It’s starting with the processes that bug you the most in both your work life and home life and finding the most straightforward way to free up your time for something better. We sat down with a Lean Six Sigma Black Belt to talk about everything from keeping track of your keys to adopting the software for your team.
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About Our Guest:
President - Learning To Learn
Katie Labedz is the president at Learning to Lean, a training and coaching business that helps others enhance their company culture and focus on continuous improvement.
She utilizes Lean Six Sigma to help people establish healthier and efficient processes, including simplifying existing processes, outsourcing tasks, and adopting systems when necessary to allow employees to focus on the job they were hired for.
The benefits of working with the expertise someone like Katie can offer are not just great for your bottom line but the overall culture within your company and the happiness of your employees.
Halie Morris 0:31
Katie is going to be talking to us about some of the different habits and things that we do, or we could do, to build and improve ourselves in our company. We’re going to really dive into the things that we could change today, or we should be changing to make ourselves better.
So Katie, would you mind introducing yourself and getting started?
Katie Labedz 1:07
Sure. Thanks, Halie for having me on.
So as Halie said, I’m Katie Labedz. I’m the president of a company called Learning to Lean. What I offer to businesses and individuals is the continuous improvement application of those concepts. So I’ll come in, and I will help you to improve your day to day processes to save time and money.
It’s very rewarding from an educational standpoint, and I’m a Lean Six Sigma master black belt. So that just tells you that I have the ability to apply what I’ve learned.
That’s amazing. I think that’s something many businesses are kind of striving for, but maybe we’re not all able to accomplish. We’re not all enabled to reach it ourselves and then share it with our teams, of course.
So that being said, what are some things, when you come into a business, that you see them doing, some habits that they’ve ingrained or processed that they’ve done that maybe are hindering them when it comes to their efficiency and their effectiveness?
Sure, so some of the things that I see, first of all, is still the use of paper. It is amazing how many businesses still have paper processes, even in 2020. So that’s always an opportunity for improvement because it’s normally a very manual process and we want to be able to automate their processes.
The other one is really having a culture as you mentioned earlier, having a culture that allows you to try to fix something and be okay if you don’t fix it the first time. I think we’re all set up for, “I’m going to do this and I’m going to do it right, and it’s gonna be fantastic the first time that I apply it.” That’s not realistic.
You know, we’re human. We make mistakes, but it’s important to have that culture and that environment that allows you to try and to learn from your mistakes, or learn from your failure, and then just keep going again.
Many companies, first of all, don’t encourage people to try new things or they chastise them if they are ever wrong. That kind of dampens that ability.
I would certainly agree. One of the things that I liked when I came into this business that I liked was that we saw the entrepreneurial mindset, which not everybody can be an entrepreneur, especially when you’re coming into an existing business.
But our thought was behind it, not so much that we want them to build a new business within our business, but that we want them to come with new ideas, the ability to constantly evolve and grow.
We encourage that with our process. We always ask for feedback. We do a company meeting every month and everybody’s invited to speak up, whether it’s that we’re making improvements, things they want to see, or just giving shoutouts to the people who are doing stellar things right now.
So, it does a lot for the company culture, which in return helps the business grow and just makes it a place where you have high retention, high engagement, and free-flowing thoughts and ideas, which diversity of thoughts and ideas is what builds strength within a company.
Absolutely, and it starts from the top. It starts with your management team or your leaders in your organization and whether or not they are speaking the language.
In my case, I train the leaders of companies to speak the language of continuous improvement and understand those concepts at a high level. Then I have them encourage people to be able to follow those concepts or apply those concepts. Again, we call the cycle “Plan. Do. Check. Act.”
So you work on determining what your problem is or what you’re trying to solve. You try to fix it, and then you check and see if that worked or not. Then you go from there. So the next step is, you either are going to implement that new change, or you’re going to start all over. Start again and say, “maybe I didn’t really understand that problem well enough.”
Another thing with the leadership team, not only understanding and knowing that, but like you just mentioned, celebrating the wins. Shout outs, recognition, but it’s recognition in the manner in which your team members in your company appreciate.
So my background is also in IT, and I can tell you, there’s not a lot of IT people that like shoutouts and anything that has to do with attention given to them in a social or business typesetting. They’re not the group that wants to have anything like that normally.
You really have to understand the team members and what they appreciate. Maybe they would just appreciate a thank you card slid on their desk, or an email that says things rather than, “let’s celebrate John today because he did this great thing,” and John’s covering his eyes in his chair, at his desk, saying “Don’t look at me!” So that’s important, too.
