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Applying Lean Six Sigma to the Environment

E101: Applying Lean to Healthcare and Nonprofit Boards with Katie Anderson

34 min read

In this interview, I talk with Katie Anderson, a leadership coach who has extensive lean experience in healthcare, and author of the award-winning Lean management book, “Learning to Lead, Leading to Learn.” She lived in Japan for many years, where she learned directly from John Shook‘s former manager, Isao Yoshino, and the book is a summary of the lessons she learned through his experience at Toyota.

She has also volunteered her time on two nonprofit boards, and she shares Lean tips and advice for those considering becoming a nonprofit board member.

She also shares some great insights from Yoshino about leadership keys to success:

  • 1) Set the Direction – alignment to goals
  • 2) Provide Support – systems, coaching and support to help your people be successful, including a series of habits that we need to break, called GAPS:
    • Go See – where the work happens with purpose of showing respect to people and evaluating the process
    • Ask Questions – Stop giving people answers, help them learn how to improve
    • Pause – Allow space for answers, be patient
    • Study and Reflect – move away from action, focus on thinking and review
  • 3) Develop Yourself – be humble to know that you don’t know everything

She also talked about avoiding becoming a “template zombie” instead of understanding the principles of the improvement tools and methodology.

You can watch the video below, or visit


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Have you ordered the new book, “Lean Six Sigma for Good: Lessons from the Gemba (Volume 2)?” The book is made up of 8 chapters written about experiences from Lean and Six Sigma practitioners, to give you tips and tricks to help you work with nonprofits in your area. All proceeds donated to charity. You can also order Volume 1 released in 2019.


Brion (B): My guest today is Katie Anderson. Welcome, Katie. It’s great to meet you finally.

Katie (K): Thanks. I’m so thrilled to be here and finally get a conversation together as well.

B: Yes. I want to go a little bit into your background, so if you could tell us a little bit about your history with work and how it led you to continuous improvement work and Lean, and then we’ll get into discussions about the nonprofit work you’ve done. But I really want to dig into your really interesting background because I think that’s very unique compared to other people in the Lean community.

K: Thanks, and you know, when I look back in my almost 30-year career at this point, the uniting thread is really always about learning and being connected with people globally. I consider myself a learning enthusiast and that’s really been such a uniting thread. I started my career off thinking I was going to be a professor and doing healthcare policy research for many years. I actually was awarded a Fulbright Scholarship and did my Master’s degree in Australia, and so I have a deep passion for healthcare as well and came at it from this real desire to make a positive impact in the world. But through those years, I also realized that I really liked to engage with people directly one-on-one and see real, tangible outcomes of the work that I’m doing. While I felt really passionate about the research I was doing, it didn’t satisfy that human connection as much for me, and I moved into working in hospitals and healthcare systems.

That’s when I moved back to the United States in the San Francisco Bay Area where I’m from and where I live now and took a role at Stanford Children’s Hospital, where I got exposed to Lean and continuous improvement and was one of the fire starters for bringing Lean thinking and practice into the organization. I took another senior-level role at another local Bay Area health system and then, 10 years ago almost, started my own consulting practice to help broader organizations of all different sizes and industries really take on the leadership behaviors that support cultures of learning and continuous improvement.

Fortuitously, during that time, my family had an opportunity to move to Japan for a year and a half, and some of the output of that is my best-selling book Learning to Lead, Leading to Learn Lessons from Toyota Leader Isao Yoshino on a Lifetime of Continuous Learning, and the Japan study tours that I lead as well. Life sometimes, it moves in an unpredictable pattern, but when you look back, there are uniting threads through it all.

B: That’s very cool. Tell me a little bit more about the fire starter activity. Was the organization already doing it and you were one of the early people that identified to go through it, or was that something you learned in school and some of your studies and tried to bring in? How’d that work?

