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Big things happening at the Cafe as summer winds to a close. This month’s app addresses the little-known need for cartoons with improvement teams. One of our “In the News” segments covers the intersection of a college, a hospital and West Point and the other one shows how Lean Six Sigma might guarantee you a better Labor Day.

In our “Printed Page” segment we’ll cover a new book that shows how satire can make you a better leader and this month’s Q&A addresses a question about how to keep remote learners engaged. For the Special of the Day we’ll interview prolific business author John Guaspari and discuss his latest book in which he offers a simple solution to the challenge of employee engagement. Make sure the kids catch the bus, grab a go-cup and settle down for another action-packed episode of “Just-In-Time.”

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Podcast Transcript

Welcome to Just-In-Time Café,’s official podcast where we help you build your problem-solving muscles. We share best practices from over 20 years of success helping organizations from the Fortune 500 to small and medium-size business to government achieve their goals using Lean Six Sigma.


Tracy O’Rourke: Hey, Elisabeth.

Elisabeth Swan: And a bohemian hello to you.

Tracy O’Rourke: Hey, we are very lucky. Summer is over and everyone is back in school so we get our coffee shop back.

Elisabeth Swan: That is an upside. I’m with you.

Tracy O’Rourke: So let’s get some coffee anyways and head into our private dining room in case a gaggle of people come in.

Elisabeth Swan: I’m right behind you.

What’s on the Menu (Podcast Agenda)

Tracy O’Rourke: Hey, everyone. Welcome to the Just-In-Time Café. I’m Tracy O’Rourke and joining me is Elisabeth Swan, and we are your host today. So Elisabeth, what is on the menu?

Elisabeth Swan: I‘m glad you asked. It’s a good lineup, Tracy. I am particularly excited today. Today’s Appetizer addresses this little known-need for cartoons and continuous improvement teams.

In the News, first, we will find out how Lean Six Sigma can improve Labor Day. And that’s coming soon. So I’m keen on that one. The other piece in the News is where we find out where a college, a hospital, West Point, and Lean Six Sigma intersect. That’s going to be interesting.

On the Printed Page, we’re going to review a book that shows how satire can help improve your leadership skills.

And then for Q&A, we’re going to take a question from a subscriber who wants to know how to stay connected when Green Belts are remote.

And for Today’s Special, we’re going to interview a prolific business author, John Guaspari, who somehow manages to connect business with baseball.

Tracy O’Rourke: Very nice. That sounds like an awesome lineup. Can’t wait. And also, in this month’s episode, our whole team at is excited to offer a special coupon code for all of our awesome listeners for discounts on all of our online training. So stay tuned since we’ll provide the code right before the interview portion of this episode, you are going to want to stick around.

Elisabeth Swan: Oh, I’m on tinder hooks, Tracy. Let’s get to the Appetizer.

Appetizer of the Day: Bitmoji

Elisabeth Swan: OK, Tracy. What role do cartoons play in process improvement teams?

Tracy O’Rourke: Well, I’m glad you asked, Elisabeth. A lot of people may think that cartoons have no place in process improvement. But in actuality, it does and it’s very important. So the appetizer we are going to be talking about today is the app called Bitmoji, which is building your own personal emoji and using it as an expressive cartoon avatar where you can communicate with your team members. So it’s a fun app.

We’ve been trying it out just to see what it feels like and get comfortable with it. But you can choose from our growing library of moods and stickers featuring you. Basically, you design your emoji. You pick you hair color, your eye color, glasses. You get to pick out your clothes even. And from there, you could copy and paste your emoji into any text, Facebook, or email.

The beauty is, some of the benefits are it’s free, it’s fun, and it’s easy to use. There are probably hundreds of choice for expressions and statements. A picture as we know is worth a thousand words and there is image choices that are very creative where you would have your emoji saying, “you got this” or if you’re not really feeling positive, maybe you write, “Not going to happen,” or, “Best news ever!” or “TGIF” or, “Nailed it!”

So, there are all kinds of expressions. They’re really funny. And it fits all kinds of personalities. So it’s not just fun people are happy people. If you’re sarcastic or an eeyore, they’ve got your expressions too although I’m not sure those types would enjoy this app.