Yeah, and I think we like to set a process or a way of doing things and then have it the same across the board. Which can do a bit of harm, especially with the appreciation side of it, it’s like you said, people are so different.
Some teams and some individuals are going to be quieter, and more reserved. If you put a spotlight on them, they’re gonna run and hide and you could have an adverse effect from it. So that’s a really good point.
Coming back to the idea of the top-down theory. We do see businesses flattening the curve, that they want to have more communication and everything. But that doesn’t mean that everybody is prone to the same thing.
Somebody who has an entry-level position is not going to be held to the same standard as the CEO, because the CEO is still going to be looked at more often. You don’t want to see the CEO coming in and slouching and kicking chairs, saying, “I don’t want to be at work today.”
No, you don’t. This leads to a good concept that I try to help businesses with too. Most of the time, they recognize they need to change, but they have no idea where to start.
I always tell people to start with the process that bugs you the most. So as you’re driving into work, or you’re walking into work today, or you’re going to your office at your home, and turning on your computer, what do you dread doing?
For some people, it’s dreading running this report, or creating this report or doing this other thing, because it’s very manual, or this process takes me forever. If I get interrupted by a kid coming to the door, or somebody walking by wanting to chat, I lose my place.
So I always tell businesses, that’s where you start your journey. That’s where you start to improve processes if you want to make your employees be excited as much as they can to come to work, and eliminate those processes that bug them the most.
That’s part of what we preach as a SaaS company. It is maximizing what you’re doing. So going back to the paperwork, some of the things that we are doing that are very manual can be very time-consuming.
It can be that little tidbit that drives you the craziest about your job like updating your systems, typing somebody in an Excel sheet, or going through and fixing all the mistakes that somebody was typed into an Excel sheet wrong. It can be the most annoying thing in the world.
I used to onboard people and if we messed up in our process, and they weren’t actually in the system yet, it could set me back a couple of days, but they’re setting in front of me to do their paperwork right now. So getting a more efficient system in that situation or looking at IT and saying, “This is what we’re doing. How can you help us?” would have been so much better and would have made the program so much smoother.
But if you are an Excel person or you’re a paper person, looking at adopting a CRM or an HRIS or whatever it is, that area you’re looking at could be your solution.
Correct. I think most people, as you mentioned with HR and doing onboarding and IT, most people don’t believe that they should start their continuous improvement journey in a service center. So IT, finance, HR, legal, etc. People just think, “oh, that’s for manufacturing.”
It’s actually my specialty to be able to go in and say, “You know what, it’s not about manufacturing.” That one’s easy, right? Because you can walk through a manufacturing area and actually see the improvements. If you made an improvement in HR, or in IT, you can’t necessarily see it right away. If you’re onboarding a new hire, they have no idea what’s going on in the background.
It’s no fault of their own. They’re not supposed to. You’re supposed to make it look like magic. So improving that process behind the scenes is more important. From a financial standpoint, I think you get more return on investment by doing it in the office. It’s just not as easy to see.
It’s the unconscious spending you’re doing in a business, where you’re putting money into it. But sometimes it’s not tracked as well, or you can’t research or see that return on investment as easily.
You don’t realize that the money you put into HR has its own return. So, you don’t know how to measure it. You can’t measure it as easily and you assume that you should just let that process- just let sleeping dogs sleep. Don’t touch it.
Coming out of the talent acquisition space, the HR space, we knew we needed an HRIS and we wanted an HRIS for adjusting timekeeping and things like that. There’s always going to be a little bit of a kickback when you introduce change because some people are so comfortable with how they do it.
That change makes them pause, middle like that pause. They don’t like that little learning period that they have, but then it gets faster, and then it gets smoother. Then suddenly, something that took time out of your day may only be a couple of seconds, or it’s done automatically for you.
So that’s really cool. We try to do it with the systems we introduce, especially with things like a CRM and we do an auto dialer, which is like the king of taking out the manual work. People always think it is, but it’s not a robo-dialer.
What we did is that we said, you spend so much time dialing and looking up information and doing all this little nuance stuff. If you put it in the system, it pulls up their information. It’s easy to make a calling campaign, and then that person’s contact information, your notes on them, and all that stuff are right in front of you, and it dials for you so you’re not typing in things.
You can set it up to drop in a voicemail if you want to, or you can leave it yourself. It cuts back on all this time that you spend in between a call when you’re probably in sales for a reason. You want to talk to people.
