HxGN RadioPodcast

Leader Standard Work

In this episode of Solving Problems with Technology, our hosts interview industry expert Jim Zupancic to discuss best practices for the individual and the organisation regarding Leader Standard Work and how technology can make Leader Standard Work more useful. 

GW: Hello and thank you for tuning in to this episode of Solving Problems with Technology on HxGN Radio. I’m your host, Geoff Wakefield. In this episode, Josh Cranfill and I talk with Jim Zupancic about one of my favourite subjects, Leader Standard Work. We asked Jim questions related to the importance of Leader Standard Work and how people can take control of their calendars. All right. Here we go. Let’s get into it with Leader Standard Work and Jim.

So, Jim, thank you for joining us. We’re happy to have you. And before we get into things, why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself, a little bit of your journey, where you find yourself today and generally how things are going?

JZ: Hey, Geoff. Hey, Josh. Thanks for having me. Fun to be talking about a subject today that I’ve spent years working with, and hopefully we can shed some light for folks.

A little bit about myself, backing up. I guess I’ll start with educationally speaking, I’m a trained finance and marketing person out of business school, and really marketing was my first passion and that was driven by consumer behaviour and data. And at the time, I just I saw people really getting involved and it was during the great Enron collapse, if you remember that. And finance seemed to be a field where a lot of people were just doing well, and I said, hey, marketing is great, but maybe I’ll latch on to finance. So, I added a second degree, there.

I had a chance to go work for Parker Hannifin. They’re a huge industrial conglomerate. I think they’re probably north of 60,000 people. They’re probably far larger than that today. I was hired into their accounting management programme and really was given a unique opportunity to have a bird’s eye view out of their corporate headquarters of so many different manufacturing industries. I then moved around to a bunch of facilities with Parker, strictly in the accounting realm for a while.

But while I was there, I always said I had something done to me. And for those out there who might be listening and have studied a little bit at Toyota, Parker really latched onto a lot of the Toyota production system ways of developing people and, thus, its organisation. And so, I kind of just was immersed through the culture that Parker was trying to build, fell in love with continuous improvement. And I slowly started migrating away from traditional finance roles into lean or continuous improvement or complex, whatever you want to call it.

And ultimately, I was able to move through a couple of other companies and ended up through Stericycle, a huge waste, let’s call it hazardous waste or medical waste kind of recycling or disposal company. That was really interesting on the service side. Then went on to Dover Corporation, another conglomerate similar to Parker. That’s where, Geoff, you and I had a chance to cross paths there. Josh, you and I as well in a different capacity. And I just had a chance to have global responsibility of implementing training programmes, worked with a very diverse set of subsidiaries, suppliers, customers and was running events for every functional business all across the world. And it opened my eyes to a lot. I had a lot more exposure to, you know, the CEO and the board of directors. But I was also almost weekly on plant floors, so that ability to pivot between so many layers was truly eye opening for me.

And then I ended up landing at Standex International Corporation. They’re a smaller conglomerate, still very almost a microcosm of a partner over at Dover, if you will. They had some niche businesses there. I was in a leadership role over all of operations and supply chain. Safety was thrown into my arena. And spent a few years there.

At that point, I needed a breather. I decided, you know, life is passing me by, starting a family, and had never really taken time for myself, and on the personal front, at least enough time that was satisfying, and hit the brakes. I decided to turn down a different role with Standex and took some time off. Ended up teaching seventh grade math after a year. Just something to keep me busy and my way to give back a little bit because certainly it was a far cry from the salaries you’re making in executive roles for big, publicly traded companies. But it was the most humbling experience I could have asked for at that point. I had a little bit of teaching experience back in Chicago at a collegiate level, but nothing really prepared me for pandemic teaching of hybrid learning during COVID for middle schoolers in America.