But what I really like about it is what I’ve really enjoyed in using it and trying it is it does help engage teams and make personal connections. We are remote and virtual teams so everybody is spread out all across the country and it really is fun to see these emojis and receive them from people that you work with. It puts a smile on my face and even I laugh out loud literally when I receive some of these emojis. So it makes it fun. It helps increase that personal connection. And I want to believe that that helps increase engagement.

Elisabeth Swan: I’m with you. We’ve been trying it for the whole month and it’s funny seeing what avatars everybody chose. We like seeing that. It was a little bit hard when we went to Trello and we put those as our avatars, those little headshot emojis from Bitmoji, they are sometimes so small that I can’t always tell you apart from Ana. So I was appreciative that the next teammate who did that put a hat on. I was like, “Thank you. I needed a little more of a differentiation.” So that part was a little struggle but they’ve been a blast. It has been really fun infusing some fun, some of that into our remote conversations.

The other thing I noticed when I looked just at their website, they have this in all languages like what you expect German, French, Spanish. But they also have like Arabic, Finish, Korean, and then they had one called Bokmal, which I had to look up. And it translates to book tongue and it’s the official written language for Norwegian. I had no idea. So this is I think a great, just a fun app. I like it personally. But then it has been fun with the team. So I give it a thumbs-up.

Next up, it’s In the News.

In the News

Elisabeth Swan: OK, Tracy. How is Lean Six Sigma going to improve my Labor Day?

Tracy O’Rourke: Well, it’s really important especially for travellers, if you’re travelling on an airplane on Labor Day, you’re going to be really excited about this news. So basically, TSA has secured Lean Six Sigma tactics to help improve efficiencies and flyer wait times. So most of the time when you go to the airport, most people put up with the long wait times and maybe there are some people that still groan but people just – they have these looks on their faces like we’re all victims, right? You have to walk through these long lines to get through security.

But recent reports have shown that there is a decline in TSA’s wait times because the agency has deployed Lean Six Sigma tactics in 21 of the largest US airports to reduce that wait time, which is wonderful. So they’re looking to review airline schedules, passenger loads, line design and checkpoint and baggage areas. All of these to help improve the speed of these security lines, which is great.

And I do actually have personal experience with this. I was standing in an airport once and I was handed a piece of paper by a TSA employee and they said to me, “Would you be able to hand this piece of paper to the person on the other side of this security in the bright orange vest?” And then I realized he had handed me a traveller, which is a piece of paper, it’s a datasheet that we use and attach it to the thing going through the process. And in this case, I was the thing.

Elisabeth Swan: No way!

Tracy O’Rourke: Yeah. So when he handed it to me, I got really excited because I realized what he was doing and I think I probably took him – he probably wasn’t expecting that. So I was so excited. I’m like, “What are you trying to do?” And I started asking all these questions. He was like, “Can you just hand this to the guy?”

So, I was very excited to see that they were doing what I would call cycle time studies, time studies, to try to reduce cycle times. So that was really exciting to me.

Elisabeth Swan: Tracy, you’re a geek but I totally share your excitement on that one because I’m a traveller too.

Tracy O’Rourke: Yes. And I think I’ll just share this last piece. The thing about TSA is they really need to balance the need for customers wanting speed and the need for safety, right? And that is really creative and interesting question they have to answer, which is how do we create a process that ensure safety at an optimal speed? So they really need to be creative in those solutions. So great job, TSA. Keep producing that lead time.

So Elisabeth, where does a college, a hospital, West Point, and Lean Six Sigma all intersect?

Elisabeth Swan: Well, I was going to say like just South of the Canadian border but it’s a little more complicated than that. And this is a totally inspiring story. There’s a woman, there’s a professor, Cecilia Martinez. She is the Assistant Professor of Engineering and Management at Clarkson University up in Potsdam, New York, Upstate New York. And I want to meet her. Clarkson University is between the Adirondack Mountains and the St. Lawrence River, which must be beautiful.

Professor Martinez puts her students through a really innovative Green Belt program. She had eleven students. She had them team up. They had five separate projects and they all were based at the Canton-Potsdam Hospital, which is basically right in their backyard.

And these Green Belts did projects in the hospital or for the hospital. So they had all these separate projects and they managed to reduce food waste. They streamlined the process of getting meal trays to patients. They redesigned scheduling process for total joint replacement, that’s getting more and more prevalent. They dropped the pre-op schedule from 37 to 24 days. That’s a big deal for people trying to get into surgery. They decreased the time to access safe patient handling equipment from 7 to 3 minutes and they cut the wait time for orthopedics registration from 16.5 to 10 minutes. And I know we all appreciate getting our wait times reduced.

