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Enterprise Excellence Episode 4: Jeff Liker


Welcome to Episode 4 of the Enterprise Excellence Podcast. I am so honoured to be talking with Professor Jeff Liker, of the University of Michigan. He is the author of the International Best Seller "The Toyota Way". Jeff has won 13 Shingo prizes throughout his career and was inducted into the Association of Manufacturing Excellence Hall of Fame in 2012 and into the Shingo Academy in 2016.


It is an honour to have Professor Jeff Liker on the Enterprise Excellence Podcast. in this episode Jeff shares his journey into the world of organisational improvement. Jeff decided early in his life that he want to do something in the future that would help others learn and grow.

Jeff shares his initial exploration and studies into the social sciences. He then went on to study engineering. He found the engineering course to be highly processed and technically focused, lacking the human factors. He overcame this by enhancing his engineering course with psychology subjects.

Early in his working career, Jeff found that a company was either focused on the social, human factors, or were focused on the technical/process features. No company appeared to have a balance of both elements. Jeff was then offered a study placement with Toyota in Japan. He found that they did have a good balance of social and cultural aspects, as well as the systems and technical side of the business. The award winning book "The Toyota Way", was a result. The book brings together how Toyota achieve the win-win between culture and systems.

Jeff gives a brief (and really interesting) history of Toyota, growing from early family industry to its now global presence. He explains the stability in leadership, and persistence of focus and discipline which has helped them achieve such amazing outcomes. We talk about the greater purpose/just cause that the leadership focus on; it's on more than just making money. They focus on contributing to society, the environment and to making things better. The longevity of leadership is inspiring, and how they pass the baton of leadership and philosophy from one long term leader to the next. The new leader would not throw everything out, but instead build on, and improve on what the predecessor had created with the organisation.

Jeff discusses the approach to leadership and coaching to help people grow and develop. He talks about the learning cycle and describes how to set someone a greater challenge or goal to move towards. He describes that better solutions that are achieved through an iterative learning approach to achieving a goal rather than the typical solution based approach. This leads to ownership, commitment and energy for individuals. We then discuss PDCA thinking approaches to achieving this journey. Jeff describes one of his good friends Mike Rothers approaches to setting goals and helping people go through a learning PDCA approach to achieving that goal. This approach is written about in Mike’s book “Toyota Kata”.

Jeff gives new leaders the advice to read books on learning and coaching such as Toyota Kata, and The Toyota Way. He believes that leaders must do the hard work, practice skills and capability at developing others, become the competent teacher, and then hand the keys of the car over to their students.


challenge, starting point, manage, conquer, accomplish, characteristic, grasp, work, current condition, goals, bias, ownership, belief, process, enthusiasm, very strong belief, business, buy, stakeholders, organization


10:52 So, there's a very strong belief that you have to deeply grasp the current condition and the reality and study it without bias and understand it, because that's your starting point. So, you have the challenge, which is where you want to be, and you have the starting point.

13:33 Any company anywhere, any organization anywhere, needs to set and achieve goals, if you don't have any goals, and there's nothing really to work on, right. So, you have to want to do something, you want to accomplish something.

15:50 So, you want to create ownership among the stakeholders, the people that control that part of the business you want them to not only buy in, but also manage the process. And managing the process means developing people in every position, who do their jobs well, and are thinking of better ways you approach any challenge with an open mind with enthusiasm. And with a belief that you can conquer the challenge. If you work hard enough and think hard enough.

18:06 So the idea that Mike Rother has with Toyota Kata, which is practicing that PDCA process is that you take something like PDCA that you might do in a day, or in a few days, or in a Kaizen event for a week, and then stretching it out over time. And he recommends spending about 20 minutes a day on it, which is the maximum time that somebody can take into information.

27:57 To really be good at lean you have to go to Gemba and learn just like anybody else. And then you need to become a teacher. And your job is not to be the boss who has all the ideas, but to develop a set of students who have the ideas and push you. So, you have to learn to be a teacher, which is a different skill set to compared to learning to deploy methods and tools. And you have to have patience and humbleness that you're willing to hand the keys to the car over to the student and let them drive.


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