During that year, my family and I decided that life was short. I think a lot of people—we’ve all read articles on LinkedIn and every other social media forum or news outlet about people walking away and just trying different things. And we said, gosh, we want to live abroad. We want to do it while we’ve got the energy, while we’re healthy, while our family members are healthy. And we said, Well, Europe’s a little too close, and that’s not really a culture shock enough. So, what the hell? Let’s go to Thailand, a place that was near and dear to both our hearts. We wanted to give our son some exposure to just a little bit different look at the world and perspective and culture than he would have had if we just kind of stayed the path in the states. So not to say that we won’t return and be more involved back in the U.S. But for now, I’m really excited to just let him see the world through a very different lens. And that’s where we are today in Bangkok, looking for more teaching jobs. I’m currently crypto trading. Yes, I fell on the bandwagon and doing some writing on the side in hopes of getting something published in the next year or so. So, trying to explore life and then grab it by the horns.

GW: Well, that’s awesome, Jim. That’s an incredible story, and I know through our interactions on LinkedIn, you know, part of me making the jump to come work with Josh was through some hearing about your plans and adventures, so you’re at least an inspiration to one and probably many out there. So that’s a really cool story. And so, thank you for that.

And you know, you mentioned writing a book. I would hope and would imagine that one of those chapters in that book is about leader standard work. So, you said you spent so much time researching and training people. I know I went through a training class that you led in Ventura, California, at one point in time. Why did leader standard work kind of become so near and dear to you?

JZ: I guess there’s—I’ll answer that in a couple of different ways. I’ll start with what I first learnt, the concept, I think I had some misconceptions about it, and once I brushed off those misconceptions and I realised that it was a powerful tool not only to improve me, but to improve any team with which I was working and to improve an organisation overall. But the misconceptions for me, one was, oh my gosh, I’m going to be a robot, right? Standard work. You hear standard work and many people quickly jump to the notion that, oh, this company wants me to do everything exactly the same way every day so they can tell me when I’m wrong. And I heard that from a lot of different people that, you know, standard work gives people a bit of a weird feeling. So, I felt that initially too. I thought that maybe it was also a chance to be micromanaged and nobody wants to be micromanaged. So, you start hearing these things. It’ll standardise your day and you feel like you might be losing control.

But as I got more deeply ingrained with Toyota production and some of the people development side, I realised this wasn’t about that at all. It was truly at its core about building better people. And I say that both personally and professionally. Leader standard work allowed me to do things such as take control of my calendar. You know, perhaps we can delve into that a little bit later. But it helped me start to organise my day, saying no to certain things, say yes to certain things, and even categorise different tasks and activities that I knew would help me in the long run reach different goals, whether or not that had to do with my day job or activities outside of work. So, as I started understanding leader standard work in the, I’ll call it, the hierarchical structures of it. So, think organisation at a macro level, maybe a team or department or customer or supplier facing in the middle layers. And then personally, so you’ve got different layers of leader standard work. And the more people you can get within an organisation to understand the concept and the more harmonious you can create calendars and schedules and cadences, I just saw the benefits, to, at the end of the day, in corporate terms, yield financial wins, which is what a lot of organisations are really trying to get at. Let’s not be shy about that. But I also just saw that it started to develop me as a person, and it seemed to help me make moves throughout my career the more I embraced it.

GW: Well, that’s great. And Josh, you and I have had a lot of discussions about trying to implement leader standard work and really trying to apply that to your day, to your work. Maybe tell us a little bit about the challenges that you’re having with that and throw it out there as a problem statement.

JC: Yeah. I think from a philosophical level, what I want to do, there’s a phrase out there, discipline equals freedom, right, from Jocko Willink. And I love that. And so, I certainly believe in the—I think the peace, honestly, that comes from making sure you’re getting done everything that you’re supposed to get done. Right? So, Geoff and I, he’s right. For years we’ve actually—we’ve even built our own app to serve this purpose. We call it standards. What ends up happening in practise and certainly the hurdle I’m trying to get across right now, to have a stress free life and also to feel both operationally, I did what I was supposed to do, and then strategically, I’m doing what is on my critical path to get where I want to get.