But the most amazing thing to me reading this was the collaboration. So you and I, we work internally with teams and we see them come up with brilliant solutions to really work and then have a tough time convincing people to actually make changes. But these are two completely separate institutions, right? You got this engineering and management students that are not health care and they are not learning how to be doctors and nurses and they got to change these hospital processes. So how did they collaborate and do that? Which I assumed has a lot to do with Professor Martinez. So, I’m dying to talk to her.

But she – these students also did this only in four months. So the standard timeframe, so I love that she was even lean about how she got these students through. So most of the Green Belt registrations there take a year and they did it in four months, under four months. So they nailed that.

And then the projects were still impressive but the professor encouraged them to submit their work to get into the – let’s see, the General Keith Memorial Capstone Conference, and this is hosted by the military at West Point. And two of the projects got accepted and they were a huge success. I think largely, nobody else had gotten to implementation phase and these projects all had. So three cheers for Professor Martinez and her students. That is just a great story.

Tracy O’Rourke: Hip, hip hooray! That is very exciting, very inspirational. I love it when people can apply these Green Belt processes and projects and skills into something as rewarding as that saving lives really. So wow! Very impressive.

I love it when people can apply these Green Belt processes and projects and skills into something as rewarding as that saving lives really.

Elisabeth Swan: Yeah, wow! And yeah, to your point. You’re listening to the Just-In-Time Café Podcast. I’m Elisabeth Swan. Up next, it’s the Printed Page.

The Printed Page: Otherwise Engaged by John Guaspari

Tracy O’Rourke: OK, Elisabeth, how does satire make better leaders?

Elisabeth Swan: That’s a great question, Tracy. And it’s answered in this month’s book which is Otherwise Engaged by John Guaspari. And the subtitle is How Leaders Get a Firmer Grip on Employee Engagement and Other Key Intangibles. And then there’s an asterisk. And the footnote says, “If that is, it were possible to grip something that’s intangible.”

So the title, the subtitle, and the footnote says it all, right? These are squishy topics, empowerment, engagement, trust, respect. We have it easy. When we’re teaching 8 Wastes or how to build a histogram, these are mercifully tangible. But the most beautiful histogram in the world cannot save a project if none of the stakeholders are engaged. And we’ve seen it a lot. The soft stuff is key and it’s also very hard.

And like a few other books that we’ve reviewed recently, this one mixes a story into the model. So, it sort of goes back and forth between the fable and the teach points. And this time, it’s the Wilson family which John admitted was a little bit based on his family and they are, yeah, but in a pure satirical form.

John Guaspari would always mix his sense of humor and his keen insights. But this family has whiteboards and post-its. They conduct surveys. And they hopelessly apply business techniques to improve family engagement. And I think you could guess, actually you know the results because you read it too. And it’s a nice way to point out the fallacy of a lot of what organizations do to increase engagements, to conduct these events as if you could solve that with once a year event or pizza lunches or something like that, not that there’s anything wrong pizza or lunch.

And he does a great job with guiding the reader to a reexamination of the word respect, which I found so refreshing. How about you?

Tracy O’Rourke: Yes, I agree. I thought this was a very nice way of teeing up these intangibles of think about. I’m actually not a huge fan of fables but his use of fable in this story really worked. The parent couple, as you mentioned, Jessica and Matt, they remind of the couple in Modern Family, Claire and Phil Dunphy. And I kept visualizing them talking as I was reading the book which made it even more interesting and entertaining.

But I think what was ultimately kind of struck me really hard was Jessica and Matt, they’re doing all these things to try to improve family engagement and their comical choices like getting shirts printed with family values and making posters, it seemed ridiculous until you realized that those are the very same techniques organizations use all the time to try to improve employee engagement. And then you actually say, “Well, that’s stupid, isn’t it?”

But all joking aside, you see that organizations that say they embrace respect as a value but then they disrespect each other, it’s oozing everywhere sometimes and people talking over each, sending vicious emails, not listening or having thoughtful consideration of people’s opinions. It’s blatant disregard for respect. And you see that everywhere and it’s really unfortunate.

