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Monday, October 3, 2022

Northeast Lean Conference 2022 Re-cap

This past week I was fortunate to be able to attend one of my favorite annual activities, the Northeast Lean Conference. The theme of the conference this year was centered around amplifying lean, the collaborative effect. I presented with a colleague on collaboration within new product development at the conference. I’ll get to that in a moment but for now I want to take the opportunity to share some insights from my experience at the conference that we can all learn and reflect on.

The conference kicked off with Lee Dickenson, MD, SVP & CQO of Tufts Medicin with a discussion on collaboration in complex adaptive systems. As we have advanced in society from the concept of the master builder of the cathedral to teams of teams for the modern skyscrapers so too is the time for command-and-control styles to be over. No one person or group can know all disciplines in a business. We can break down our silos through collaborative management. We must work together for the best solutions.

Mike Holender, Lean Six Sigma Master Black Belt at Zoll Medical Corp discussed using A3 as a collaboration method. Our role is to improve the way we do our work as Freddy and Michael Balle illustrate in Lead with Respect with a simple formula:

A3 is a simple, one page problem solving methodology based on lean principles. It provides a structured and collaborative PDCA methodology for problem solving.

Shifting the company culture using A3 thinking starts with the vision. Here’s a roadmap to instill A3.

  1. Use A3 language within existing work
  2. Start writing A3s for existing work
  3. Find promoters
  4. Work with management to ask for A3s
  5. Teach and coach on A3
  6. Find more promoters
  7. Continue to spread and scale (leverage promoters)


At Karl Storz the workplace culture has dramatically impacted employee turnover with their continuous improvement journey. Steve Escott, Sr Mgr. Warehousing & Order Fulfillment, shared their journey started with an idea board launched (from Northeast Lean presenter in 2017) to allow employees to have a voice with the company. Employees became the biggest advocate to solve problems and improve the business.

Comtran’s Lean journey transited from tools focused implementation to a strategy focused on people. They had to acknowledge the human side of change management. People development is based on the premise of what they called know, show, and grow. They built alignment to company vision/mission through individual development plans and goals. This team approach to policy deployment created collaboration from top-level business objectives to bottom-up improvement efforts.

Mike Matryn, Founder & President of SISU shared his approach to developing successful leaders and building world-class cultures. The primary purpose of management is to maximize the passion, purpose, and contribution of the people to help the organization be better every day.

Purpose – feeling connected to our vision

Passion – reason for being

Performance – accomplishing meaningful challenges


Mike introduced a Japanese concept called Omotenashi, which means hospitality. “Omote” means public face – an image you wish to present to outsiders. “Nashi” means nothing. Combining them means every service is from the bottom of the heart – honest, no hiding, no pretending. Omotenashi is about exceptional service and memorable experiences.

There are three elements of management for omotenashi:

·        Environment – management systems

·        Host – leaders

·        Guest – employees

3 steps to creating an Omotenashi culture:
  1. Adopt a management philosophy that places people before profit and embraces the role of creating the opportunity for passion through work.
  2. Design a daily management system which aligns people through strategy, encourages growth through challenge, and engages leaders as coaches.
  3. Commit to a kaizen environment where each person strives to improve the organization everyday and takes pride in their accomplishments.

Bruce Watkins, President & General Manager at Karl Storz, ended the first day with discussion on bad collaboration, no collaboration, and good collaboration. We have all seen bad collaboration. The best outcomes come from collaboration and decentralized teams. Leader can inspire teams with “why” before “how or what” as Simon Sinek’s TEDtalk shows.

Build connections and collaboration in your organization changing your view to an outward mindset.

The 5 most important words are “How can I help you?”

The 2nd day at the Northeast Lean Conference started with a wonderful presentation from Kevin Hancock, CEO of Hancock Lumber. He described how losing the partial use of his voice to a rare neurological disorder led him to a remote Indian reservation on the northern plains, where he discovered an entire community that did not feel heard. The two events combined to help Kevin realize there were lots of ways for humans to lose their authentic voice in this world. Furthermore, Kevin concludes leaders across time have done more to restrict the voices of others than to honor them.

Kevin took these understandings and developed a new leadership model designed to push power out – away from the corporate center – and give everyone in the organization a leading voice. The result was a high-performing corporate model in which business metrics soared as an outcome of a higher calling.

Leaders create change by becoming the change…

When power is dispersed in an organization, performance improves. Leadership is about giving other people a stronger voice.

There were a number of great presenters at the conference and I only shared a small sampling. Beyond the presentations there is wonderful networking opportunity with like minded practitioners across a number of industries and businesses. GBMP is already working on the next conference.

Save the Date: "It's About Time" on October 3-4, 2023 @ The DCU Center in Worcester MA.

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