K: No, I was hired into the performance improvement department and we were a small cadre of great, smart, passionate problem solvers who were assigned to go out to help solve important problems in the organization and we didn’t really have the methodology. Actually, one of the first few months that I joined the organization, someone said, “I’ve heard about this 5S thing. Let’s do a 5S project,” and so I got intrigued by that and involving people who do the work in improving the work and I started asking my boss could we get some more training. The learning enthusiast in me was like I’ll go out and assess things, so I was sent up to Seattle to assess some of the trainings that a consulting group was putting on. They were doing work with healthcare organizations up in Seattle, and then we decided to bring them down.

And so I got to be one of the first people really trained up and leading rapid process improvement or kaizen workshops, and then me and my boss and some of the other people on our team started really just bringing this thinking into the organization through the work that we were doing there. It was an exciting time, but we were just really seeking ways to engage people meaningfully in solving really important problems to provide healthcare to children and their families, so it made a lot of sense and it was great. Now it’s really rewarding because I’m still connected with Stanford Children’s Healthcare, and they have continued what they call the Packard Quality Management System, PQMS, since then and so it really makes me happy to know that the things that we started have sustained and embedded through the leadership and subsequent continuous improvement practitioners taking it forward and just making it part of the way the work is done.

B: That is really rewarding to look back and see that it didn’t just die out when you leave, and that it continues and that you feel like you left a little piece of something that helped it sustain. That’s really cool. How about a timeframe on that? Because, as I was trying to remember back, it was probably– I didn’t hear much on Lean in healthcare until maybe early to mid-2000s.

K: I moved back from Australia in 2006, so that would’ve been around– I started working there at the end of 2006, so probably 2007 timeframe. I was in the organization for six years and then took on the Director of the Lean Promotion Office role or another large healthcare system with the COO who had come from the Seattle region as well. Seattle had really been a hotbed of Lean thinking in healthcare, and so we were really fortunate to have got– we’re relatively close by on the West Coast to be able to tap into that learning and resource.

B: Because they had Virginia Mason and Seattle Children’s.

K: Yeah, it was that, and then Group Health was I was working with. The COO who hired me in Palo Alto Medical Foundation, part of Sutter Health, was James Hereford and then now he’s the CEO of Fairview Health System in Minnesota, so a real great Lean leader.

B: Even more challenging is trying to figure out how this works. I guess you do have some models in Seattle and other healthcare organizations, but that was still pretty earlier in terms of does this stuff work in healthcare.

K: Yeah, totally. I feel like my Lean learning journey really parallels that of the organization too. We started off doing projects and focused on rapid process improvement projects and making passionate, awesome changes to things, but then it wasn’t really sustaining. Realizing that we really also need a management system, and that our role needed to not be the superhero problem-solving experts coming in to do all of the problem-solving, but really creating the structures and the systems that allowed the people who do the work to solve the problems and then help support the management team to really embed a new way of managing and leading for continues improvement.

I think we were all learning that, at least in healthcare and probably in other organizations too or other industries as well, that it can’t just be episodic problem-based things. That it really has to be from a behavior change and a systemic management system change, and that’s really what got me very excited and changed– not even I really wouldn’t say changed, but really influenced the direction of my career at that point, getting very passionate about how do we really create the behaviors that support learning in our organization, which also requires us to be brave enough to step aside to not be the heroic problem solver all the time but to give space and the structures for other people to solve problems and create capability.

B: I think you touched on that, but how, if you summarize that role within your organization to try and drive change, what are some of those important pieces? I think you mentioned some of that is giving good direction and letting the teams take and figure out the problems but give them the guidance and support to do that. But what are some of those other things that you would encourage or coach people to do as leaders?

K: Twofold. The first is just a very simple framework that I developed through the course of working with Toyota leader Isao Yoshino and the development of the book that I mentioned, Learning to Lead Leading to Learn, and it stemmed out of a conversation– or, actually, not even a conversation. The very first time I met him, which was he was speaking at a conference about his role as a manager, and he said my role was to give the person reporting to me, in this case, it was John Shook, who many people in the Lean space know as the Chairman of the Lean Global Network and who wrote the seminal book on A3 thinking, Managing to Learn, and was the first non-Japanese employee at Toyota Motor Corporation and Mr. Yoshino was his boss. He said, “My aim as a manager was to give John or whomever was reporting to me a mission or target and then support him while he figured out how to reach that target. I was aware, as I was developing John, I was developing myself.” It really had this a-ha moment to me then, and then it was consistent with everything he said about the leaders that he worked with and how he supported other people.