So this book I believe handles a very serious issue in a way that opens your eyes and makes you really think about what an organization could do and shouldn’t do to get a handle on what Guaspari calls the intangibles. So yes, go ahead.

Elisabeth Swan: Well, it packs a few laughs in the bargain. I like that.

Tracy O’Rourke: Oh, absolutely. It was very – I actually laughed out loud a few times about some of the things that they were trying to do in terms of the family unit. But I think what’s really important too is obviously, this is just the Just-In-Time Café and we talk about Lean and Lean culture and Lean Six Sigma, and those things are very important to Lean culture and getting something, getting the culture to thrive based on respect, based on these engagement and empowerment, these intangibles if you will.

And often, people don’t think about those things enough. They think about the tools and they think about the training and they want to implement things on the shot floor but what they’re missing are the things that leaders are doing to grow problem-solvers, to build intentional culture, and that is really important and hard to see.

They think about the tools and they think about the training and they want to implement things on the shot floor but what they’re missing are the things that leaders are doing to grow problem-solvers, to build intentional culture, and that is really important and hard to see.

And all of these intangibles are the very things that help a Lean culture thrive. It’s just not the Lean tools that define success with Lean. It’s about the culture. So things we necessarily can’t see on the plant floor, the kanbans and the work sells, those kinds of things. It’s really about what people don’t get to see on these tours, the things that leadership is doing to engage employees, to grow problems, to make sure that people feel respected. Those are very important in a Lean culture too. And sometimes we don’t pay enough attention to it or we don’t do it the right way.

Elisabeth Swan: Absolutely, Tracy. So the book is “Otherwise Engaged by John Guaspari and great for leaders as Tracy summarized and also great for process improvement teams and as a way to build a respectful Lean culture.


Elisabeth Swan: Tracy, here’s a question for you. What’s a good way to keep Green Belts engaged when they’re their training online?

Tracy O’Rourke: So that is a great question. And that could be challenging. So what I’m noticing is that there are lots of options now for learning material and going through material. There’s online. There’s on-site. There’s hybrid. And people sometimes need some support. So I’m finding that making the jump to completely online training can sometimes be hard for people.

And so, one of the things that you can do is if you are having an online training, you could facilitate what we would call group reviews. And what group reviews are, is it’s a way to schedule group sessions with multiple people going through the training and it’s a nice way to have a balanced between online self-directed training modules and some sort of connection and tie to a group of learners.

So it has flexibility still in learning. You’re not having to fly people to one location for an entire week. So it gives you the flexibility of finishing these training modules but it does create that tie when you schedule these group learners and some of those sessions.

So, some of the other benefits would be that it keeps people on task. So I think the hard part about online is sometimes people say, “Well, I’ll just get to it when I have time.” Well, that will never happen. It does need to be scheduled. You actually need to put it on your calendar. And so, when you are accountable to a group for finishing a certain amount, it helps you get the assignments complete. So putting the things on the calendar, having the assignments, and then knowing that you’re going to meet with these group reviews will help a great deal.

The other thing I really enjoy about group review sessions is the peer coaching that can happen. So ultimately and hopefully, all of the students are also trying and applying some of these tools to projects and to talk about their project charters, to talk about the SIPOCs that they’re building, and the fishbone diagrams, and giving feedback to your peer helps build those skills. It helps improve and increase understanding. So it’s the real practical application that you can focus on during these group reviews. And I really enjoy the engagement, learning alongside others especially for those projects.

And finally, don’t forget to do something fun, an icebreaker to bring the group together or schedule a tour if you can, a lean tour. Go see another area of your organization or even outside of your organization. Those are always fun too. So group reviews can help a great deal create some more connection and accountability for otherwise self-directed training modules.

Elisabeth Swan: You know what you could add, Tracy? Everyone can have Bitmoji and have all their own avatars.

Tracy O’Rourke: I love it. That should be the first icebreaker so they can continue using it.

Elisabeth Swan: I’m going to tie it all together.

Tracy O’Rourke: Up next is Today’s Special, which is Elisabeth’s interview with John Guaspari. So Elisabeth, can you give us a preview of your interview and how baseball figures into this?

Elisabeth Swan: John is great at analogies and he making the case for employee engagement being the new key to getting the edge in today’s business. Think about what’s the next big thing. He said that’s engagement. And he relates that to Michael Lewis’ famous book, Moneyball that got made into a movie that is about how the Oakland A’s, a cash drop team got the edge. For them, it was statistics.

