we don’t know about this yet? We think this is the problem.” So it’s an interesting thing. I don’t know if I would’ve known this had I not spent that 12 years doing a thousand little projects and just seeing it happen over and over and over and over. And the ones that worked, I remembered and did it again. The ones that didn’t work, we said, “Why didn’t that work?” and we tried to fix the structure.

So I just feel like it’s such a great and valuable skill to learn all of these things because you can apply it to anything. Anything that has a process Lean can apply doesn’t have to be because you’re making a widget or you’ve got some output. Everything has an output if it’s a process. And once you see it, you can be focused and use the tools and principles and practices of Lean to improve anything if that’s your goal.

Douglas: Yeah. When you were talking about the quest you were on when you were hoping to improve your early facilitation around kaizen, you’re noticing these moments and you’re like, “Oh, I’m not sure if I did that quite right or if I’m super proud of that moment.” And you would go to Eric and others and you were on this improvement quest. It sounded very Lean. It sounded very kaizen in itself, right?

Lori: Yeah. Yeah. I feel like I was born to be Lean. I don’t know. It’s kind of like a thing that clicked. That first kaizen event I attended, it was almost like, “This all makes sense. This is so self evident to me. I can never not see this.” And I feel like it’s funny because I talk to other folks in the Lean world and they say have they take it home, they can’t see making their breakfast toast the same way again. And I do see that. I don’t hold myself to that intensity outside of work, but it sure is powerful to bring it when you’re really the only one adding structure to an unstructured chaos of things. It is really good to be so rigid sometimes and to know when it’s not, when you just need to let things slide.

Sometimes I feel like I catch myself, I kind of test my boundaries on how long I let something to emerge. It’s like I get this sense that someone’s going to say something, they’re on a roll. And some people are looking around, like, “Why is she letting them continue?” And I’m like, “No, I can sense. They are somewhere close. We’re to the point of breakthrough. Some aha moment.” And I’m just riding the line of the tension, whereas Lori, myself would say, “Oh, they’re getting a little bit too heated here.” But I’m pouring out this feeling of respect, making sure that folks are not yelling, that everyone’s calling people who aren’t talking but look like they want to say something, I invite them, “Would you like to say something? Do you have a different view than what is being…” So it’s like always just being mindful and riding that edge of structure and unstructure, which is why I love liberating structures.

The first time I saw liberating structures, I was like, “This is not only a great way to add structure and also unstructure, but it’s fun. It’s exciting. It gets people moving. It gets people engaged.” I love that one you did at the conference that we just did for Central Coast Lean. It was so great because everybody was smiling. We’re talking about boring doldrum work stuff and everyone’s passing by each other and everyone started to get their little rhythm in how they were moving their bodies and interacting. I’ve seen it time and time again just open up the energy of a room. And I love that.

Douglas: Yeah. Play is very powerful. Oftentimes when we try to introduce play in the business setting, it gets stifled because of the sense of professionalism or, “That’s inappropriate” or, “That’s childish.” I’m a big believer that if we can bring in play, we can tap in the parts of our brains. To that point you were making earlier about, “Oh, that we’re about to have this breakthrough. I’m going to sit with this tension or I’m going to let them keep pushing because I think we’re on the cusp of something,” well, play can really invite those, take us to the edges of those thresholds really quickly. It’s difficult sometimes to get people to play in those professional settings so we have to be mindful of the structures and the way we invite that in.

Lori: Yeah. It’s interesting to see people who are used to working with each other one way suddenly change that. It’s like they suddenly become people instead of like passive folks that are just involved in their process with them. I love seeing that happen when… I don’t use it as much as I should, as I could. I feel like a lot of times I try and insert play in understanding kind of the culture of the group or the team and getting their humor and trying to insert a way for them to feel less stressed about what they’re sharing. I find myself trying to do that, make little silly zinger comments or play on somebody else’s zinger comment, or kind of establishing that camaraderie. I think it’s so powerful. It doesn’t necessarily need a structure or a game or something, but I agree that something to lighten the energy. I’m trying to get better at discerning when that needs to happen.

Some of the best workshops I’ve ever been is the instructor will say, “Everybody get up and let’s do this breathing.” Or like you did where you said, “Show me your favorite stretch.” I loved that. I want to do that. Anytime I have to meet with people more than an hour, I’m going to tell them, “Let’s get up and show me your favorite stretch. You.” I love that one. That was really good.

Douglas: Yeah. I mean warmups can be a place to inject that a bit. I think that if we can introduce it in unexpected ways too, if we’re trying to create something, how can we make it more of a puzzle? Or how can we kind of present it in a way where the instructions are a bit inviting us to think a little differently? Or even draw, use our hands. Or bring in some Popsicle sticks and some glue. I don’t know.

Lori: It’s what I’d love about kaizen though, is it naturally leads itself to that. You get people to get up, make their artifacts, do their diagrams, help you with the sticky notes. You bring everybody together. You break them into groups. You pull them back together. That’s what I love. Every time I learn a new tool about facilitation, I’m like, “Kaizen just lends itself well.” I know what the phases are as I’m moving people through it. And that’s really all that matters, what happens in each phase. Every time I learn a new tool, I see how it can apply. Every time I learn a new methodology, “Here’s someone else’s story. I think I can insert that in this project I’m working on.” Because really it’s only the sequencing that matters. But what’s inside, you can shift and learn and grow.