What happens, and I think you know this after working for Dover and Standex and Parker and everybody else, is oftentimes when you’re the person with the answer or the authority, you end up working a lot of your day in reactionary sort of work. So, in as much as you can control that with your calendar and with really smart to do lists and strategic, I would say strategic reference points, where you’re making sure those things are happening and they’re happening at the clip that you’re expecting them to happen and so forth, that’s good. But what I end up doing is I end up bingeing my standard work, right? It’s because a day will go by and I’ll have certain things on the calendar or something more important will come up. And gosh, I have to admit it’s more important in this moment to take care of that call or this fire or whatever else. So that’s kind of the struggle I have is I have it pretty clear in my head how it should work. In actual practise, I end up bingeing some of those things during my day, really oftentimes feeling I fail at that sort of a strategic method, if you will.

JZ: I mean, what you’re explaining, Josh, I mean, it just rings true to me, from so many examples of leaders in executive positions, shop floor leaders, sales leaders. And I think it was Danaher that popularised this concept of firefighting and improver grower time. And for me, as I talk about calendars, as I talk about creating time to do the right things, you have to start measuring the firefighting. And what I mean there is, as you say, you’re binging your standards. If you don’t have the data to say, oh, I had 17 interruptions this week that kept me from doing what I had planned to do, and there’s different ways to categorise these things. It could be a tally sheet. It could be something on a smartphone where you open up a Google Sheet and every time you just put another mark, another box. But if you don’t have any kind of jump off point to say, I had this many things interrupt what I know were the things that would really make change in the long run, then you can’t even start to measure yourself for improvement.

So, for me, as I as I started to really live this concept, I said, well, how do I in my calendar put time for what Danaher used was improver grower time? So hey, I want to spend two hours per week looking back at my one year plan and doing things that will help move the needle and whatever the goals are for that one year plan. You know what, even if I only get to it two out of the four weeks in a month, what if I didn’t put it on the calendar at all and perhaps wouldn’t have gotten to any of it? So even by putting improver grower time on the calendar, even if you get it three out of 10 times, I’ll use a baseball analogy, that’s still batting 300. That’s pretty awesome. But that still means you missed; you didn’t get to do that improver grower time seven out of 10 times. But as we start to kind of change the paradigm of, you know, it’s OK if I missed it a lot of times because fires do inevitably come up that you have to deal with, especially for those in either end of the supply chain or customer facing spectrum. So as much as I can sit there in utopia and say, well, ignore the fires, they do happen, you have to deal with them, but start trying to measure how much time you can achieve spending on things that you know will make a difference that are not reactive was to me, just a huge part of that transformational thinking.

JC: Yeah, I’ve actually started to do that the last couple of months, just review time, which seems almost like nonvalue added work in a way, where you’re like, well, I’m not progressing, I’m not going, you know, I’m not actually ticking things off. I’m sort of just evaluating, right? And I think actually, Geoff has helped me to take a better look and see a better value for that sort of thing.

What I’ve found to be, whether it’s healthy or not, is a different story, but what I’ve found to be at least productive is find certain times. Usually, it’s late at night. It used to be early in the morning, but I have kids now, where I shut the phone off, shut the notifications off, and I’m there in front of the computer, you know, doing those things without anybody having the ability. Not as easy to do during the workday, right? And it doesn’t actually feel—I used to do it a lot more. So admittedly, I’ve gotten better—but it doesn’t actually feel like the answer. It’s sort of an answer that works for now, right?

JZ: Mm-hmm. I want to probe on one of the topics you just brought up, which was notification management. That, my gosh, if there was something that I thought ripped the handcuffs off of me at some point it was actually adjusting notifications during the workday. And I remember I used to teach in these trainings—and Geoff, you probably were in one of these or helped lead one at some point—but I remember putting an example of a manager standard work, saying cheque your email only three times a day, and building it into a calendar. But I was being such a hypocrite because I wasn’t even attempting to do it. I thought, Yeah, I’m putting this up on a slide. It sounds great in theory, but, you know, no one can actually do that. Well, at some point, and it’s probably because I was dealing with time zones in Europe and Asia and being based in the States, so it felt like my day didn’t end, but at some point I did turn off email notifications and I did start checking them when I thought it was most appropriate to cheque them.