There’s a threefold purpose of a leader, and if we can do these three things, we’re going to be so successful. The first is to set the direction, like where do we need to go, what are the challenges that need to be overcome, how do we create alignment and challenge there. The second is provide the support, so create those systems, the structures, the coaching that will allow people to successfully move towards achieving those goals. And then the third is being willing to develop ourselves because it’s hard to do both of those, and so to have the humility to know that we aren’t perfect, and if we can set direction, provide support, and develop ourselves, we’re really going to be able to foster this culture of learning. I call that the Leading To Learn Framework.

Within that providing support, there are some simple things that are maybe challenging for us because they’re outside of the habits that we usually do, but if we want to close the gaps in our performance and of our organization, continuous improvement’s about closing the gap from where we are today and where we need to be, we can think about behaviors following what I call the GAPS. Go see, go to gemba, go to the place the work happens with a purpose of showing that you really care about people and that you want to check on process and making sure things are continuously improving.

The second is asking questions. We so often lead from this habit of telling and offering our suggestions or giving the answer, often from a place that comes from a good, well-intended, but it really takes away capability and opportunity for people to contribute, so how can we ask more questions. P for pause, pause to give people space to think, pause to slow down because learning takes a little bit of time. We’re so focused on do, do, do, do, that we’re not really pausing and really giving that space. And the last S is study or reflect. We, especially in the US but in other Western cultures too, we are so fast-paced. We are rewarded for action but necessarily the thinking part, the reflection, and the study, and so when we can create more of a habit of having some study and some reflection, we’ll be much more effective at learning and supporting learning in our organization.

So set direction, provide support, develop yourself, and then GAPS, go see, ask questions, pause, and study/reflect. If we can do those three things, or I guess they’re seven, but if we can do those things, that is really what’s going to drive having a culture of continuous improvement. There are so many other things too, but to me, that’s what comes back to the core and the essence of those behaviors.

B: I think, earlier, you started off with kaizen events, you started off with tools and then you evolved and realized, oh wait, this won’t work fully or sustain unless the leadership piece is in place. I think you did a great job just summarizing those things that have to be there for the rest of it to work and to be successful and to keep going and build it so that, 20 years from now or 30 years from now, it’s still going and it’s effective and they’re getting results. I also liked your comment on the desire for action and wanting to fix the problem right now, and management has ideas on how to do that and they are accidentally making things worse by telling them what to do. Then people don’t get a chance to learn or practice and try out and be heard, so that stifles their creativity and opportunities to get better and fix their own processes and get engagement there. I think these principles and ideas are really important.

K: To continue on that thread there too, of course, in an emergency or in a crisis or there’s a safety issue, yes, of course, we need to jump in, to the tell, the solve, and fix it, but especially in healthcare, we’re trapped into this crisis mentality all the time. But the reality is not everything is this emergent situation that has to be fixed right now and can have a little bit more space for giving people opportunity to solve some problems and contribute their ideas as well.

B: Help transition me from healthcare work to the Japan trip, and then connecting up with Mr. Yoshino and your relationship there, and then into the book.

K: Why don’t we start with I met Mr. Yoshino right before my family moved to Japan. This was an opportunity for my husband’s job, which was just a great serendipity of life. I was thinking is there a more perfect country for me to move to next? We already talked that I did my Master’s degree in Australia, I’d lived in London, the Dominican Republic, and Spain before that, so I’m a very international person but was thrilled with this opportunity. Mr. Yoshino had given me his card at that conference where I heard him speaking with John Shook and said, “When you moved to Japan, look me up and I will take you to Toyota City and we’ll spend the day together.” I really thought it was going to be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, but I was kind of giddy. I was like, all right, this is going to be awesome. I made my husband take the day off of work because really I was just like this is a one-off, and we just had this great connection, really wonderful conversation. He’s a really kind and caring and interesting person. I would just jump on the bullet train, take the 90-minute ride from Tokyo down to Nagoya, I consider it my Yoshino-san commute, and spend the day with him frequently while we were living in Japan.

