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Wonder Women of Quality: Tracey Richardson -

They’re delivering a one-two punch to defects. They’re ridding the earth of process waste. They’re on the front lines delivering customer service perfection. They’re in leadership striving to make a difference in the world. They’re kicking process improvement butt! The Wonder Women of Quality are here!

This month in the Wonder Women of Quality pantheon we are honored to highlight Tracey Richardson!

Tracey Richardson is president and co-owner of Teaching Lean Inc. with over 31 years of experience in Toyota methodologies. She is on the faculty at the Lean Enterprise Institute and teaches Lean curriculums with several colleges including Ohio State University’s Master Business Operational Excellence Program.

Tracey is the co-author of the Shingo Publication Prize-winning book The Toyota Engagement Equation – Understanding and Implementing a Continuous Thinking Environment for Any Organization with her husband Ernie who worked for 25 years at Toyota Engineering and Manufacturing North America. Tracey is passionate about assisting organizations on their “Lean learning journey” and supporting key elements for success. Her goal whether inside or outside of Toyota is to develop the capabilities of Team Members, Leadership, and Executives in Lean Thinking.

Here are Tracey’s answers to a few of our questions:

What is your Quality Mission?

My goal is to develop and coach people beyond what “they” think they are capable of achieving professionally and personally. It was a gift my trainers gave to me, pushing me into a discomfort zone to learn and embrace it. I like to think I can do that for others so they can continue to share that wisdom with the next generation, as Mr. Cho would say to us.

What is your Quality Superpower?

I really prefer to “engage, involve and empower” people to think versus “sell, tell or convince” them of anything when it comes to changing a culture. I feel the power of self-discovery learning (experiencing first hand where the work is happening) is crucial for buy-in. I believe that how we think is crucial not only for ourselves but the ones we influence.

I feel that developing self-awareness of the “daily verbiage” we use is a key factor in change. Simple words like “I think” or “I feel” is really different than “I know” and “here is how.” This helps differentiate the world of fact-based thinking versus opinions or assumptions. It will minimize a lot of rework if we go and see the first time.

What do you see as Quality Kryptonite?

From my experience one of the biggest obstacles is the lack of accountability for creating standards (documenting best-known methods to serve the customer) and assigning accountability for those standards once they are agreed upon by the process owners.

We have seen standards come across as a “suggestion to follow” versus “this is the best-known method at the moment – we have consensus to follow it until we change it together.” Standardization allows us to see abnormality at a glance and measures the difference, not to stifle creativity but embrace it. If we are unable to measure a problem it is difficult to solve it (my trainers would say). If we don’t take the time and invest in standards then true problem solving isn’t possible and usually results in “fire-fighting” and that isn’t a sustainable business practice.

What are some of your Quality Victories?

One of my victories was writing The Toyota Engagement Equation. Trying to capture 30 years of leading and learning with different hats at Toyota through those years was a complex process for a single book. My goal was to take readers on a learning journey, walking with me each step of the way realizing it’s acceptable to have failures because they are part of the learning process and not to celebrate the successes too long. Never become complacent.

Another victory was making it through Toyota’s year-and-a-half hiring process. In 1987, over 150,000 people applied for 1,500 initial jobs and I was blessed to meet the goals at each gate on the way to an interview. That was a turning point in my life. It was a winning lottery ticket that changed my path.

I consider my personal development journey a victory. Being born a true introvert (and not enjoying public speaking), playing the extroverted role of a leader wasn’t natural to me. Years of pushing myself and receiving coaching from others enabled me to be what people needed me to be in order to coach and develop others. When you grasp your own learning style, it’s much easier to understand the different styles of others. Lastly, winning the Shingo Prize for The Toyota Engagement Equation, what an honor.

Do you have any Words of Wisdom?

It’s perfectly fine not to know the answer if someone asks. If you answer – “hey I’m not sure, let’s go see it together,” that shows you are willing to take the time and invest in your own learning as well as the learning of others.

Sometimes we overlook “accepted rework” as the norm whereas it’s actually precious time that we could be investing in more value-added ways. In my experience, getting to know something about the people you serve is an important trait in gaining mutual trust and respect. Everyone is on a personal learning journey.

Some of us are just starting, some are in the middle and some of us will never stop no matter our tenure. Being humble and acknowledging our roots and how we got to where we are today is something we all should remember. I do it each day and I’m thankful to share my trials, tribulations and successes with other learners.

Thanks again to Tracey Richardson for her quality thoughts!