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People Processes Interviews: David Veech

Today we’re going to be interviewing David Veech. David teaches leaders how to love, learn, and let go so they can create a workplace that fully engages the creative and productive powers of their people. He learned through 20 years of service in the army and is still learning after 20 years of being in the consulting and training space. His messages will hopefully inspire you and your teams to obliterate obstacles, accelerate innovation, and evaluate performance, leaving everyone motivated and engaged for the future. We’re very excited to have him here. Before we do though, I want to ask you, please subscribe to our podcast. You can find us on iTunes, Google Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, pretty much any podcatcher of your choice. You can also subscribe at peopleprocesses.com which will give you exclusive subscriber-only content, including a quick summary and checklist after this interview of some of the key highlights. 

David, thank you so much for coming on, Sir. Welcome to the show.

This is very exciting.

Well. So, David, tell me, you are, I mean, you’ve had a heck of a journey. You’re not one of them, fresh off the boat, 22-year-olds fresh out of the college, set up a company. You’ve done this quite a while.

I’ve tried. Yeah.

So, 40 years ago, you started in the army. Is that about where your leadership journey began?

I went to college on an ROTC scholarship, though, was commissioned when I was 20 years old, into the infantry and I went to a combat unit but I managed to make it 20 years in the Army without ever getting shot at.

Outstanding. And so after you got out of the army, you wound up setting up a consultancy organization, is that right?

Well, yeah. My last job in the army was teaching. I was teaching at the Defense Acquisition University Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. And that’s where they have all the production quality and manufacturing specialists that go through a particular training program. And I was assigned to bring a lean curriculum into that program. And so I taught there for a few years and because I didn’t know a whole lot about lean, I went out and found the experts at the University of Kentucky, and went through their programs so that I could kind of steal that content and build it into the content I was creating for the Defense Acquisition University. And I created a relationship with the UK and they liked me enough to hire me when about six months before I retired from the army. They hired me and I started teaching, continuing education courses for them. It was pretty cool.

Now, I don’t think many people who at least haven’t been in the army don’t think of the army as a, I don’t know, has a manufacturing arm or has I mean, of course, they buy things, I guess. But what is it you would teach, I mean, engineering and money, maintenance, that kind of thing to your army soldiers?

Well, we have a government office in virtually every defense contractor facility. So when I was stationed at the Lockheed Martin Vought Systems Plant in Grand Prairie, Texas for three years, I was the operations manager, and we did government oversight of the production schedule of the quality of the products to make sure that all the bookkeeping was squared away. So there are just all of the business specialties that are required in government oversight to make sure that we’re getting our money’s worth out of the defense programs.

Absolutely. 

So we teach those people the things that they need to know to manage the quality production and management of the system. One of the things that I wanted to especially do there in that last job, was 1998-1999. And a lot of defense contractors were trying to apply these Lean principles that Toyota made famous. And I got to see them do that. And I got to see a bunch of government folks shut him down because it was different from what they understood the processes were supposed to be like. And so my goal was to teach all of those government folks to not block that but to encourage it and steer it so that both the contractor and the government could benefit. 

Interesting. Well, so after doing that you went on to become a college professor. How did that wind up? What was your journey from there to consultancy and international consultancy around these topics all over the world?

Yeah. Well, I found out early that I love to teach. And so it was great. I asked specifically to be assigned to Wright Patterson to teach. They sent me off to an Air Force academic instructor course, that tested what I thought I knew about teaching. And as a profession, it’s been one of the priorities that I’ve assigned to my development, is how can I be a better teacher? And of course, that informed everything else that I did. So I was doing pretty well when the University of Kentucky asked me to come and teach. We taught there. I taught graduate programs, and I taught Continuing Education at the University of Kentucky. But then my partners and I decided we wanted to kind of have a broader impact. And so we created a consulting firm and built a practice in Australia and the US, and I made 27 trips to Australia in six years. So keep me in frequent flyer miles. And we have a pretty good impact there. But it was always fun for me, it was fun. But we got into consulting around 2008-2009. And we were much more focused on keeping companies from going bankrupt. Instead of creating the kind of cultures that I know, lean systems can help organizations build and creating the kind of leaders that drive that kind of change. And so I wanted to go back into an academic environment to do a little bit more research, and to grow a little bit more and then to teach more specifically teach younger people how to think a little bit differently. And so I was asked to come to the Ohio State University and teach in the Master of Business Operational Excellence Program. And I did that, I joined the faculty in 2013. I taught undergraduate classes and graduate classes. But then I got this bug that I got to keep moving. I needed to travel more. And I had some old clients that called me back and said, “Hey, we want you to come and do this.” And so I had to kind of renegotiate the deal with the Ohio State. And I only taught part-time there. And now I’m just I’m teaching just a tiny bit at Ohio State, and doing much more work with direct hands-on clients.

Interesting. And so when a client hires you out, they’re looking for lean training, lean operations training, is that primarily where they’re looking?