Through that time, and I was writing a blog and he gave me permission to write about our conversations, people were really interested in what I was learning from him and what I was learning more broadly. I was going to companies and sharing what I was learning. Being the learning enthusiast, I didn’t want to just learn from myself. What an incredible opportunity to live in Japan, so I wanted to allow people to come on that journey with me.

When I moved back to the United States, we’ve stayed connected. We’re talking right now in what is now my office but also the guest room. He stayed in this room before and we had collaborations, and we had this glimmer of an idea of collaborating on a book. Of course, it morphed changed as well, but once we sat down doing purposeful interviews and I really was digging in deep, and actually, it was great because all my Master’s degree and all my research, the years of doing research in public health policy was all qualitative based, so I was really leveraging those skills, maybe not in the same way, but really applying them for the creation of this book. It became very clear to me that there was just so much history and so much wisdom that needed to be shared. When I let myself unfold it through the narrative of his life rather than trying to box it into a specific story, really the writing flowed quite well from there. We published the book right after the pandemic started in the summer of 2020, and I’ve been so just grateful for the positive reaction it’s had and the impact it’s had on so many people. It’s been translated into many languages, and a few more coming out this year, I just signed some more contracts, and just know that people are learning from this great special man.

I also now lead tours to Japan for executives to go on learning trips. I did two trips, one in 2018 and one in 2019. I had to plan for 2020. We know nothing in 2020 happened like we thought it would. I’m thrilled that I’m going to be back in Japan in May of 2023 in October, and then just set dates for next May 2024 as well. There’s nothing like going to gemba and I love hosting people. This gets back to the two threads I said about me are being a learning enthusiast and international person, so it’s like the interweaving of these two passions of mine together.

B: You were talking about your blog. Is that still available on your website, past articles?

K: Yeah, it’s evolved. It’s been over, gosh, almost 8 years now, but yes, all those articles that I wrote from way back when are still there. You can go read about my early days of especially being really curious about the difference between Japanese culture and US culture, and also the assumptions we might make about how Lean or kaizen oriented is all of Japan, so some good insights there.

B: But even when you were assimilating those, giving the business card, I had one trip to Japan for work and it was very conscious around how important that business card is. It’s not something you just grab and put in your pocket. They’re like you need to look at it, stare at it, read through it, and be very diligent and be very purposeful about the exchange of the card. That one really sunk in with me on that trip.

K: Yes, and I didn’t have business cards when I moved to Japan, nor did I have a business logo and so I knew, really quickly, I needed to get cards made. I told the business, the Meishi Company, to put the word for intention, because it’s always been a word I’ve found really powerful, on my card and so that ended up being my logo for a little bit of time. That’s where I discovered the deeper nuance and meaning of the word intention coming from symbols meaning heart and direction, and I’ve really seen intention now is more than just something cerebral like a set your intention. We have to take action to embody our intention to manifest it, so it’s both who do we want to be and what we impact we want to have, what’s inside our heart, and what actions do we need to take to align with that and actually create our intention into reality.

B: That’s really cool.

K: I have been so ingrained about how to present business cards correctly that, even now, when I give people, say, my book, I turn it around because the proper thing is you turn it to face the other person so they can read it. So when I sign books and I give it back to people, I don’t just hand it back to them. I turn it over around and hand it to them. It’s so ingrained in me the proper way to hand someone something. It’s about the emotinashi, the service you provide to someone else, and so you face it for them; not for you. Just those little touches, those are some of the specialnesses about Japanese culture that I’m thrilled to be experiencing right now again.

B: What are you working on now? You said you had your consulting work going on for I believe 10 years now. What kind of clients do you work with? Who are you serving? What kind of things are you offering?