So it gets you on the phone with more people. And if you’re not connecting with people, it takes out that lag time that you spend just being like,” Oh, I dropped that one.” No, it’s “Now what?” It’s the refreshing part of actually getting to do your job.
Sure, and also not just the time it takes for you to put those keys in, but how many times do you make a mistake? So that has a lot to do with it also, eliminating the possibility of mistakes. It’s also called mistake-proofing.
So how can we make a process so that people can’t make a mistake or we bring that down to a very minute percentage that can make a mistake, but doing an auto dialer is exactly that. So it saves you time and then it also prevents you from fat fingering something.
Yeah. So when you meant to call George and you accidentally get a hold of McDonald’s, you’re a little embarrassed and you just spent all this time calling McDonald’s.
Yeah, I’ll go ahead and take a Big Mac, but I gotta go. I gotta talk to George.
That’s right. I’ll get back to you later.
Oh, you have what special?
So it’s like you said, with the talent acquisition, I went from two very different positions where we were literally just having people in folders and then you would take them out of the one folder and you would drop them into your personal folder to say, “Hey, I took them to claim them. I’m calling them following up.” If somebody forgot to do that-
As our coworker, she was very fast and efficient. It was the most common thing she forgot because it was such a little nuance at the beginning of the process, and she would print all of the applications and often forget to move them. Then you’re calling people, but they’re like, “I just had an interview two hours ago.”
It’s embarrassing, but it also comes off as unprofessional and slows you down. I’d be looking over applications I didn’t need to look over because they’ve already gone through the process and then it’s particularly awkward if they got declined.
Which, fortunately, I don’t think that happened to me, But I think having somebody else.
A good system and process are more professional and saves time. Then it takes out some of that human error that doesn’t need to be there. We like the little speed bumps of when you’re talking in human conversation. We like the little nuances. It makes you feel relatable like I have those too, but you don’t like them when it’s in the process.
But it’s not just at work, right? What we do in our own lives and what we do from the start to finish of our day also affects that.
The little nuances of our behavior, when we walk into an office, or when we go home at the end of the day can affect who we are and how we operate as well.
Absolutely. So the way that I like to teach or to explain these concepts to people is to ask how they can, or show how they can apply these at home first.
A couple of the examples that I have is one concept is called the 5-S. and it stands for “Sort. Set in order. Shine. Standardize. and sustain.” which means creating a work environment that’s clean, efficient, and following that guideline.
A lot of people are like, “Oh, I’m just not organized. I can’t do this.” I always ask them, “Do you have a utensil drawer organizer at home? The one that has the slot for the spoons or the knives?” and 99% of the time everybody says yes. The other percent use plasticware, chopsticks, or something.
I asked them, “Do they use that?” and they said, “Yes.” You’re already doing that concept at home, because do you put the forks with the spoons? Of course not. Right, you keep them all separated, and you put them back the exact same way every time. Those things are important to use at home to keep us nice organized. Then you can also learn how to apply it at work.
The other one that I like to share with people is there are a lot of people that lose their keys. There’s always somebody in the group, right? Hopefully, it’s not you, Halie. What I tell people is that if you have a problem losing your keys, get a small carabiner, and then just clip it to your purse, or your pants, or whatever it is. Then you’re not gonna lose your keys.
So every day when I worked in corporate America, I’d come into my office, I had my keys clipped to my purse, and I put that in the overhead. Even if somebody had to go get my vehicle for whatever reason, they always knew where my keys were.
It works if we go to some event or something like that, and you don’t want to be bothered by stuffing your keys in your pocket or wondering where they are. Even my husband uses it. We clip it to our belt loop and your hands are free. Your keys are right there. It’s simple things like that. They don’t have to be monumental tasks or rocket science to make your life better.
The key thing makes me laugh because I worked at a restaurant for two years and my manager was notorious for losing her keys. Every shift pretty much they were gone. So I got her one of those little tracker tags that you can put on it and connect to your phone. So she found a new way around that of course. She lost her phone.
It was within the short vicinity of behind one of the counters. We had the bar counter and our main counter for the restaurant. So it was always somewhere in all of that chaos. But without a doubt, she could lose them and I was like you need an Apple Watch so you can ping your phone.
She needs to wear it too.
Yeah. Don’t ever take it off. If you’re going to charge it just put the little charger with it on your wrist. It was the funniest thing, but it takes me back a little bit. There are two years of lost keys and I got it for her towards the end. She was like, “Oh, it’s magic!”