And what was interesting to me was we’re all copied on threads with a bunch of other folks and if I, let’s say, normally someone sends an email at 8:00 a.m. and I’m going to cheque my email all the time because I’m just sitting there and we’ve got the phone addiction, that’s just being humans in 2021, but I’m constantly checking my email. Maybe I cheque it at 8:00. There wasn’t something there. Someone sent something at 8:30. I don’t cheque it again until noon. Well, if there were other people on that thread, there was a good likelihood that two or three other people may have solved whatever “fire” that was without me having to get any anxiety or to lose focus from what I was trying to do. And that was something that was hard for me to do until I really managed notifications.

I can say the same thing with text messages. I know that’s not always possible. You know, perhaps you leave your boss. The boss can always get through, that kind of thing. But managing notifications and taking control of when you want to do administrative activities was so powerful for me. And I think a lot of people, they think that they’re just, sometimes we promote the firefighter and somebody thinks that they’re constantly just on the ball and they’re all over every email, first to respond, it’s almost a workaholic thing. But I’m also leery that the firefighter, the best firefighters, are also arsonists. You can read between the lines if you understand what I mean for that.

JC: Yeah, for sure. There’s been this—it’s probably always been this way—but this virtue of busyness, right? and virtue of how much you are giving. We’ve tried to promote over the last couple of years in our culture even, you know, I’ll even challenge Geoff when he goes away for the weekend, don’t cheque your email. Not once. Nothing’s that serious, right? I’m here. I’ll be here. Which is good. That’s been a good step that we’ve taken. I’ve tried the whole cheque your email at scheduled times, and invariably I go right back to my own, I don’t know, bad habit as it were, and I cheque it. I do have the notifications off. That helps me, right, so now I only cheque it every half hour maybe.

GW: Yeah, I started using an app. I use an Android phone, and it’s called BuzzKill. And so, you can set the times when you want your notifications to come through or filter them through. And it’s been such a huge help, especially when I’m trying to step away from the computer to walk the dogs or eat some lunch, hang out with my wife and, you know, don’t want to go respond to a team’s message or an email right then and there. It’s like, I’m going to take some time for me. It’s not that urgent. It could wait 30 minutes. You have my phone number if it’s super important. You know, just let it be. And that’s been so helpful to install that because it’s not like I’m on a walk, the phone’s buzzing, better take a look, and then I’m taken away from my time, my time to kind of unwind and just clear my head and enjoy the moment, you know? It also helps to go on vacation in places where you don’t get service, so my wife’s been pretty good about finding places like that.

And so that kind of leads me to another question, Jim. How have you found, like, when you practise that, you mentioned earlier in the conversation that it’s allowed you to find different career paths and kind of climb the ladder or follow that path that was right for you. How did kind of managing your standard work and then practising leader standard work make that possible?

JZ: Good question. You know, I used to think that filling my calendar with tasks every hour of the day was so important. And what I realised is that as you get to different levels in an organisation, we consider ourselves evolved thinkers. Everybody likes to think that, you know, hey, as I get older, I’m more wise. I can look at the world more abstractly, and I can deduct different hypotheses, or I can come up with better ideas. But if you don’t build in big buckets an hour, two hours, three hours here and there during the workday, when we are all known to be the most efficient is not usually late at night for most people, but it’s usually, you know, morning hours, maybe after that, you know, after the lunch kind of body coma from too much food for some people, you know, so like, there’s different hours. There’s studies on this stuff that shows when humans are most productive. But if you build occasionally these big pockets of time for growth, that, to me, was so big.