Yeah, you can go to the letter of the law or you could play with it as a leader and facilitator. That’s the part that gets me going every day. I love to learn something new to bring back and apply with teams and projects. It’s just such a great way to work.

Douglas: That’s one thing I really like about those macro structures, because you can fold the individual methods or the individual instructions in different ways to suit the audience or suit the challenge. But for the listeners that don’t know, what are the phases of the kaizen?

Lori: Well, the way that I have described it is it always starts with defining the problem. So when you’re talking about a process or something that’s emerging that says, “Hey, we need to put Lori on this or we need to work on this,” you really try and understand the problem. It’s like, “What do we know and how do we know it? What don’t we know and how are we going to find out?” Before we even move forward, we’ve got to do some discovery. So discovery is the first part. And then the second part is really just getting down current state. We discipline ourselves to stay in current state until we’ve got it down and everybody agrees to it. It’s on the board, it’s on the wall, it’s documented, everyone can see it. They all were part of it as it has came up. And so that requires the right people to be in the room. If we’re going to find you anywhere between the start and the end of what we’re going to work on, those people’s voices need to be in the room. You get current state down.

And then the next steps is an analysis. Within analysis, you could do all kinds of stuff, right? So we’ve got to understand what are the problems, what are the pain points, where does it stop, where do the handoffs go. We do what I call a waste walk. We look and say, “Okay, where is where this moves? Where is where this stops? Where is where this is waiting for someone to grab it and move it on? Where is this where we’ve got people adding unnecessary things to it before it goes to the next step?” So you do really this deep dive. You find out all you need to know about it. And that could be as small or as deep as you want to go depending upon the process.

Once the analysis happens, then you move into the solution, brainstorming, emerging, exciting part. Everybody wants to get to this part, but the first part is kind of the honorist. Getting all the truth on the board, understanding deeply we’ve got metrics, we know how long it takes us, we know how many people touch it, we know what’s involved. And now we are fully informed to start talking about solutions. What I like to do is simply take our pain points, bump it up against what we wanted in our good outcomes and say, “All right, let’s take this one line by line if we have to. Is there a countermeasure for it? So is there something we could do to eliminate it or offset it? Or is there an idea that someone has to do with completely different?” And then we work with countermeasures and ideas. From there, we’ve got to then say, “Okay, what’s the most impactful? How do we prioritize all of these ideas and countermeasures?” So we go through that effort. We get down.

And then there’s tons of tools to do that, right? You could do impact effort analysis, risk analysis, cost effort analysis. I mean, there’s all kinds of things and things you can learn to best get you to, “Okay, what are we going to do? Let’s get an action plan.” And I like to use low, medium and high because a lot of times a high idea is really good, but we can’t do it. We’ve got 10 other low ones that we can knock off. Let’s do the low ones first and make a plan to work towards medium and long term ideas and counter measures. And then I just stay with the team and we assign who’s going to do it by when, and then we keep checking in and moving forward.

So essentially in my world, I’m using kaizen to guide a project or process improvement. So the structure of kaizen is the order I use. And then I use Lean tools and many other kinds of tools to insert into each of that, the sequence of events. But it’s always that order. I’d never deviate from the order.

Douglas: Makes sense. I’m curious because in the pre-show chat we were talking about how your approach is layered. We talked about Lean a bit today and you also mentioned liberating structures. Something else you threw in there was change management. I’m kind curious how change management came to you and how it shows up in your work.

Lori: I think it was another one of those things where you hear about it and you go, “Wow, that really does make sense.” I ended up getting a certification from using the Prosci Methodology, which at its core is something called ADKAR. Again, it’s an order of a way to bring an individual and an organization through change through ADKAR. And ADKAR is an acronym. It stands for awareness, desire, knowledge, ability, and reinforcement. It’s basically describing when you need to enact change, this is what a person at a personal level and an organizational level, you need to start with awareness. So there’s messaging, there’s why is this important, there’s information. You can’t jump straight to knowledge without going through awareness and desire. So it’s really just kind of recognizing how an organization’s change is made up of all individual changes, which is what really speaks to me.

If you don’t bring along at the individual level, if Mary and accounting doesn’t feel like we’ve managed her ADKAR in this change, it’s going to fall down. Something’s going to happen to where either she doesn’t feel like a part of it. But her whole job is substantially changing, but we never brought her along, we’re just now going to train her on how to do it. So it’s really recognizing the change cycle and using common terminology. Like what I love doing is working on projects where our comms schedule and our comms strategy is built around ADKAR. So we know these messages are in the awareness phase. These messages are in the desire phase or activities. These messages and activities are in the knowledge phase. And then through knowledge, we’re going to get them to have ability. So ability is all about reinforcing training and learning by doing and then executing and then implementing. And then we’re recognizing that we’re going to keep reinforcing it.