It’s like I said, it’s simple things. We have horses and all of our horse feed is measured out for a month. They’re all in little glad ware containers and they all have names on them.
So if something happened and we weren’t home, we could call our neighbor down the street and she could come over and feed them because it has exactly all the information on there.
Is it hard? No. Is it better than scooping out grain every single day? Yes. Because you don’t have to worry about it. We do it all once a month and then it’s done and it makes our process of taking care of them more efficient.
Yeah, that’s a good point. We had horses. They got their hay and they all got the same stuff. So they were super easy. We also had enough people who lived in the house that not everybody was ever gone at the same time.
But it’s a good point because it’s not something I would think of. With my dog, for example, she eats and I have a little container for her. But if I know we’re going to be gone for a while and I pack just the right amount of food for that evening.
If I take her out to my friend’s cottage, it’s two bags then because, of course, we will need two meals. The only downside is figuring out how to keep my friend’s dog from eating her dog food at the same time.
There you go. You can apply things like that too for all of the services that are out there for like a Subscribe and Save. Right?
So that’s another way to make sure you don’t run out of dog food or cat litter or even medicine now, right? You can get your prescriptions and they can be on auto-refill so that every month, or whatever it is, you don’t have to worry, “Oh, my gosh, I have one pill left, what am I going to do?”
It’s things like that. How could you do that in your office, too? There’s a concept called “vendor managed inventory,” where you can have OfficeMax or Staples come in, and they manage your office supplies.
So it’s very common, and you don’t have somebody doing that from your staff that could be doing something more value-added, instead of going through and counting how many pens that you have in there. OfficeMax or Staples or whoever it is can manage it for you.
And it saves money. Because I know people are sometimes afraid of the cost of that service that you pay. Why if you already have the employee? Well, what money are you wasting by your employee doing that instead of their job?
Right and understanding the fully burdened rate for someone and the full burden rate for somebody, it’s a factor of how much I get paid every year, but it’s also a factor of insurance and it’s a factor of the building.
So regardless, right now of whether or not we’re actually in a physical building for your office like we typically have been, that still takes into account what your fully burdened rate is, and understanding what that is for your folks.
Sometimes you can do an average for a group of people so that if you save one hour, then you’ve saved $50, and it adds up really quickly. With some of the engagements that I’ve had with some customers in my life experience, we were saving millions of dollars every year.
Even if you have a group of 200 people and it’s like 67 cents a day, it’s not very much. I sound like a commercial for some charity, but it really is not very much every day. If you think “Gosh if I could just save less than $1 a day, that adds up with a group of 200 people or 50 people or even one person.” I love to have cash in my pocket rather than having to pay up bills.
Yeah, and it comes back to, a lot of these things have the side effect of maybe people enjoy their job better because they’re not doing that one thing anymore. They are focusing on what they want to focus on or maybe you don’t have to push somebody into overtime for that week, because they were able to get their job done on time.
Just the mental health aspect of it is important. When people are relaxed and they’re content, they tend to be a lot more productive. Sometimes we have the down and grind type mentality in the United States, but some places are very much like to take a big lunch and casually talk.
We even have some of those around every city. There’s maybe one or two businesses where their mode is a little more playful because it fits the business model and it makes people happy, but the productivity is still up there. They’re still really doing well. In fact, they’re probably doing better. Just because when they sit down to work, they get it done fast and it doesn’t feel like a burden.
Right. And there’s a fantastic book- there’s actually a company in Michigan that follows that model and they wrote the book Joy Inc. If you want to read that book, it’s fantastic because it really talks about how they have a relaxed environment and you can bring your animal to work which would be fantastic!
Just the way that they manage themselves and it’s a very relaxed atmosphere. Now they’ve had to obviously adjust but that’s absolutely possible. I think it’s just the fear of the unknown.
The other slogan that I always listen for is “that’s the way we’ve always done it.” So if somebody says that’s a huge opportunity for improvement, right? In many businesses they have been operating in a way where you come to work, you sit at your desk and are there for eight hours.
I worked for a company before that we started at 7:30 in the morning, and the manager would walk by at 7:30 in the morning to make sure we were sitting at our desks. It was this old school mentality. We can’t continue to grow as a culture, as organizations, as businesses, if we continue the 1950s mentality.
It’s so important to be able to embrace change and look at how we can make things better because the way we’ve always done it is not gonna work as we move forward.
We do have a time clock, but it’s around this idea that people put their hours in when they’re done. Nobody is really looking and checking in specifically every single day to make sure you’re right on time. And you know what? Most people start early. Most people stay over if their work isn’t done and people are very good about it.