And he is basically putting out there that engagement is now in that position of being that edge. And his analogies are great and the book is great and it’s fun to talk about. So tune in.

Tracy O’Rourke: I’m looking forward to hearing it.

Coupon Code

Tracy O’Rourke: OK, everyone. It’s time to announce the da da da coupon code!

Elisabeth Swan: First time ever on the podcast.

Tracy O’Rourke: This code is for 30% off any of our Lean Six Sigma training and certification courses including White, Yellow, Green, Black, and Lean training.

Elisabeth Swan: Not bad. What’s the occasion?

Tracy O’Rourke: We are giving our listeners a special gift because we are grateful to have you all as an audience and we want to offer you a perk for joining us at the Just-In-Time Café. Just use coupon code LATTE30, like the coffee. So that’s L-A-T-T-E-3-0 during checkout. Make sure to use soon since the coupon code will expire at the end of September.

Today’s Special: Interview With John Guaspari, Employee Engagement Expert

Elisabeth Swan: Time now for Today’s Special with my special guest, John Guaspari. John Guaspari has helped leaders for over 30 years take on the challenge of being more effective at attending to employee engagement and the rest of the key intangibles like empowerment, trust, respect in order to leverage the full potential of their workforce.

His latest book, Otherwise Engaged: How Leaders Can Get a Firmer Grip on Employee Engagement and Other Key Intangibles was selected by Leadership and Management Books as one of 2015’s top five management books.

He is the author of six previous books on this and related topics including the bestselling I Know It When I See It and the Customer Connection.

In addition, John was the writer and co-producer of seven bestselling training videos including Time: The Next Dimension of Quality and The Value Effect.

John, welcome to the podcast. You have had a long storied career, seven books, seven videos. Your expertise runs from aerospace to organizational effectiveness. What drew you to the topic of employee engagement? What inspired you to write this book?

John Guaspari: Actually, it goes back a long way to when I first got involved in the area of total quality, which was back in the late 1980s. And I began to hear from executives, presidents of companies, CEOs, vice-presidents of manufacturing, vice-presidents of quality that, “We know what we need to do to implement quality and TQM tools but how do I get my people to want to do it?”

“We know what we need to do to implement quality and TQM tools but how do I get my people to want to do it?”

And I kind of got intrigued by that question. It’s the distinction between in effect, the rational and the emotional sides of making organizational change happen. And I began to see the same pattern over the year whether that particular technical expertise was quality or Lean or just in time, or reengineering, there was always that same distinction. What do we need to do from a technical point of view and how do I get my people to truly want to do it?

Well, over the last years, the word that began to be used to kind of capture that want to notion was engagement. How do I make sure my employees are more fully engaged? And so that’s really how I got involved in the area and the book, Otherwise Engaged is kind of the culmination of all I’ve learned over those previous 30 years.

Elisabeth Swan: That’s a great origin story and I could see where you and I both fit in that improvement world which has changed, the names have changed but the issues remain the same, that soft stuff you described that that intangible piece of getting people to want to do it.

So the book, just to let our readers know, it alternates chapters about a family called the Wilson’s with chapters on the underpinnings of your model. And you call the Wilson family chapters part of a parable. And for me, it was comedy with a healthy dose of satire. I kind of think of you as the Dave Barry of business books. And I could not help but noticed that the Wilson family has the same demographics as your own. You got mother, father, son, and daughter. How much have you drawn on home life?

John Guaspari: I’m ashamed to say quite a bit. But as you said, the book is parable. And the reason I set it in a family setting was the premise of the book is that there’s a family that tries to use the tools of improvement to improve their level of – their family’s performance if you will, which I hope people will recognize was meant to be satirical. And the reason I did that was to make it so ridiculous that people wouldn’t get caught up and would recognize this couldn’t really have happened and so that maybe the actual learning points would be more clear.

Now, I say it hasn’t happened but I actually did for example, once when my kids were, they were probably about 12 and 8. We’ve been having a discussion of whether or not Diet Coke tasted the same as – a caffeine-free Diet Coke and regular Diet Coke tasted the same. So I actually did put some of her friend’s – her and my son and daughter’s friends – through a blind taste test. When they came to the house, I gave them a little dentist’s cup full of the two and said which one do you think is Coke and which is Diet Coke. And they just had it and let me forget that.