So these are all the activities and change communications that are about reinforcing what they’re able to do. So it really spoke to me. I mean, it was another one of those things where I could see immediately how I could use it with teams and in projects. So it just added that other level of knowledge and ability into my toolkit.

Douglas: I love that. I want to just kind of take a moment to kind of peer a little bit into the future. We’re in this transition moment. I know that you are thinking a lot about kind of what’s next, what you keep about these practices that you adopted during the heart of the pandemic. Curious to just hear more about what the future looks like to you and how you’re even thinking about leaning into the future.

Lori: Yeah, it’s an interesting time right now because we don’t fully have every one of our staff back in person on campus. When we first went into the pandemic, I was really a staunch believer in that it wasn’t going to be possible unless we were all together. I felt like doing it virtually was a disservice to the type of work we’re doing. And once I saw your Magical Meetings workshop, it really made sense why I was sensing that. It’s because the type of work we do needs people together face to face. It needs that energy. I feel like it’s not as impactful when it’s done virtually where the facilitator cannot see body language and all those other valuable things we use to move things forward. So it was clear to me that going forward we need to do certain parts of this, my project’s included, in person. It’s really hard to do it on Zoom.

So what does that mean? How would we then structure it? I don’t want to leave someone behind that doesn’t work on campus. So it just tells me we need to learn what the different levels are. It’s not one or the other. There’s got to be this middle that we’re going to come to where we can get what we need done in the best way. So what does that mean? I don’t know. But that Magical Meetings added to this thought of creating the best practice for kaizen. And so I’m kind of playing with that still. I don’t really know what the answer is. My sense says it’s the most powerful in person because that’s how we can be. I feel like it’s even more efficient, even though some people prefer to be on Zoom or in a virtual environment because it’s convenient location wise. But how fast you can get to the transformational outcomes, I think it needs to be in person.

The second thing is I feel like we’re trying to kind of understand how to pick back up this project load. I’ve got some kind of long lead time projects I’m working on. I’m helping our teams implement JAGGAER, which is a procure-to-pay software, sort of kind of being inserted in long term projects. But my catalog of lots of process improvement hasn’t picked back up again. So for me, I’m trying to understand what’s the need because there’s a lot of urgency, but there’s also a lot of hesitation to pick something up because there’s so many unknowns still. So that’s kind of that.

But I definitely know that T-Core and its iterations as we go along is going to be a huge piece of enabling every member of our staff to problem solve and to improve. I just feel like it’s a critical thing. And so I’m also looking at how frequent are we going to need to change the qualifiers of who gets nominated to attend, is this something someone can self nominate? So just a lot of the qualifiers about how to best use the program. But at the end of it, I don’t want to do it unless we’re getting value out of it. So I don’t want to train someone who then goes back to their department and doesn’t be given the opportunities to use it. So it’s almost like it also needs the kind of the director manager buy-in and support, because they’ve got to allow this person now to do something outside of their functional role potentially until they see that it’s really part of their functional role every day.

Douglas: Yeah. It comes back to the change stuff and how we center on the human and make sure that they are not only supported, but they really, to use that acronym, they really desire the change.

Lori: Yeah. Because if they don’t, I’ve seen folks justifiably say, “I really can’t do any more of this Lean stuff, Lori. I really appreciate it. I loved it. I just don’t no one’s given me time to do it.” It’s hard to know my journey who was a functional person and emerged from it to do what she’s doing today. I lived and breathed it. I don’t see it as different anymore. So it’s hard for me to come in and say, “Well, start small. One small thing. Keep a kanban board on your wall to have…” Even if it’s just to hold your ideas for now, just to have use it as a way to converse with your cubby mate or your boss as he walks by your desks. “What’s all those sticky notes on your wall?” “Well, those are all my ideas I would like to work on. And I would love to have time.” And he’ll go or she will go, “Oh, what’s your ideas?”

So it’s part of bringing it into your identity as an employee, I feel like. Until I did that, I don’t know that I could ever take it out and be down.

Douglas: Sure. Yeah. Amazing. Well, we are running short on time so I want to make sure to give you an opportunity to leave our listeners with a final thought.

Lori: Yeah, there’s so many final thoughts, but the one thing that’s really been ringing true personally and professionally is kind of like, life happens on life’s terms and it’s really not about controlling. I really feel like it’s about being aware and discerning what’s needed in the moment. And moment to moment, if you’re the one with the most awareness, be willing to bring whatever is needed. Is it love? Is it acceptance? Is it compassion? Is it an idea? Is it a structure? Be ready to discern and add it to the moment because it’s been so transformational for me.

Douglas: Incredible. Thank you so much, Lori. I really appreciate you taking the time to chat today. It’s been a lot of fun.

Lori: Thanks, Douglas. Glad to see you again.

Douglas: Thanks for joining me for another episode of Control The Room. Don’t forget to subscribe to receive updates when new episodes are released. If you want to know more, head over to our blog where I post weekly articles and resources about radical inclusion, team health, and working better, voltagecontrol.com.