K: I really see myself as that trusted advisor for people who are leading change in their organizations, usually around trying to create continuous improvement, learning culture. Coming in to be their trusted advisor to help coach and mentor and be a sounding board to them as well as coming in and doing trainings or customized learning experiences, that outside perspective, come in and infuse energy or a new perspective that maybe they don’t have in their organization around problem-solving thinking coaching to really help them accelerate the chain that they’re trying to launch.

It’s interesting. I work with companies and leaders all around the world, but I’m finding that the majority of the companies I’m working with are these large, complex organizations who are really trying to bring into their companies more of this human-centered, people-centered, leadership-focused culture of continuous improvement. Maybe they’ve been doing a lot of projects and very technical-oriented, but those internal change leaders see a different way and so they’re looking for some outside support to really help bring that in. It’s an absolute thrill to be partnering with these great change leaders who I can just help accelerate the vision that they already have. And of course, I work with other sized companies too, but it’s interesting, it’s like large government agencies, multinational biotech or manufacturing companies, large healthcare systems, all of those really complex organizations. It’s really thrilling to see where so many people want that heart back into business and leadership, so we’re going to do it, bringing the heart and the connect the minds.

B: And it works. That’s the worst part is there’s actually a better way to do it and it’s great for everyone. I feel that as well. I think there’s really the focus not so much on results, although those are important, but really thinking more broadly around it, the that’s the purpose that I’m on with this whole podcast and work is the triple bottom line piece of this. That it’s got to involve the people, and the environment, and also the organization and its goals too, but balancing those instead of it being all about the financials and money and you make decisions on return on investment and payback and financial savings and stuff like that.

K: Absolutely. Of course, even Toyota wants the outcomes it needs to survive in business and create value for its customers, but they see the process and developing people is the way that you get to that. There’s this amazing company I take people to in Japan as well, and its chairman is considered the sensei of many Toyota leaders. Their whole approach is happiness is our purpose, and the chairman wrote a book in which he said profit is excrement. It’s a natural byproduct of a healthy, functioning company. It can’t be the goal of it, so our focus should be all these other things and then profit will come. Return on investment will come if we focus on those right things.

B: I think that’s a better way to lead. For management, I think that’s even a better way to operate. When they have that focus on the happiness and desire and engaging their people and learning and getting to know their people, I think they’re going to even like their work better and it turns out it’s more effective, so it’s a no-brainer.

K: I know, but it requires us to make a shift and so we have to let go of that command-and-control or the heroics and the saving the day or this concept that the leader has to have the right answer, and see leadership in a very different way. It’s hard for all of us because we were trained, from our education, of who can put their hand up the fastest with the right answer and we’re rewarded for being independent contributors early in our career, so it’s almost like the rug’s been pulled out of us and those capabilities haven’t been as developed in us unless we work directly with people who’ve been able to model the way. I see a lot of our role as internal and external change agents as helping support leaders through that transition to see that different way and to have a safe space to practice and to really connect with that heart and impact they want to have because I think most people really do want to have a meaningful impact and to create connection and achieve goals and it’s about seeing how their actions may or may not be alive and aligning with achieving that. It’s not very many people who are like, “I want to crush the people.” It’d be like no.

B: “Who do I yell at today?” I don’t think that’s what they start off with.

K: Yeah, they have something else going on in their lives if that’s what’s driving them. People want to do the right thing; they just don’t necessarily know how.

B: Come back to healthcare a little bit. Is there any projects or successes that stand out that you think about or remember?

K: There are so many, particularly from Stanford Children’s Hospital where my hands were much more in– I was doing a lot of the improvement work side-by-side with the clinicians and the management staff. One really stands out to me. There’s so many, but it was in my last year while I was working there. I was supporting the Pediatric Outpatient Cancer Center and they’d been working on this problem for years and it was just devastating to them that the patients who are coming in, these are kids and their families, often driving hours, were waiting for anywhere from like 30 minutes to five or six hours, unpredictably, multiple times a week to get their chemo are other infusions.