I remember blocking off an hour a couple of days a week and sitting in my office back in the Boston area at Standex and thinking, Should I be doing this? Shouldn’t I be busy every second? What if my boss comes in and he asks what I’m…? But for me, those were the times that allowed me to think big and that I could then, and I was functioning at a higher level because my energy was good. It was just different. And that was probably a big paradigm shift for me was to say it’s okay, it’s good, it is healthy to build in these blocks of time that are green space. And I literally, depending on which calendar I was using, would colour code them green because for me that was sacred time. And did my boss come in here and there and tell me, you know, if he saw I wasn’t on a meeting, you know, there might be a fire. But more often than not, as I started to build those times in and to close the door and to get stuff done, I showed up to the next strat-plan meeting with, you know, more innovative ideas than I would have had, had I not had that time. That was probably the best way I could answer that one.

And one other thing. I was listening to a podcast from an incredible young entrepreneur I know. She is in the Raleigh-Durham area. Her name’s Tiffany Alexy. Real estate is kind of her bread and butter, but she’s in 10 different areas of investing. And she talked about training people that you work with, whether or not you’re giving them money, getting them money, or they’re just, you know, peer to peer in some other way. But, you know, not replying to emails after 8:00 p.m. or text messages. She’s like, I just started to train people, and they understand my way of working. And there’s a very nice, polite, professional way to do that. But as people start to realise you’re not going to respond before 9:00 a.m. to a note, it allows you to sleep on things. It allows you to do things without some of the reaction that a lot of us humans are likely to give if we don’t take time to fully process.

JC: Yeah. You know what’s funny about that is about a year ago, I had some health issues and I started doing that, not because it was a good idaea. I started doing that because I needed to be healthier. Right? And the funny thing was, it made no difference. I’m not any less productive when I don’t respond to an email. I mean, and especially I was overseas in Asia at the time, and so I’d be on midnight calls and 6:00 a.m. calls, right? And it’s the darndest thing when you realise that prompt response doesn’t necessarily mean a more productive person.

JZ: Totally true. Totally true.

GW: So, there’s folks out there who aren’t on an executive path or maybe don’t have to oversee work on multiple continents and time zones. How could those people who are maybe, you know, an individual contributor type role, how do they benefit from leader standard work when they’re not on this kind of growth path?

JZ: That’s another good question. I also I want to preface this one with, you know, think of a sliding scale and the further you work your way upwards in an organisation, you need to have more of this green space and improver grower time; again, back to this Danaher model. But if you’re a plant floor, right, you’re a supervisor or a lead in the plant floor, you still have to have improver grower time. It may not be that you get to go lock yourself in an office for two hours and put together a PowerPoint deck and pull together different data sources. But it might mean that you do twice a week put yourself in the cafeteria for 30 minutes, go find someone else to brainstorm with, do it by yourself, and talk about real problems you’re having, whether that, oh, I had two line downs last week. My supplier is not supplying the parts on time. That’s real stuff that’s happening every single day that. Oh my gosh, the engineering drawings; they’re never up to date. There’s always revisions. I could think of 100 different reasons that are applicable to this plant floor, operational level. You still have to have green space.

And educating people, having conversations with bosses and peers about the topic, I think is probably the first place that those folks need to start, because if you don’t have a supportive boss, that’s a whole problem in itself. But I’d really be hard pressed to think that anybody—I worked in literally hundreds of different factories. And 95 percent, I would say, of people, once you talk about this concept of improver grower green space for five, 10 minutes, they get it. People understand it. People really get it. So, I think if you can simplify the message, talk about it with your boss, anybody can find the time to do this. You got to have a little bit of support from your peers and your boss. But I think the bigger thing is, once you realise someone else has that space, you’re like, oh, I need to have that, too. That is so important. And it kind of starts to take off.
One thing from a practical level, the closer you are to gemba, or where the real work that’s done that’s adding value, the closer you are to gemba, you just may need to be a little bit more in sync, where perhaps your improver grower times need to be at the same time because you do have production schedules to hit, you do have a little bit of a different challenge in the day to day routine than you would at a higher level in the organisation. So, the concept is still applicable, it’s just you might need to be creative about how to implement the ways to find the time.

