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Steven Kane on Putting out Fires with Customer Success

2 minutes, 20 seconds read

Is your Lean program dedicated to making a vision of customer success reality? Or is it about applying Lean tools? 

It’s easy to get lost in the latter, acknowledges Steven Kane, Director of Customer Success for Gemba Academy. He has seen this firsthand. 

In the latest Lean Frontline Podcast, Kane reveals how he once fell into this trap. “Like so many Lean practitioners I started off as a tool head, applying Lean tools everywhere,” he shares. But when Kane became a plant manager at a facility looking to amp up its Lean implementation, he found this tool-first focus didn’t drive the results he wanted. In fact, morale was low, retention was problematic and quality wasn’t where it needed to be. 

A new approach 

Then a production support supervisor encouraged Kane to consider implementing a customer-focused culture. By focusing foremost on customer success, and giving production operators responsibility to make that happen in the ways they thought best, the company could re-establish trust with the frontline. 

“I kept saying no,” Kane recalls. “I used all the excuses: We’re different. That wouldn’t work here. I couldn’t even get people to commit to one-piece flow … I don’t see how they can run the plant.”

But a 30-minute factory tour of a company that had adopted a customer-focused method changed Kane’s tune and his plant’s entire culture. 

Lean insight

Based on the ensuing radical change, Kane offers other Lean leaders two pieces of advice: 

  • Define the vision, then align leadership to make that vision a reality. Kane acknowledges that the early days of his former plant’s customer-focused transformation were a bit chaotic. Because the management team remained in complete agreement on the value of its customer success vision, the team got through those rough patches. “We believed in it, and believed in each other,” Kane shares. “ We agreed that if any problem comes up we were all going to get involved in it and we were to respect each other’s roles.” The group addressed questions together and supported group decisions 100 percent.
  • Know what problem you’re trying to solve. Keep your vision in the forefront as you discuss strategies to achieve it. Kane notes that often the emphasis shifts to training people to apply Lean tools without a clear understanding of how that training will achieve the vision. “We need to remain focused on the goals as a business and understand that the training is a way to overcome an obstacle between you and achieving that goal. We don’t want the training to be an end in itself,” Kane says.

For more insight, listen to the full podcast.

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