About half of them want some type of lean help. Right. I’ve got a client that is focused on enhancing their visual management systems and building their teams a little bit more effectively and teaching more problem-solving skills more directly, but the other half want leadership development. They want me to coach their team leaders coach their executives, and try to help them be more effective leaders. 

Interesting. Okay. So now you’ve traveled the world. You’re salt by Universities for teaching, you have outstanding clients, but I’m sure in the 20-year journey you’ve had between academia and entrepreneurship, you’ve had some pretty rough bumps as well. The most recurring email I get is that people love that I asked this coming question. It’s somewhat uncomfortable for my interviewees. So I apologize for upfront. And I guess I’d say, if you’ve listened to a prior interview, you know what’s coming. And that is, I’d like you to tell me about your worst entrepreneurial moment, the story around it, how you got there, what happened, what the results were. And this is so that our listeners can one relate and realize that even people like you got such a stellar career and are now in the catbird seat, have had some pretty low lows. But also, so they can learn from our mistakes rather than having to repeat them themselves. So David, tell me that story.

There’s a lot to choose from.

Right? That’s what I want to talk to entrepreneurs. They’re like, “Well, gosh, I can’t think of any of that bad.” I’m like, “Okay, let me just end the interview. You haven’t been doing this long enough. You should have a long list, my friend.”

Well, I’ve got a couple that comes to mind right away. And both of them involve me teaching new people and making the assumption that they didn’t know as much as I thought they knew. And so…

Overestimate, didn’t know as much as you thought so.

Yeah. The guys I teach in the corporate world are typically very experienced, very knowledgeable. And along with that comes some pretty good ego. And of course, I bring my ego into every situation as well. But the thing is when I tried it teach something that I just absolutely know and it’s wrong. And the students tell me, it’s wrong, then that kind of pierces your brain and says like, “How did you screw this up?” And so it forces me to be much more deliberate in my preparations and much more deliberate in understanding the audience that I’m addressing, and what are their real needs so that I can deliver the appropriate value. And the cool thing is, this is something I learned very early in the army is that I don’t know everything and there’s a whole lot of stuff I need help with. And I am not afraid to ask for help. So in a lot of the programs that we have delivered over the years, there are different perspectives and different ways to implement a lot of these tools and principles. And if you only teach one way, then that gets you in trouble because other people have made things successful with a bunch of different processes. And so if you go in and you ask them to share the way that they’ve done that, and many of them have had fantastic results, and they will share immediately the way that they’ve applied that even if it is 180 degrees from the way I was going in. And so it’s been good having those kinds of audiences to kind of keep you humble, and keep you hungry, and keep you learning and keep you developing. So I relish those experiences, even though they are incredibly uncomfortable when you’re going through it.

Sure. Well, I’m just being brought in as a consultant or a trainer too. You’re going to experience pushback, but your attitude is that oftentimes the people you’re working with may know some portion at least better than you?

Well, I think a lot of us especially leaders who identify themselves as servant leaders, think we shared this tendency toward the imposter syndrome, right? I’ve been doing this for a long time. Yeah, I’m pretty good at it. But there’s an awful lot of stuff I still don’t know, I still hesitate to call myself an expert in anything, although lots of other people do. And you get this feeling when you’re with particular audiences like if these guys find out that, who I am, it’s horrible. But fortunately, those are the things that can keep you pushing, to prepare, and to be more effective. And if you don’t have those kinds of things that challenge you, then I think life gets boring very quickly.

Absolutely. My expertise where I spend my time is in this world of HR People Processes as we call them. And we’ve been doing that for many years. I have an MBA focused on that, I research that, published on that. And I got an opportunity about three years ago to speak to an audience of a couple of hundred CPAs and or accountants and bookkeepers and CPAs. And I had done some public speaking, very minor, like a small group of companies or the Better Business Bureau, that kind of thing. 

Yeah. 

But I’ve never really like flown somewhere to give a talk. I’d grown organically and through marketing, and I just hadn’t ever done that. And I was absolutely terrified. Not so much of the public speaking but of the audience, because I’m thinking, “Gosh, I’m going in front of a bunch of CPAs, a bunch of bookkeepers, accountants and I’m going to be talking about these structures and business processes.” And these guys are experts and certified deep down, they’re gonna know that I don’t know the ins and outs of the tax world, as well as I, should when it comes to these things. And it did stress me, I did a lot of studying for it, I did a lot of prep, it went very, very well. And now accountants are our number one referral source. And that first group that I spoke to, even though I’ve had 20 or 30 keynotes since then, is still probably the tightest, highest participating public speaking group I’ve ever been to. So there’s something about that deep down feeling of, “Oh, I’m going to get caught that impostor syndrome,” I think that can make you anyway, perform at an incredibly high level.

I agree 100%. We gotta have something that challenges our skill level. 

Yeah. 

Well, we don’t grow.