They worked on trying to solve this problem, but nothing was really having a significant inroad, and we pull together this team and it was great. I was really embodying this how could I create the framework and the structures for people to learn, and so we filled out some goals there. Then I had the leadership team do a process walk and they actually went to gemba and were seeing things. I just remember the physician leader’s eyes lighting up when she was like, “Wait,” to the scheduler, “This is the view in your work, how you see things in the computer there? That’s totally different than what I see, and I would assume that you had the same information that I did,” and they were like, “No,” and starting to see these things and then breaking it down.

And then also, bringing in different process improvement concepts to help them see potential different ways to how you can bring out the people who are having maybe blood draws first versus how do you streamline, do that, bring a process set and a mindset. But just bringing people to go to see and break down those barriers and work together was incredible. Over the course of nine months, we really drastically reduced that variation, and people were more predictably being seen within an hour, sometimes sooner, but they weren’t getting lost in the system in that same way. Just seeing that the a-has happen for the physicians and nurses, the clinical staff, and really collaborating in a way that they hadn’t before, it was just so powerful. Of course, there are so many other examples as well, but that was the capstone of my time at Stanford Children’s and it was really special. Also, I’d just become a mom and I think I just saw things in a different way, especially all these babies with cancer was just really– so I was really passionate about this, so it was great.

B: That’s awesome. You’ve done some nonprofit work, you’re a member of a board. Can you talk to me a little about how that work’s going and how you got involved?

K: I’ve been involved in two nonprofit organizations. At that same time, I took the role transitioning from Stanford Children’s Hospital to this more senior director role at another healthcare organization, I was also invited to join the newly formed board committee of El Camino Hospital, and I served on that board committee for seven years, including while I was in Japan. This was early days when we were like calling me in by video, that seemed so unique whereas now, it’s nothing. That was a very rewarding time and I learned so much about being on a nonprofit board and a healthcare system board, and it’s also it was a community board, so there were a lot of government regulations, and how to really come out at things from a governance standpoint. Not a management standpoint, not a consultant standpoint, but really from that side of governance.

And then five years ago, I was invited to join the board of the Mother’s Milk Bank, which is a nonprofit in Northern California serving babies and their families. Well, I guess the babies who need human breast milk, aren’t able to get out for a variety of reasons, either they’re in the NICU or at home. It’s a very different nonprofit experience. We’re a small board made of local community members all helping guide and steer the organization, and it’s really been going through a transformation of being a more localized provider to really production’s expanded and it’s really having a broad reach. We’re, at the time of this recording, recruiting a new CEO role for the Mother’s Milk Bank, so super exciting time and I’m also learning a lot from hiring from that perspective of managing the board. I’m now the chair of the board as well.

B: How do you bring in what you’ve learned over the years into those conversations as a board member? What do you take is helpful? Because that’s part of this podcast too is what can help some of the nonprofits or government agencies address some of these societal issues, and it’s a combination of all these different groups working together in a different way. I think it also the leadership pieces you were talking about earlier, and it’s low issues and better ways of doing things, and governance, you mentioned, having structure and things like that. What have you seen or what have you helped drive those two different conversations?

K: The El Camino Hospital Quality Committee Board was my first board position, so it was really a lot of learning just about governance and how the board committee works together. For both of my board positions, I know one of the reasons that I was tapped was for my process and leadership mindset, and the skills that I bring in the work that I do. What I find is really effective is, no matter where we are, how do we ask more effective questions, and how do we help ask those questions that probe deeper thinking so that we’re not just making assumptions or seeing things from the surface?

Some of the things that I know I was helpful in doing at both organizations was using better process behavior charts. I was inspired by Mark Graban’s book about how do you look at data so you’re not responding to – I’m sorry Measures of Success is Mark Graban’s book – but how do you not be responding to just normal variation because, often, just the graphs that are shown, you could end up having a half-hour conversation on something that’s actually normal variation. In both organizations, I gave them Mark’s book and I was like, “Please, start using process behavior charts,” so that was just bringing that process mindset to it.

What’s really been really just great from a learning perspective as well as contributing as my role at the Mother’s Milk Bank, when I and another person came on, the board was in a transition state of moving from what’s known more as a rowing board, so the board members were doing more of the work, to a steering board. Those of us that were the new members, and some people who had been there before, really instrumental in like let’s shift the way the board is engaging with the organization. As the organization was growing, it needed less of the board members to do the actual work and be almost stepping in as a little bit management roles, to really being much more governance, strategic guidance, and some oversight.