If it’s hourly, for example, if we have an intern or something, they’ll stay over an hour and just to get their calls in or to follow up with somebody. They’ll need to follow up with someone who lived in a different timezone, they could be West Coast and East Coast. So they’ll do that and then I’ll be like, “make sure you put that into the system.” “Oh, no, I don’t expect to.” I’m like, “go ahead and do it.”
The things that you’re like, “oh, if I don’t check, they’re not going to show up, or they’re not gonna show up on time,” but actually, the opposite, in most cases, tends to be true where they’re actually going to be on time, or they’re going to be early, and they’re going to be ready for work.
Maybe they spend 10 minutes talking with coffee in their hand to somebody at some point during the day but they sit down and they get a lot more work done. They’re happy, and they get on the phone with somebody and they’re happy on the phone with somebody. That customer buys because they just like talking to the sales rep more than they needed the product. But they like the sales rep.
It goes a long way and it’s those offices that are doing more things. My old office had a Thirsty Thursday where once a month or so they would just have a drink hour on Thursdays and they do cookies every Wednesday. They had a little cookie cabinet and they foosball in the office that people play when they have lunch.
They even had a bring-your-dog-to-work day. I think it was supposed to be annually but happened definitely twice annually, at least. A lot of people brought their dogs, dogs would be just chilling around the office, and there’d be a little powwow of dogs and people petting dogs at some point during the day. I was very keen on figuring out when it was.
Great! It was creating that culture.
They’re happy to work with each other. They’re happy to be there. It created laughter. It breaks some of the routine things kind of refreshes work. It’s a little rejuvenating, like a fresh face wash or something.
So it’s those kinds of improvements to how we’ve done things traditionally, a new look at it. Okay, it doesn’t seem like it would create more efficiency because you’re not working the entire time now or maybe you’re introducing play in an environment that’s not supposed to be for play. It isn’t a daycare, but it helps people mentally rejuvenate.
There are all these benefits that maybe you can’t calculate on the surface, such as that increased morale increases engagement with the customers, which makes more people want to buy and commit and stay loyal longer. Things like that.
So we have talked about the ways that businesses can improve and the ways that individuals can improve their day by the little things and just kind of looking at those processes.
Really, it starts with, like you said, the things that drive you crazy the most, the little nuance of entering all that data or counting pens when you’re hired to do other stuff. Things like that, which can go a long way.
The initial spending or the initial time to change can go a long way in improving your work climate, the happiness of your employees, and your bottom line.
All right. So as we wrap up here, is there anything else that you would like to touch on Katie?
I think it’s just all creating that environment, as we spoke about before, of people willing to change. I always teach people that when people are coming to you and saying “we have this problem or we have the situation,” you want to ask them what problem they’re trying to solve and what data they have to support it because data is king. Right?
We need to be able to first truly understand your problem. So the thing that’s bugging me, and I go in and explain it to somebody, but really try to tell them what problem you’re trying to solve and what data you have to support that.
Something that we do here too, as well, is that we encourage it when you come with a problem, come with a couple of ideas with it. So not just like supporting that it exists, but coming and saying, “What if we did this?” It’s a natural thing employees do, even if we haven’t outright stated to them or trained on how to do that.
If we’re in a company meeting, for example, bottlenecks come up and almost always they’ll talk about what’s going on, how often they’ve seen it, and maybe if we did something like this, and then it gets the conversation started. Maybe it’s not that solution they mentioned, but it gave them an idea that helped them solve that problem and it goes so far.
If you’re sitting here listening to us, and thinking, “Hey, we got it. Everything’s cool at our facility. Our processes are optimized,” I just want to remind you that from a statistical process, 95% of what you’re doing is waste.
So if you took all the processes in the world and you average them together, 95% of your actual process is wasteful. You have endless opportunities for improvement, and your first shot at improving, it will probably not be your last.
If things are going well, then they could probably go better. So we thought we were doing pretty good and then COVID-19 hit and I mean, we’re still doing really good, but we realized there was more we could be doing to make it even better, that we had all this opportunity for growth that we weren’t even looking at. It was like oh, “you can do better. You can do great. You’re doing good. You can be great.”
Thank you, Katie, for coming on and joining us. This has been a really great episode and I can’t wait to share it with our listeners.
Don’t forget to give us a follow, download us, and also give us a review. I love talking to our guests like Katie but I really want to hear what you think so that we can keep getting better ourselves.