Elisabeth Swan: Yeah. So that made it into the book which I really appreciate. I also love the kids referring to decaf as fake coffee because I totally agree with that. That’s totally fake coffee. And you remind me also, I brought a flipchart and post-it notes to a family work day which I’m still trying to live down. So, I’m with you. I see how it makes it into the home life.

John Guaspari: Yup.

Elisabeth Swan: So coming back to the pieces you point out, what goes into the engagement. You point out it’s – and it’s actually in the subtitle, it’s tough to pin down, these intangibles. But it’s actually necessary for leaders to get tangible things like process improvement done. So one key element you cover is empowerment. And improvement teams have to be empowered to change processes.

But you say empowerment cannot be bestowed. So I want you to say more about that.

John Guaspari: Yeah. One of the pitfalls that I see that leaders can fall into – as a matter of fact, let me give you an example of that. This is also in the book. That I actually sat in the back of an auditorium where the president of a $5 billion business was reviewing the results of the company’s latest employee survey, employee opinion survey.

And one of the areas that the survey had probed at was this notion of empowerment. And he was concerned, the president of the company, was concerned that the empowerment still seemed to be an issue. And so in the room were his top about 125 managers from the business. It was his direct reports and their direct reports. And he clearly was frustrated and he got it – walked down stage and said, “People, you really need to understand. You are empowered. And I need you to go back to your people and make sure they understand that they are empowered.”

And that to me is the issue that you can’t just assert it. As a matter of fact, I saw – when he said that, I saw a fellow in the front row, he was one of his vice-presidents, looked as though he was starting to raise his hand. And then I saw him pull his hand back.

And so when the meeting was over, I tracked that guy down. I happened to know him. I’ve done some work with him in the past. And I said, “You looked like you wanted to say something regarding empowerment.” He said, “Yeah, I did.” So why didn’t you say it? He said, “I didn’t feel safe to say it.” And so, the irony is he didn’t feel empowered to raise a concern about the way empowerment was being handled. He said, “If people don’t feel empowered then they aren’t empowered. And we can tell them until we’re blue in the face but that’s not empowerment. Empowerment is a feeling of trust that a person has, not a checkmark in a box that I, the leader, have now empowered you, have bestowed this empowerment by you.” That’s what I was trying to get at there.

Empowerment is a feeling of trust that a person has, not a checkmark in a box that I, the leader, have now empowered you, have bestowed this empowerment by you.

Elisabeth Swan: Yeah. And you said it there when you are talking about how he felt and you described it as a feeling of trust but you also said it’s a feeling of safety. Is it safe to bring this up?

John Guaspari: Right. In fact, in my book, the definition of empowerment that I use is the feeling of safety while exercising judgment on the job. So there are all kinds of things where no judgment is required. So you don’t need to be empowered to do that. There are company policies and protocols. There’s no grey area for that. You follow those.

There’s also areas where it’s clear that you have license to do what you want to do. Do I want to log in to my email before I do some other work in the morning or do the other or that stuff?” When you get into those grey areas where you need to exercise judgment, if the questions you’re asking yourself is, is this right for the business? Is this consistent with our strategy? Is this consistent with the path we should be going down? That’s fine. But if the question you’re asking yourself is, is my boss going to rip my face off when I do this? That’s probably not healthy.

And I’ve actually heard that phrase. That term is more than I would care to admit. But yeah, I mean – and one of the problems with engagement is that people, the model people having their head for it tends to be mechanical model if you think in terms of gears and gauging, things coming together.

But engagement in the sense that it ought to be used of getting to what engagement means, the extent to which people feel moved to invest extra effort and energy. So if I’m your boss and I say, “Well, I am – we are now going to meet. I therefore have engaged you.” That’s not necessarily true. It depends on what’s going through your mind while we’re meeting. If you’re thinking, “Boy, I now feel truly inspired to invest extra energy and effort,” then maybe you have become engaged.

But if you’re sitting there thinking, “Why is he telling me this? I’ve got other things to do.” Then not only isn’t that necessarily engaging, it may actually be doing harm.

Elisabeth Swan: That’s great. There was a quote you had early on that really struck me. And it was from the perspective of the employee, “Why should I care? What does all this mean to me?” And that to me sums up what you’re just saying there. It takes us back to purpose. Why are they doing their job? Why does the business exist?