That was a transition for people who had been on the board for many, many years, and it was a good learning for me too about what does governance really mean and how do we show up differently when we’re in a management role versus truly in a governance role, yet how can we always still be asking those questions? Still the same thing, setting the direction, asking the questions, providing the support, and being clear on what our role and our purpose is. No matter what role we’re in, that’s really important to do, like what is our purpose in this specific role, and so what are the behaviors and actions and things I need to say that are going to be most effective. But that difference between rowing and steering was a real interesting learning experience for me, but it’s been a really powerful shift for the board.

B: I would find it hard to not want to get in and fix problems too.

K: There’s always time, but it’s the same thing as when you’re in a management role or when you’re in a continuous improvement coaching and consulting role. When is it needed for you to be jumping in? When is that the helpful thing, but when is it actually the more helpful thing to do is providing that direction and that guidance and allowing other people to do the management or to do the problem-solving? It’s that same holding back. We’re in the search for an Executive Director, a new CEO, right now, and so the board members have had to step in a little bit more for some of that rowing, but it’s an interim period while we find that new CEO, which is exciting.

B: I’m hearing just understanding, from a board perspective, if someone is on a board right now or looking to support a nonprofit from a board member, then I’m hearing help them understand data and patterns of data a little bit, and also make sure they know what their role is and provide the right guidance. Maybe the leadership principles you talked about earlier would be something they should reflect on and say are we setting the direction? Are we supporting our team members and helping them make sure that they are successful in what they do and not telling them what to do? Anything else to add?

To: I think that’s hard. Where is it that you have to come down, and setting the clear expectations but also giving people the authority and responsibility and space to manage things maybe in a little different way than you might but that are within bounds of still moving in that right target. I would say, for people who are exploring being on a board, who currently are having those conversations with your fellow board members about what is our type of board and what’s our purpose, it’s so important because sometimes people have different expectations of what the role of the board is. When there’s that misalignment, then you’re really showing up in different ways that can be confusing to the organization and actually cause some conflict in terms of the board members themselves because there’s assumptions on what we should be doing. There’s some good literature out there on the difference of a steering versus rowing board that can be really helpful.

Another thing too, and this is a conversation we’ve had not on the El Camino board so much, but the health system board I was on, but the smaller nonprofit is are we a fundraising board or not? This organization doesn’t need that of its board members. The function of our organization is it collects, processes, and distributes milk, so it really is almost like a mini manufacturing company, or it is but with a nonprofit angle, so we don’t need as much high-level fundraising from the board members. There are different ways because you look for a different, I guess, type of person to be on your board if you need a lot of high-ticket fundraising versus where you need more of that strategic guidance and direction setting. It’s just also just other things to be thinking about. There’s no right or wrong, it’s just getting clarity on what’s needed and what’s the purpose and then making sure that people all are clear on that.

B: Yeah, I think that was something that was eye-opening to me was how many the boards are of the fundraising boards, even a expectation of contribution as a board member to supply or support a lot of the fundraising individually. I think there was something was not familiar with when I started to get into it a little bit further.

K: We all contribute, but that’s not the primary function or expectation of the way our board is structured. It’s been a great learning process and I love being able to volunteer in a way I feel like I’m able to apply my skill set and the things that I do professionally in a way to make meaningful impact for other organizations in a volunteer capacity. I find that very rewarding and kind of a fun hat to wear in a different way, and it allows me to have the practice too how am I showing up differently in the different roles, so it’s been great.

B: That actually makes me think a little bit differently about opportunities for people because that’s what I’ve been trying to encourage as well as find an organization you love, go try to offer up your help or support, more of a consulting role, but the board member role I think is another one, especially people with leadership experience. I think that can be a really powerful way that they can contribute that maybe doesn’t require as much of their time, or maybe more time depending on how engaged that board is. But considering joining a board, I that’s a great opportunity for a lot of the Lean community.