Exactly. So, all right, David. Well, that was a good lesson, a good story. Now, you are out there and you are consulting with other companies. And they are bringing you in partially for leadership partially for lean training. Our listeners vary, their 5 man shops to 5000 man shops and even 125,000 man companies. And I guess what I would say is if you had an hour that you could spend at random with one of those people, what would be your first steps to try and they said, “Look, I want an hour of David’s time.” What are we going to do that David could come in and help us figure out? Like, how would you identify a problem, a need, basic steps that every business should be doing this? If you’re not doing it, this is where we should start. What would you kind of start in your diagnostics?

Everything begins with the relationship for me. I really need to understand what it is that they do and what it is that they want to do? What do they want to get out of our engagement? I don’t typically go in with, here’s my assessment, we’ll just check all these blocks and we’ll get you this score. And then I promise after a year you do all this stuff, we’ll move that needle. I really am much more focused on their process of engaging employees and developing leaders, whether they’re lean, or whether their leadership clients, everything comes down to engaging their employees and developing their leaders. And the key to the research that I’ve done, the key to a truly excellent organization is this foundation of what I call dynamic stability. Right? So it’s a concept that I’ve been playing with and trying to refine and understand. But what we have to have in organizations is enough stability so that processes are repeatable enough so that people working in those processes, improve their skills in those processes. Whether that’s a thinking process like problem-solving, or whether that’s a manufacturing process, or whether that’s a human resources process. We’ve got to be able to understand the impact that we’re having on those, we got to understand the standard and expectation that our customers and our leaders have of our performance. And we’ve got to be able to see very quickly when there are any deviations, which would be a problem. 

So we spent a lot of time talking about how they measure things. We spent a lot of time talking about how leaders present themselves in the workplace. We spent a lot of time in lean talking about Gemba walks, where leaders go to the Gemba which is the real place. The place where the action is placed with value is created, and how much time leaders can spend in the Gemba. And what I’ve learned everywhere is that the leaders just don’t spend enough time in the Gemba. And there are a few purposes for these Gemba walks. Tom Peters calls it management by walking around. But he is much more generalized about his management by walking around than we are about Gemba walks. Because we want to do a Gemba walk so we know that the system we designed is actually functioning properly. So we go and see, we go and see and when we’re out there going and seeing, we are asking questions of people, not micromanaging, not directing, not solving problems. We’re asking questions, and we’re showing respect. So if I can get leaders to get out of their offices, and out in the Gemba more so that they can interact with people, build better relationships and see where they need to direct resources the organization to provide the support that people need, then I think they’re doing good. Nobody goes out enough. That’s my number one criticism of every leader, you just got to get out more. 90% of your time should be out spending time with the people who are working in your organization. And when you look at the flight schedules of most CEOs, they’re gone so much.

Right. 

And yeah, they’ve got lots and lots of varied responsibilities. But the people in the organization need you for them to be more effective, and if they’re more effective, that’s probably going to have a bigger impact on the performance of the company and therefore the performance of the stock price. Then lots of other things that these guys are trying to do. So focus on your folks, focus on the need of your folks. And I’ve kind of boiled it down to four needs if we can just remember four things, right? First is a challenge, so we got to set appropriate goals for people. And to me, the challenge is always a positive thing. It’s not a dare, it’s not a pushback. It’s, “Hey, can you do it this much faster? Can you do it this much farther? Can you do it this much better.” And it’s just got to surpass their current skill level, right? And if you put them together with a team of people, that they can learn from each other, and they can practice and they can try new things as they try to develop this routine so that they can achieve this challenge, then that is like the perfect learning organization. So challenge, and then provide the right kind of support and part of the right kind of support as the team, correct their improper performance. So we’ve got to get much better as leaders at saying, “Stop. That wasn’t done right. Can you see where you deviated from the expectation? Can you see what the difference is? Can you see how we’ve got a problem here? And then can you see what’s causing that and what might we do about that?” Rather than just slapping on the head and say, “Hey, you screwed that up. Don’t do it again.” There’s usually a process problem associated with every human failure.

Yeah, you got to go back to the root cause it’s not just, I had a bad day.

Yeah. But most of those conversations that involve correcting someone else’s behavior can be pretty demoralizing. And so the final thing that you’ve got to be able to do is you got to be able to encourage people. Now, I don’t know about you, Rhamy. But, has anybody ever spent 20 minutes teaching you how to encourage somebody else?

You know, that’s very true. I’ve never had formal encouragement training.

So we’re just supposed to know these kinds of things.

Right.

So if we can articulate the steps you take and going through these different things that we need leaders to do, then there’ll be much better equipped to actually do that.

So to recap that you said, challenge, support, correct, and encourage.

Yeah, and I think those roll into all four of the other key decisions that leaders have to make every day. And that’s you mentioned them in the intro a little bit. Love, learn, let go, and connect. If leaders will make that decision every day, “Today, I’m going to love my folks.” And that doesn’t mean we’re going to go out. we’re going to have group hugs and we’re going to cry together and all that smushy stuff. It’s not an emotional kind of thing. Okay. Love is a very, very tangible decision that leaders have to make. And the result of that decision is simply the leader placing the needs of her people above her own. And the next piece is the learn piece going to place the needs of somebody else above my own.