In the case of Lean, they call it true north.

John Guaspari: Exactly. Why should I care? What does this mean to me? Sometime people, they are dismissive of that and think, “Well, that’s just someone being selfish and worrying about their own stuff.” I don’t mean that at all. I’m talking about, “Look, I invest 40 or 50 or 60 or however many hours of work on the job each week. I want it to matter to me. I want it to mean something to me because then I know I’ll do a better job.”

We all know what that feeling is. I mean the test for engagement to me is think of going to work and working on something that is just wrought and routine and hum-drummed and doesn’t particularly challenge you. You know it’s necessary to do but you could probably do it in your sleep.

How engaged, how energized are you on a day like that? How fast does time seem to be passing on a day like that when you’re going through those things? Time seems to drag. You’re looking at your watch. You can’t wait to get in your car and drive home.

Now, consider when you’ve been working on something that really – you’re really kind of jazzed about it. It really hits home with you. This really matters a lot to you. Time flies. Before you know it, you look up at 6:00 o’clock and you’re probably going to be late getting home. While you’re driving home, your mind is racing about things you can do the next stage. You’re kind of eager to go to work the next day.

Think of those two feelings. That’s where engagement resides. I know this is a very soft and squishy. But it truly is about that feeling that individuals have in their heart when they go to work, not about a list of again, the to-do column on your project management spreadsheet and things that you’re giving people to do.

Look, you touched on it at the beginning. My formal training – I have undergraduate and graduate degrees in aerospace engineering. I was an engineer and I’m kind of wired that way as an engineer. So if you told me three years ago that I would have spent the last three quarters of my career working on all soft stuff, I would have said you were crazy.

But it strikes me as the height of irrationality. Engineering is generally considered to be the ultimate rational job. You’re solving real problems. It’s the height of irrationality to simply just be dismissive about what is least 51% of the problem, the extent to which people are truly moved to invest more.

And so, it seems to me to be very rational to say as hurry as this might be and as difficult as this might be and even as uncomfortable as this might make me feel to work in this area, it’s a part of the job and I need to do it if I’m really going to be an effective leader.

Elisabeth Swan: Yeah. I heard you make a statement about improvement projects on time where you said it’s not inspiring to say, “Let’s reduce defects.” It’s like saying to people, “Come on, people. Let’s mess up less.” Like it’s hard to get behind that. And that always stuck in the back of my mind when I thought about these projects and how do you frame them.

And I recently worked with someone who was trying to get employees to follow the procedure for buying things. He is trying to reduce cost with supplies. And people were getting annoyed just buying soap they don’t like, things like that. And she said to them, this was a group that is doing head start programs, she said, “Look, the money we saved last week from me changing these suppliers has enabled us to have a mortgage on another building where we can have classrooms for children.”

So back to your point, why should I care? I think that as an engineer, you kind of get this stuff done but there’s this big frontend that if you don’t have it, it doesn’t get done.

John Guaspari: Absolutely. I mean that’s a great example. OK. That’s why this matters. To me, the most universally applicable way of getting people to understand the why of it all is to get people to focus on the customer. What value does this represent to your company’s customers or your organization’s customers?

What value does this represent to your company’s customers or your organization’s customers?

And that as you suggested in the example you gave, the reason this matter is it enables us to be able to deliver more value whether it would be in the form of another building or a product feature or better service. And people react to that. People like that. People who do want to feel as though they are in service to others. That’s a very inherently motivating thing.

You remind me of an example I used to use years ago that you should brush your teeth after every meal and it will promote proper dental care and avoid toothaches. And I agree. Maybe even floss from time to time.

But my goal in life is not to avoid dental problems. My goal in life is to do something more of value. Now clearly, if I constantly have aches and pains from not brushing or flossing, that’s going to get in the way of the other stuff. So, that’s kind of baseline stuff but that’s not my purpose, to avoid problems. My purpose is to create positives not just to avoid negatives.

And again, it’s very difficult to keep that in mind. But it’s important. As a matter of fact, here’s an – this example literally just like hurts me. I don’t know how many of your listeners are baseball fans, but I just read a book by Tom Verducci who is the long-time baseball writer for Sports Illustrated. The book is called The Cubs Way. And it follows the Chicago Cubs who finally last year after a hundred and some odd years won a World Series.