GW: Oh, that’s a great answer. And it gets me thinking about, you know, irrespective of the level that someone’s at, why do you think it’s so hard for people to be consistent with following that improver grower over time, as you’re saying?

JZ: I’m laughing here because it’s chicken or the egg. A mentor of mine, she had explained to me, you’re in quicksand, and every time you find five minutes to do the right thing, that gives the potential for another fire to arise, at which point you’re back in the same level of depthness of the quicksand that you were initially. And so, without overtime or without hiring more people, how do you find more time? I don’t know that there’s a silver bullet or a perfect answer there, but I think looking in the mirror, talking and quantifying what fires are happening, how frequently do they happen, how do I start getting rid of some of the fires? Or, you know, or realising that perhaps some of them will get put out on their own without me needing to jump in so fast. I love the question. I don’t know that there’s a perfect answer other than to start using data to drive this way of thinking, just like you would any other strategy.

GW: And—

JC: If I can jump in real quick. What is the, as we transition to talking about technology enabling leader standard work, let’s keep in mind technology can be a whiteboard and sticky notes system, which is technically technology. What does the structure look like that you’ve seen work effectively in terms of how do you see it, how do you manage it, how do you set it up? What does structure look like in that conversation?

JZ: Cool. I’ll go two different paths. One, I’m going to use the old school paper or a chart, because if we want to go back with Geoff’s thinking of, Hey, what if you’re closer to plant floor or gemba, I think there’s nothing better than a gathering spot with maybe a whiteboard and some dry erase markers, because I can plot a tally mark or a dot for a one and then a two and then a three on a whiteboard, a heck of a lot faster than somebody can go put it into an Excel spreadsheet, print it out, and then go post it on the board so we can talk about it. I can make it—

GW: That’s right.

JZ: —adaptive and do that. So, I think there’s nothing better than that for people who are in face to face positions.

Now, I’ll add there that I do think that there should be some kind of electronic record keeping. So after, you know, once a week, perhaps that goes into a database or once a month that goes into a database so that you do have electronic records that you can go back and look and see, did I make improvement, what did that team do differently versus a different team in a different location? So, while I talk about the real time doing it with a dry erase or piece of paper or whatever, I do think that as long as it’s not too administratively burdensome, you have to find a way to get that into an electronic database somehow, or at least the right information.

I’ve also watched businesses where they take tons of data off of these manual charts on a plant floor, and they put them all into a computer system and no one ever does anything with them. So, you’ve got to find the fine line of what’s important data that, as we reflect, will help us make improvement? You can also in this day and age walk around with a tablet, too. I mean, that’s another easy way to do it. But there’s something about taking a marker, putting a dot on a board, and then maybe a supervisor later goes around and then puts it into an electronic system. So, there’s different ways to do that, but you’ve got to capture it.

If you’re in more of the office type functions, I think there’s just no better thing than shared documents or shared files. Depending on the organisation, some use, you know, the Google products are pretty awesome, as far as live work. Microsoft has caught up big time on that front. So, I think they’ve got some incredible products that everybody can be working in Excel at the same time. But it’s really neat when you’re in a meeting, whether that’s a virtual meeting or all in person, and everybody’s got their tablet or their PC or whatever device you’re using, and everybody can be looking at the same thing. They’re watching the charts update real time. And then when you’re not in those meetings, people can still be working on the files collaboratively. So, I think that’s changed a lot, where it used to be, even five years ago, so and so’s in that file in the office. I can’t get it until he or she logs out. I mean, it’s almost funny how fast things change, but there’s just no excuse now to not be using these collaborative tools, you know, and you can then see how frequently people are participating. That can sometimes even highlight the health of teams or dysfunction of teams if certain people are refusing to work in this new collaborative manner. Not to be negative there, but you do have to also be kind of hyper aware of people who are resisting change.

JC: 100%.