The most important thing for me to learn is what they need, right? So I have to go out and interact with them to understand what they really need, and then reach into my bag of resources, and try to provide the support that they need to actually succeed. So, love then learn. And then one of the best ways to develop people’s skills is to actually let go and let them do the things that you know they need to do. The problem we run into is that we’re always under time pressure now, and in most organizations, leaders have gotten their jobs now because they’re good at certain things, right? So they’re the best employee we had at XYZ. And so we’re gonna make them the boss, we’re gonna make them the team leader, we’re going to make them the supervisor, and they might not have any human skills at all. They might just be a fantastic worker. So we’ve got to be able to identify those guys and help them become more effective leaders. But the key thing we have to have leaders start focusing on is when somebody tries something and they mess it up, rather than just taking it back and say, “Well, I gave you that chance. Now I know that I can do it right. And I can do it quickly. So I’m just going to do it.” As soon as leaders do that, and they start doing the tasks that their folks ought to be doing, they give up leadership, they’re not leading anymore. They’re just doing work. And so we’ve got to be able to create the time to allow those people to build their skills, up to the point where the leader is confident in their abilities, and they are confident themselves in their abilities because you get fantastic outcomes when people are confident at work.

Absolutely. And so in that process that you were laying out the challenge, support, correct, encourage. There’s this idea, I forgot who talked to you but you mentioned kind of you have to have one-foot instability to the extent that you can repeat processes in and improve them and have your people skill up in them. And you need one foot out into chaos, into this world where things are changing, and they’re learning and they’re getting a new thing.

That’s the dynamic part, right? Yeah. 

Right, the dynamic.

Like I should so.

So when are you as a leader or as a manager, if you’re, let’s say, you have a task that’s currently on your desk, that’s something you’ve done. You’ve got it down, but it’s kind of booger and you now know it’s time to get it off your desk and have a subordinate step up into that position. Your kind of four-step process there has challenged, support, correct, and encourage, let’s assume the challenges do the task that you weren’t doing before. What sort of items would you recommend, you kind of briefly mentioned a team? But in terms of support, how do you tell when or an employee? Because obviously, there’s like pure resources, I need you to build this wall. Here are the bricks and mortar, but outside of the physical items to do it. What sort of support do you mean in that?

Well, for every challenge to prevent the leader from just abandoning the team, what we want to be able to do is we want to create a process that will essentially guarantee that the person or the team will succeed in the challenge. So the support means we’re going to give you time to build that process and find the best way to achieve that challenge. And then we’re going to teach everybody how to do that. And how are we going to measure that so that I can know when I’m doing my Gemba walk around the office, around the factory or around the parade ground, whatever it might be. How will I be able to know very quickly if you need help? Not for me to step in and take it from you, but for me to ask, ask key questions, help you think through, and then challenge you to take the next step, I challenge you to make that next decision in that. So it’s a very personal, very high touch kind of relationship that we’ve got to have as we’re developing people. It’s not something as, “Hey, go take these three online courses, and then you should be good to go. Right?

I think it’s interesting when you said support, you need a process that’s going to nearly guarantee success for that person. But then your next sentence, it was really interesting. You were like, and you need to give them time to develop that process. So in my head, when you’re saying, alright, support that means, tell them what to do, to the extent that they can’t screw it up. But really, what you mean by that is give them the time and resources and research capabilities as a way to think of it to come up with a process internally that they are going to execute, which will guarantee success. And as part of that process tell you, how it is that you are going to know that it worked and know when to intervene. 

Exactly.

So the support is less telling them what to do and more giving them the room to figure out what to do, along with the processes that require, they document it and report on it. 

And you stay engaged, the leader has to stay engaged to continue providing the right kind of resources and support, but the leader doesn’t step in and tell them what to do.

Very interesting. I mean, there’s an interview we had not too long ago with a management trainer and he said he had a couple of rules for management, but the one that stuck in my head was a two-parter. He said a manager is never allowed to walk by trash. If there’s trash, it’s got to be taken care of. It’s got to be cleaned up. 

Yep. 

But Rule #2 is a manager is not allowed to pick up the trash. And everybody likes rule number one. And rule number two is the reason that managers are hard to find. 

Yeah. 

And I thought that’s ever since he said that it’s really stuck in my head. But I think that this kind of goes to that second tier, which does not only do you need to identify the problem or layout the challenge you need to give with a runway for them to then design their way of fixing it to take on the challenge.

Absolutely. They need to be willing to accept those challenges. And a truly engaged workforce that is highly confident they will bring challenges to you as the leader. 

Oh, absolutely. 

Because they will see ways to improve processes that you will never dream of and if they’re measured properly and supported properly and encouraged and corrected properly, they’ll be able to set challenges that you’ll never imagine. And that’s really our main goal to get that engaged culture.