K: Absolutely, and it’s super rewarding. It’s a growth opportunity and a learning opportunity for you too, so it’s a nice way to both contribute your knowledge and skills as well as get something in return too from growth and impact.

B: I was president for a board for a nonprofit for about five years and I learned a lot.

K: I just stepped into this. I’ve been on the board for five years. I was the vice chair for a few years, but it’d really require anything. I stepped into the board chair position in the fall, and literally like a month later, our executive director resigned and so we started the search, so it’s been more intensive, hands-on experience. It’s been a really good reminder that the leaders that I work with, they’re managing teams and they have unexpected personnel change as well, and that throws off their plan for their timing or the vision of things of what’s going to happen. And so it’s been actually a really positive reminder of when I’m working with leaders and organizations too, of the unexpected things that happen and just how do you respond to your new current condition, and what do you let go of, what do you need to step into in a different way, how are you still providing clarity and transparency of your decisions and your actions. It’s been a good practice what you preach type of experience.

B: Awesome. We’ve already been going pretty long here. Is there anything else you wanted to add?

K: I think the one I’ve just been reflecting a lot on this, the question that’s been coming out of many conversations with leadership teams and individuals about we’re moving into this new way of working, the new future. Sometimes we’re in person, sometimes we’re virtual, sometimes we’re hybrid and how do we still embody these Lean leadership concepts? What does go see look like in there and how can you still do these things? I keep going back to it’s always about the principles and the why and the purpose. How it manifests may look different depending on your context. It’s the same thing with any– we look at tools and we’re like we’ve got to apply this tool. Well, the tool is for the certain circumstance, and so if we can just stay with the principles and the purpose behind them, and then be creative about how can I apply this principle of go see? What does go see mean in a virtual environment? What’s my purpose when I go see or go to gemba? What does it mean to go check in on people or check on process? How does that look in this new environment? And so to not get so rigidly set on how things looked in the past needs to look the same, but the principles can still apply. I just want to leave our listeners with that, just the challenge of knowing how things look and manifest may be different, and it will continue to change, but the principles can guide us in really thinking about how to make the best decision for our current condition.

B: I think that’s great advice because people do get wrapped up in the mechanics sometimes lose sight of the principal. The reason we have this exercise is to get people talking to each other, not to fill out the forms or the templates and lose sight of it.

K: Totally. Just this week, one of my big projects the last month was putting together and then leading live a how to A3 master class with Isao Yoshino, and it was driven out of just what I was seeing so much of, people getting focused on just the tool and the template and getting rigid around that and then not even realizing the flexibility behind the tool, and it was a really fun workshop to collaborate on with him. Someone was saying how do I get away from being a template zombie, and I’m like, yeah, this is the thinking process. The tool is not the magic; it’s in the principles and the thinking behind it, so yeah, totally.

B: Template zombie, I like it.

K: Yeah, I know. I was like template zombie, that’s a good one.

B: How can people get a hold of you and learn about your events or tours or study in Japan trips, or book?

To: So many things. The best, the everything in one stop shop is my website, so You can go back and dig into my blog archives for those early reflections of what I was learning in Japan. There’s links to my book, Learning to Lead, Leading to Learn, which is available in audiobook, e-book, and paperback. You can get it on Amazon and many other online retailers as well. And then you can learn about how I work with clients, and sometimes I’m offering online collaboration learning opportunities, either led by me or me with Mr. Yoshino, so that’s always fun. And of course, my Japan study trips are on my website. And then, of course, LinkedIn as well. That’s a great place to connect and stay up-to-date on everything that’s happening. I’m on Twitter and YouTube as well, so many different places, but go to and you will get access to everything from there.

B: I’ll put those in the show notes as well. Thank you so much for this time. I think it was wonderful. A lot of good learnings, and I think people will enjoy listening to this.

K: Thank you. A pleasure to finally connect and have a conversation, and now we get to grow our chain of learning as I like to call it.

B: That’s awesome. Thank you so much.

K: Thank you. Thanks, everyone.

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