And a lot of it has to do with Theo Epstein who is the President of the Baseball Operations for the Cubs. Theo Epstein is a Boston guy. He was in the same position with the Red Sox when they finally won a World Series in 2004 and ended their long-time drought of World Championships.

Well, back in 2004, 2005, 2006, the book Moneyball had come out and people started focusing on Moneyball. You’re aware of that ball area?

Elisabeth Swan: Oh yeah.

John Guaspari: OK. And that meant taking a more statistics-based approach to baseball, and not just do it by the seat of your pants but actually look at the numbers and look for hidden value. There are players in baseball who are a lot more valuable than you might think.

Elisabeth Swan: Not just the homerun hitters.

John Guaspari: Not just homerun hitters. So the Oakland Billy Beane was the General Manager of the Oakland A’s. He was the first guy associated with that, the guy that Brad Pitt played in the movie. And they had an advantage. And Theo Epstein was at the Red Sox who probably was the second team to do this.

And Theo in this book about the Cubs says, “We had an edge because we have these analytics at our disposal that other people weren’t using that really was a competitive advantage for us. Well, now though, everybody is using them.

So that can no longer be an edge. We still have to do it but we need to look elsewhere for that value edge. And he said, where they now, where the Cubs looked very carefully and what they would be very careful about when building the team that won World Series last year was they looked at the character of the ball players. They look at the intangibles associated with the players. How they were in the clubhouse, on the road with the team? Did players gravitate toward them or do they – where they kind of off-putting to their teammates?

And they had built the Cubs, that was very critical to the team. And there are a lot of examples and I could go on for hours and I know you don’t want me to talk about specifics of the Cubs. But I find that interesting parallel in that if again, you go back to TQM or Lean or just in time back 20, 30 years ago, initially, the advantage was simply understanding those techniques, the technical tools.

Not everybody is doing them. So that’s not an edge anymore. Where are you going to get the edge? You’re going to get the edge by managing to get that incremental bit of effort and energy from your people by having your people more truly engaged.

So I think there’s some parallel there. But sure, the place you’ll look is going to be the analytics, the technical side. But once everybody is doing it and they all learn now, you’re going to look elsewhere. And in every company in the world, every annual report ever published, every keynote speech and the all-hands meeting invariably I would say our most valuable resource is- are people. And they don’t see it

Well, that actually is true. So how do you get the incremental bit of effort and energy from the people, it’s by having them more truly engaged and that isn’t going to happen by simply having the mechanical aspects of engagement. It does come from what you were saying, understanding what is really meaningful to people and how can you create an environment within which people are more liable to find real meaning in their work because given the meaning, they’ll do the work. They’ll work harder. People do. People want to do better. People want to work harder. They will. And I’m not a Pollyanna for saying that. It’s just the way the world works.

…how can you create an environment within which people are more liable to find real meaning in their work because given the meaning, they’ll do the work.

Elisabeth Swan: I know you are right. And it’s just great that it boils down to that whether it’s baseball or high tech firms or Cape Cod Child Development. It’s answering that question, why should I care? And I so appreciate you bringing that to the surface.

So John, how can someone find you or communicate with you?

John Guaspari: The best best is via my website and it’s simply my name dot com,, J-O-H-N And there will be a bit about some of my books and there’s a bunch of articles on there and there’s link to it. Phone me or email me.

Elisabeth Swan: Thank you so much for visiting the Café today, John. And thank you everyone out there for listening in. Please tune again next month for the Just-In-Time podcast coffee. Thank you. Bye-bye.

Thanks for Listening!

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Elisabeth Swan

Elisabeth is a Master Black Belt at, the co-author of The Problem-Solver’s Toolkit and co-host of the Just-in-Time Cafe. For over 30 years, she's helped leading organizations like Amazon, Charles Schwab and Marriott International, Inc. build problem-solving muscles with Lean Six Sigma to achieve their goals.

Tracy O'Rourke

Tracy is a Master Black Belt at, the co-author of The Problem-Solver’s Toolkit and co-host of the Just-in-Time Cafe. She is also a Lean Six Sigma Green Belt Instructor at UC San Diego and teaches in San Diego State University’s Lean Enterprise Program. For almost 20 years, she has helped leading organizations like Washington State, Charles Schwab and GE build problem-solving muscles.

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