Let’s say that someone’s listening right now and they go, Hey, David, we have plenty of challenges.

Oh, yeah.

I feel like we have a good support structure. Our team normally does a good job. They seem happy. We have high morale. But I’m to a degree a pushover, when my staff screws up, I say, “Gosh, Jeff, that sucks man.” Well, let’s get it fixed and no consequence happens. And sometimes I feel like my people aren’t getting the correction. They need to know the severity of the issues that they call. Do you have any goodbyes on how to properly correct without taking over or utterly demoralizing? I mean, obviously, people aren’t going to like being corrected, but without going too far?

Well, I think the most important part of that whole thing is to articulate the expectation. Okay, how clearly have you really stated what is supposed to happen? And how are you measuring that? Right? Because we put a lot of measurements out in workplaces that just have no meaning at all to the people doing the work. And as soon as you do that, it’s how do you correct anything? If you haven’t been clear in your expectation, then how is it not your fault that they’ve messed it up? And I think that’s probably a good spot for most leaders to start, as whenever they see a failure or a deviation from the standard or problem, what have I done as the leader that has contributed to this vote? What have I done with the way I’ve communicated? What have I done with the way I’ve allowed these folks to build this particular process? How can I improve my relationship with them, so that this doesn’t happen again? Now, I’m not naive enough to think that people, people screw things up, right? People are human, we screw things up. But it needs to be apparent to them and we need to build systems that allow them to tell you that they’ve screwed up without this just absolute fear. 

Right. 

And it’s all in how leaders respond. If you get a leader who explodes every time they see some little deviation, then the chances of anybody telling you that there’s a problem that only you have the resources to provide the solution for is zero. So we’ve got to be able to be approachable. We’ve got to be able to handle any kind of problem like that as a process problem, rather than the person problem first. Now, you may in fact have a personal problem, is that their skills are their willingness. And yeah, you might actually have to fire somebody who can’t seem to perform to the standard, as long as you’ve done your job and making sure the standard is clear, making sure that the process that the team has developed will, in fact, achieve that challenge and you’ve done the things that you need to do to correct and encourage, if they still can’t perform, there’s no reason to keep them around.

Right. Maybe you’ll have a comment. 

But I’m sorry.

No, no, I want to go back. Just a few seconds ago, you said when there is an issue, I mean, obviously, as a leader, what did you do to contribute to it? Not obviously, not. Definitely go back? Not obviously. But the first step is what did you do to contribute to it? How can you improve in the future, you said you need to look at it as a process problem first, then possibly a people problem, like the person inside there has an issue and we need to look at correcting it. But first, we go back to the process, was the challenge appropriate? Were they given the appropriate support to manage it? Did you layout the vision, the ultimate goal of it correctly? That, I think is a key thought process problem first. Then once you share that’s nailed down, think of it as possibly a personal problem like this person is not the correct fit.

Well, and in both cases, Rhamy. It’s the leader’s fault. 

Oh, yeah. Well, it’s always the leader’s fault. It’s the best and worst thing about being a leader.

Yeah. So if I’m just going off and yelling at people, that’s just the worst kind of behavior and I probably need someplace else to work myself. 

Absolutely. Yeah, we’ve got a people problem. 

This really hit home for me when I was coaching a team through some root cause analysis. And I do this a lot with teams. And we are very, very comfortable with just doing a really crappy job and root cause analysis, because we’ll say, “Oh, well that’s because management told me to or because this happened or that.” One case, in particular, is we had some lost time accidents and one client, and they said, “Well, alright, let’s break down the last time.” What actually caused the last time?

For our listeners, what’s a lost-time accident?

Oh, that’s when the worker had to have medical treatment and lost time at work so they couldn’t work full week because they were getting treated for some injury.

Got it. So these are workers comp issue followed by that compounding issue of not having the worker there. 

Right. So one of them as they had an operator who got a cut on his hand. And they said, Okay. Well let’s do the root cause, the problem is the cut. Let’s do the root cause and say, “Oh, well, we use sharp materials.” So it was a banding operation. So they were banding things together with steel bands and crimpers and things. And the edge of this banding material, once you cut it off, it’s pretty sharp. And they said, “Well, that’s what caused the cut.” I was like, well, hang on. Think about this for a minute. How many of those sharp areas are existing in the facility right now? Well, every time we’ve cut a band, and there’s, you know, 400 bands around there, they’ve been cut. So all these we got 400 of these sharp edges. How many people are actually getting cut? Oh, well, what happened that coupled with that sharp edge, did they follow a process that allowed that operator and his hand to come in contact with that sharp end and if you think about the details of that coupling what has to happen together to actually cause a problem? Then you see that it’s not just a failure of the human, well, he reached for it wrong, or he didn’t wear his personal protective equipment, therefore, we’re just going to retrain him. And retraining just doesn’t do any good if the process is broken.