GW: So, you definitely highlighted some of the ways that technology can make leader standard work more useful. I mean, where do you see some downfalls in relying on technology to try to make leader standard work happen or making it more difficult to follow?

JZ: I think putting too much time into engineering—I’m jumping into this answer fast. This is nothing we had talked about beforehand, in our notes or prep for this podcast. But when you think about where tech can lead you astray, I think it’s the over engineering before rolling out a product. I learnt that from working with Hexagon. It just ingrained that into me a bit more. There was, I forget the book, Lean, I think it was Lean Product Management, but it just talked about this concept of getting things to market faster. And that market might not be a paid product or service. It might be a beta test for something that we’re thinking about doing in two years. In your case, developing an app. Just get it out there to get feedback as fast as possible. But we all have a tendency to over engineer things to death. You know, where, oh, I don’t want to show anybody this app until it’s absolutely perfect. No. And that lean is completely opposite, that you have to get it out fast so you can get feedback. The more feedback loops you have, the better. And that, you know, for people who are doing, you know, the scrum masters out there—I don’t know if that is happening in your world or with organisations you’re collaborating—but this cadence of faster review cycles; learn, learn what didn’t go well, tweak it, try it again. Learn what didn’t go well, tweak it, try it again. I think that’s a huge failure mode as people spent too much time on formatting and trying to engineer it before there’s even real feedback from the people on the ground using the product.

GW: Yeah, Josh and I were talking about that today on a similar project. There was a project that was attempted before and so much documentation was created, but no work was actually done. You know, it was all a plan on how we’re going to plan to plan for the work. And now we’re trying to do it a little bit different, just trying to jump in. We’ve identified at a high level, hey, here’s some things that need to be improved, things that need to be changed, but let’s just do it. And here’s the minimum things to address. And so, if I can infer a little bit from your answer there, it sounds like some people spend too much time trying to make the perfect spreadsheet about their standard work or colour coding their calendars perfectly in order to know when they’re in that improver grower mode or not, and not really actually trying to focus on, hey, should I be doing this? Should I be saying no? Is that a fair inference there?

JZ: Completely fair. And I think what the cool part is if you’re having these conversations with people, then it’s all part of the journey. That’s the part that makes me smile and really got me interested in continuous improvement in the first place was those are the enriching conversations that we all need to have with ourselves, with each other, with our bosses, because if you’re not having those conversations, then you’re probably stagnating in some way, shape, or form. But I think you hit it dead on there.

GW: Well, as we start to wrap things up here, one thing that stood out and what you said is learning to say no. And that seems like it’s a challenge for a lot of people, being able to say no and not feel like they’re disappointing people. I know I struggle with that. I’m a people pleaser. I try not to say no, or if someone wants help, it’s like, Yeah, Okay, I’ll help you. But I got other things I’m doing. Okay, I’ll take away from my time to help you solve your problem. You know, firefighting at its finest. How did you learn to say no, and what advice do you have to people who are struggling to say no?

JZ: Well, I will humbly begin with, I’m still learning on this one, about how to say no. And that’s even apparent to me as I try to step back from some nonprofits with which I’m working still back in the States. I live in Asia now. Hey, I’ve got to make some changes and acclimate to life over here. Sometimes it’s hard to say no, but there’s ways to do it. I mean, being transparent with people, realising that people might just be going to you because that’s all they know. They might not have a better solution. So as other people are trying to solve problems, they may just think, hey, who’s the first person who can help me, based on history? Well, perhaps that’s you. You can help redirect those people, or to steal from human resources, I think a theme that’s been happening for a decade plus, you hear a lot about self-service. Are there things that you can do to create self-service models where people can find the answers on their own? Sometimes, though, you just have to say, no, I’m sorry. I don’t have the time for this project. Of course, in a professional and polite manner. But until there’s more, I guess it depends on if you’re on the sales side or on the supply side too, if you don’t have alignment on the goal, if there is no commitment from your boss, then be very leery of saying yes, because it’s only going to distract you and add more stress and anxiety to getting all the things done that you need to get done.