So by really looking at how things are coupled together, what is the process that is supposed to put that human hand in proximity to that sharp edge of the things? And can we fix that process to reduce the risk of that injury happening again? So let’s look at the structural process that we’ve put in place for that work. How can we fix that to prevent future injuries? Rather than just say, “Well, the operator screwed up because he’s a dummy, we’re going to retrain him or we’re going to put him someplace else and never let them do that again.” Well, that doesn’t do anything for anybody. But we want to retrain the new process that we develop that prevents the injury.

I don’t know, I’m marginal Japanophile. I like a lot about Japanese culture. And I’ve studied a good bit of Toyota manufacturing. And there’s the salaryman culture over there of you know, you’re bringing people on here for life, their family, there’s almost like a made man, mob culture to a degree to some of those companies. And I wonder if the development of some of these processes first problem addressing which is obvious if anybody’s wondering out there if this works, I mean, it does. Period. I mean, the dominance of some of the origins of these lean manufacturing protocols changed how we manufacture everything in the world. It’s an even beyond manufacturer going to how many businesses, even service organizations are organized now. It’s incredibly successful. I wonder if to a degree if it’s because to them, it’s not that people were interchangeable, but it’s that there was this kind of mentality of the employee is, permanently part of the organization. The option of just the employees an idiot isn’t really allowable. The job of the company is to turn that idiot into a useful person. And that they’re going to put the time in to do so. I don’t know as you were talking about looking at as a process problem first, it made me think about that and maybe think to view your company as we talked about, “Oh, everyone here is family.” Well, what if they were like real family like you’ve really, really can’t get rid of them. They’re going to be here for 40 years working every day. So how are you going to design a process that keeps that person safe but more importantly actually accomplishes the goal of the organization? Very interesting.

Well, that is one of the foundation things of the Toyota process system is respect for people. And the way they show respect is by putting them into a process that works and then allowing them to make their own changes to that process when they show that it can be improved. So Toyota learned these wonderful lessons after World War II when they had some riots in 1950 and 1951 when the bank called the loan for the Toyota family. Right. And they were struggling trying to get their car business back after World War II. And so the government stepped in and made them give every employee a lifetime employment contract. So when you have a lifetime employee contract, that forces you to focus on improving your Human Resources processes so that you hire the right kind of person. Not the right kind of skill. So you hire the right kind of person and develop the skills you need internally. But the right kind of person is the one who learns quickly, seasoned salts problems and can adapt from one process to another very quickly. Rather than, I need a welder who’s been welding for 20 years. This is one of the criticisms I have with people who are advertising for help for lean consultants. And they say, “Well, we want a healthcare guy, we want you to have 12 years in healthcare.” That 12 years in health care might have been a disaster the whole time, why would that be so great?

So we want people who can think properly. We want people who can learn properly and learn quickly. And we want people who are willing to try things and share. That comes down to the confidence I mentioned earlier. The kind of confidence that we are looking for is called self-efficacy. And it’s very task-focused and there are very specific things leaders can do to improve that self-efficacy. And the outcomes of that, 3 Key things. Okay. One, people with high self-efficacy will try new things much more likely than people with low confidence. Right? They will also improve their own workspace without any kind of prompting. So they’ll come to work every day. They’ll try to improve something. That’s the kind of employees we want, right? But the most important thing that people have self-efficacy bring to the table is when they try something new. Whether they’re trying to improve their own process or something else. If they fail, if they hit an obstacle they persist in trying to make that work. And the thing that I think about what this is, is so many leaders will go in when there’s a problem. People say, “Hey boss, here’s the problem.” The boss will say, “I’ll just do this.” And when the boss says I’ll just do this without any analysis, without any thinking, the chances of him getting it right are pretty slim. 

Absolutely.  

So when the employees try to do what the boss says and it doesn’t work instead of persisting through they would say, “Oh, I told you that was a stupid idea.” So we want them to come up with the idea. So the leaders are always just asked questions. What happened? What do you need to fix it? How much time are you going to need? How much time are you going to need? Did you think of this? Have you considered that? Did you talk to someone? So that’s what the leader needs to ask, 20 questions to make sure people are critically thinking through what happened so that they can get better.

And when you’re learning any kind of new skills, it’s the same thing. Ask questions. Ask questions. Ask questions. Show respect. Everybody brings value to the table. We just got to bring it out.

When you talk about self-efficacy, some employees seem to have it, some don’t.

Yeah. 

I recently interviewed someone who focuses on the fact that the, first let me rollback, a lifetime contract 1951. Can you imagine that in today’s world? People would consider it, most companies out there would say we’re just going to file bankruptcy. 

Exactly.

It’s time to be over and yet 20 years later Toyota is dominating with this requirement.  

Yeah. The lifetime employee contracts were lifted in the ’70s because they are violated by the oil prices. So people had to violate the lifetime employment contract and they learned that this was not a tenable way to do this. But Toyota, they are violating the work contract, they keep people working and shut their equipment down which is kinda crazy when you think about it from Western terms of the way we measure return on assets and that. But their mentality has never changed. We want to bring somebody in who is adaptable and a problem solver and a team player. And we can put them in the right kind of role that’s really going to enhance their skill level and then allow them to try things. So that mentality, the processes they developed for hiring the right kind of person are still very much in play. And then they bring them on board in the onboarding process. Well, here’s a 3-hour overview of the company, and here’s an 8-hour skills training. It’s like 6 weeks before they turn you loose to go and do some work. It is a very deliberate process to make sure that you have the right skills in the right thinking to be able to succeed at any job they put you in it. It’s incredible. 

Is that self-efficacy, would you say that that’s primarily recruiting, hiring, getting the right person in? Or I mean obviously, the best person can be beaten down by a bad Processing Company. Is it you got to have the right clay to start with or can anybody be molded into that self-reliance explore mentality?

I believe that we can cultivate this in any human. And that’s the message for most companies. Hey, you can’t just start over. The people you got, you can’t just treat them like trash and throw them away and start over. Right? 

So what do you need to do to focus on building self-efficacy in your current workforce? And it starts with a leader recognizing that there is a critical piece of that development. And so we look at leader behaviors first and how the leader structures the organization for learning. Because the key thing to building that self-efficacy is mastery. Have they done before or have they done something similar before? So what we need to be able to do it in this ties back to the challenges that we talked about earlier. If I can successfully challenge people to get the work done a little bit faster a little bit better, a little bit cleaner. All those tiny steps every time they succeed in it, we are going to notch that. That’s an inactive Master’s experience. That’s what we call it in the academic world at work and just say that “Hey, that’s a win.” We have to mass these little wins, but we have to stop and recognize that each one of those is a freaking win. Right? We got to recognize that face, “Hey, you made it. You got that 4 seconds off. Hey, that’s fantastic. Wonderful. It’s okay. Now. can we do 5 seconds?”

So if we can build this series of active experiences, then that’s going to build that confidence in people. But to achieve those challenges, again, we’re going to go back to the process. Have you developed a process that is going to allow them to progressively improve? Right? Is it their own process? Do they own it? Once we set that process that we know which practice you’ll be able to achieve that challenge and they keep doing it and they have these little steps of success every time that repetition is what builds that skill. But it’s just like practicing anything to become an expert in anything, right? You have to have focused practice against the standard that you’re held accountable to. 

Right.

The key tool for building this in a lean organization is called standardized work. It’s just the way we document the work and the way we teach people to do the work so that they take full ownership of it. Because they’re involved in the creation of standardized work. And the way we support measures all these different things. And away we successfully increase the standard. Based on their level of performance. It’s not just studying an arbitrary target number and say, “Hey, you got to get this, go do it. It’s a deliberate process where we need to get to a particular level. That’s no 6 months down the road. What do we have to do every day to take a small tiny bite and have that kind of tiny win that we can celebrate every day on that path to achieving that new standard?

I think, back to your original four leadership items, challenge, support, correct, and encourage when we’re trying to expand out into the unknown, to the chaos. We talked about challenging, supporting, and correcting. But encouraging, no one’s ever taught how to encourage. So when I have an employee and they are doing a good job I say, “Good job. You nailed it.” And when they come to me and go, “Man, times are tough, it’s very difficult right now.” My question is normally something along the lines of, is there an action you need to be taken? Do you need additional resources? Do you need additional time or are you just sharing the hard things? Because it’s supposed to be hard, it’s a hard job. Neither of those is particularly encouraging, I think, maybe they are, it seems to work out sometimes but how would you say in this four-part, challenge, support, correct, encourage? What are some of the key pieces of encouragement that we should keep to go on? 

Well, surprisingly, you can encourage people without saying a word. I think the most important skill leaders need to develop is the ability to listen. And we don’t have time. We don’t take the time to listen. And sometimes just letting somebody get something off their chest. Without you giving them the solution, without you responding, without you taking action. That’s one of the best ways to encourage them to go on. Let’s listen more. Ask some key questions, ask them how they can help. Listen with empathy. And if there is something that you can direct them to, for some additional help you, “Sure. Yeah.” You can suggest, have they considered doing this or doing that. But avoid directing them to do something different because that takes their humanity away. That’s just discouraging. So if we’re going to encourage, let’s listen more. Ask questions with empathy. And that might be all we have to do.

Well, you’ve covered a ton of information that gives a great framework for leadership. We talked a good bit about challenging, supporting, correcting, and encouraging. We briefly touched on your love, learning, and letting go. And those are actions that can be taken by the leadership. We dive deep on I think some of the real gem takeaways were around corrections to think of it as a process problem first then possibly a people problem. And some of the key features in our people that we’re trying to develop is the ability or even just push through when they hit a roadblock.

Yes.

To continue trying that self-efficacy and not destroy themselves when they make a mistake. They need to have the wherewithal to be able to hit the wall and mess up and then turn around and fix it. 

That’s right. Just learn from what they messed up. That’s the key thing. 