You’ll notice I bring up—I probably said the word boss four or five times. Alignment with your boss is just critical in any of this thinking to find improver grower space. So, figuring out how to tee up those conversations is important.

JC: I’ll throw this in there just to add to that. One of the most successful things we’ve been able to do over the last I’d say two years is document the process. So, if you have a process and the person needs to bring you in every time to get reminded or almost retrained or something like that, and you can just train them once and then point them to the documentation of how things are supposed to be done, that’s probably saved me 100 hours in the last year, you know, which is significant for me.

JZ: Can I ask a question back to that, Josh, which is, did you ever find it hard, because at some point you had to create that documentation and create the process work, and that to me is improver grower time because you need to sit down and get it done and you know that it’ll prevent fires later. But is that hard to do, to get that documentation completed?

JC: Very difficult. Very difficult. It took a big change in me to sit down and go, I’m not going to move anything that’s almost like instantly gratifying right now, right this second. I’m going to do this because it needs to be done. And there are a lot of hours and a lot of nights and things like that spent on those activities, but subsequently they’ve brought back a lot of peace and a lot of time.

JZ: Yeah. As that topic comes up, it just also makes me think about team dynamics, and different people are more well suited to do different activities. Some people get more gratification out of putting together a process document. I think just being aware too of strengths and weaknesses on any team with which you’re working, because if you’re trying to get that work completed by somebody who doesn’t get any gratification out of that, then you’re probably not going to pump out as much of that firefighting prevention work as you would like to. So, I’ll also just pick out what drives each person in any type of team you’re working with, and we all work with multiple types of teams, but I think that’s an important thing to think about as far as getting that stuff done. Who’s actually doing which type of work?

GW: Which is funny because I’m the person who likes to document the standards, and I think that’s fun. That’s enjoyable work. It could be my background in quality, but just, hey, here’s the way we do it. Let’s map it. Let’s type it out. Let’s make it so everyone knows it. So that’s a lot of fun for me, and I think that’s why, Josh, being my boss, we tend to work well together because we have a complementary type of things that we like to do, strengths and weaknesses and whatnot. So, it makes it really easy to create the fire prevention work, having been a serial firefighter for so long.

JC: Yeah.

GW: So, Jim, there’s probably people that are going to listen to this and say, Man, this was awesome. Jim knows a lot of stuff, and we’d love to maybe send him a question or an email. Of course, he’ll cheque it at the designated times. But is there a way that people could reach out and connect with you?

JZ: Sure thing. I’d say the best is probably on LinkedIn would be an easy way for people to connect with me. Jim Zupancic is my name on LinkedIn. You can find me out there. My profile is public. So, feel free to send me a message on there. My email’s also listed on there. Folks are welcome to reach out if they’ve got a question. I’d love to talk about it during standard operating hours.

JC: Good posts, too. Jim posts good stuff. I hardly go on LinkedIn, but I find myself reading your stuff more than other people.

GW: Yeah. It’s through LinkedIn, Jim, that I learnt that you’re into aviation, so that’s cool.

JZ: You know, I don’t know what it is, but aviation connects people. I’ve also had a chance to work with aviation suppliers all over the world, every kind of aircraft component. But lean connects people, continuous improvement connects people, and I’ll #avgeek, for aviation geek here, but totally an av geek, and I’ll wear that on my sleeve, probably.

GW: Well, I think that’s a great time to fly away on this podcast. Jim, thank you so much for joining us today. This has been a ton of fun. Always great to talk to you, and we always seem to plan a certain amount of time and overshoot that buy a bunch but thank you so much for joining us today.

JZ: All right. Thanks for having me. It was great to catch up and talk LSW with you guys.

JC: Yeah, thank you, Jim.

GW: What a great discussion with Josh and Jim. Between finding improver grower time and learning to say, “no,” please be sure to cheque out all of the latest podcasts from across Hexagon at hxgnspotlight.com or on Apple Podcasts or Spotify. Thanks for tuning in. Have a great day.