Absolutely. A ton of great information. So, David, what are you excited about in the next couple of months that you are rolling out at your company? That’s got you kind of what’s the goal that you’re trying to get done?  

Well, I’m trying to put the finishing touches on an online course built around my book “Leadersights” that really kind of focuses on all the stuff that we’ve talked about now, so I’m about to start shooting videos for this new course. I’m really pumped about the way it’s coming together. We did it. We did a 16-hour live class with a client in Arizona. That was like just a sweet spot. And now I’m trying to figure out what’s the best way to still get that great feeling to this online learning experience. So we are trying to develop a couple of new ways to look at that online learning trying to build those challenges in and find a way to support and correct and encourage online. I’m really excited about that. So I prepared a couple of presentations around some of these key concepts that I get a chance to share those with a few folks coming up soon. 

I have been playing with lots of legos, and I’ve got to a simulation that I use to illustrate many of these principles including problem-solving, process improvement by building a lego airplane in a complex setting. My biggest challenge is trying to figure out how to do that in the COVID-19 virtual world. It’s going to be hard building legos as a team when you’re not in the same room. But when these lifts, it’s going to be a new experience for anybody and I’ve done this with the executives and trying to get alignment. I’ve done it with the team members on a factory floor trying to solve problems. It’s just been great fun and I can’t wait to start doing that course again for folks. 

Absolutely. Well, so if we have listeners out there who are thinking, we need broad help in this kind of world of leadership training and operations efficiency house. How should they reach out to you David? What’s the best way to get ahold of you? 

The best way to get ahold of me is just a direct email, david.veech@leadersights.com. I’m hoping you have in your notes from you.

Oh. Yeah.

That’s the best way you can go to my website leadersights.com and poke around. I’m always trying to tweet that website so I’m never been satisfied with the website. So I keep tweeting it, keep adding things to make it a little bit better. So, yeah, the website has tons of information on there. There are links on the website to schedule an appointment, to have a call with me and I’d be happy to do that for any of your listeners.

Is there a particular size company that maybe is a good fit for you? If we have, I don’t know, fortune 10 company listening or a 10-man company listening. Are both of the companies that should reach out to you is there a sweet spot in terms of size for you? 

If they have people, that’s my space. If they have people and they have processes, that’s where I want to work. Even a 10 person company needs an effective leader who can challenge people appropriately, provide the right kind of support, correct their behavior, and encourage them to succeed. It’s a full range. I’ve got a freebie to offer your guys if you let me.

Oh. Yeah. Please.

The thing is, go to my website, there’s a free download section on the website, a copy of my first book. It was the C4 Process. It’s a problem-solving process. It’s very teachable and very learnable and there’s a free digital copy of the whole book. Taking downloads with a couple of worksheets and the C4 card for employee engagement. They download that, they send me an email. I’ll be happy to talk into how they can start Engaging their employees in building their critical thinking and problem-solving skill as soon as they download that stuff. So for everybody, it will always be free. I’m working on a new version of that book. Hopefully, by the end of the year, I’ll have it and an online course for that as well. But I hope they avail themselves of that freebie source cuz I’ve been very happy with the results I’ve gotten since I developed that process and I’ve been teaching it. 

That’s outstanding. Awesome. Thank you for that. Well, David, thank you for spending time. You shared a ton of value with us and I very much appreciate it. I think our listeners have come away with some great actionable insights and some good ways. And if you are listening now and you want to speak with David, check out the link at peopleprocesses.com, we got links to his website and his email. Reach out on there, don’t forget to go to his website to download a copy of the C4 Process. David thanks for coming on.

Thank you very much. It’s been a great conversation.

I appreciate it. Ladies and Gentlemen, my name is Rhamy Alejeal and I have so appreciated interviewing David Veech. Information at peopleprocesses.com. Please reach out on Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, wherever you’d like. We’re at People Processes or Rhamy Alejeal. Link out to me and send me follow-ups. What sort of questions do you have? Is there anything that we can pass on to David, that we could help him out or that you really want us to explore further. If this tickles your fancy idea percolator, then you go, “I’d love to dive in deeper either with David or with someone else on this topic.” Let me know we love to help now. It’s time for you to go out there. Have a great day. And get your work done.

Learn more about David Veech here:

Email: david.veech@leadersights.com

Website: https://leadersights.com/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/davidveech

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/DSVLeadersights

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/davidveech/

About the author, Rhamy

Rhamy grew up watching and working with his mother and grandmother in the senior insurance market. This familiarity with the struggles faced by people trying to navigate the incredibly complicated and heavily regulated healthcare market led him to start Poplar Financial while working on his degree at the University of Memphis. After completing his MBA and Bachelors in Finance and Economics, Rhamy guided Poplar Financial through the disruptive opportunity that is the Affordable Care Act. Since then Poplar Financial has received numerous awards from major insurance carriers and has completed its fourth year in a row of doubling in size. Now his team focuses on the processes around human resources and specializes in providing companies with between 20 and 1000 employees with the payroll, benefits, and HR needs.

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