One of the benefits from having a blog is my opportunity to meet and learn from interesting, impactful, and successful Lean practitioners and leaders. Such is my interview today.
In this interview, I introduce you to Jonathan Escobar Marin. He is a Lean practitioner and leader whose background in consumer packaged goods and healthcare gives him a unique perspective on the role of Lean in the workforce. His experience studying with Toyota also gives him an added depth of Lean that makes him successful in what he does. In this interview, you’ll learn some of the following:
- What was the most fundamental part of his education during his Benchmarking study with Toyota
- Why the phrase “Human Resources” doesn’t capture the true depth and value of people
- What is Jonathan’s involvement in the High Performance Organization Model – and what does HPO exactly mean?
- Why Respect for People should be the primary thread in any Lean transformation
- Why Jonathan believes that Lean is a journey in human development – and what does he mean by that?
We thank Jonathan for taking the time to speak with us today. Enjoy the interview and learn more about Jonathan immediately after. And feel free to read our other Lean Leadership Interviews.
You have an amazing and broad background. Can you please tell my audience about yourself and your current work with Hartmann Group?
I’ve been studying lean management and the Toyota way for more than 12 years now.
I am Global Leader of Lean Management for the Hartmann Group, where we are currently working on two model lean transformations (one in Barcelona and one in Germany) and facilitating the understanding of core lean values and principles as a first step of a rollout towards becoming a lean enterprise with a strong network of operations.
For the past five years I have led different lean transformations as Production Manager and Lean Referent at Hartmann, and previously as Operations Leader at Procter & Gamble. During my time with the company, P&G did a benchmark with Toyota and I was fortunate enough to have the chance to study, put in practice and understand at Gemba the essence of the Toyota Way.
Prior to that, I held different positions applying lean principles in areas like engineering and product and process development in different sectors and work environments.
I am Postgraduate Director and Associate Lecturer for Project and Operations Management at the Polytechnic University of Catalonia.I also work closely with the team of the Instituto Lean Mangement in Spain (member of the Lean Global Network), from which I constantly learn.
You’ve mentioned to me that while you were at Procter & Gamble, you participated in a Benchmarking effort with Toyota. Tell us about that experience and what did you learn?
To study and understand in depth the essence of the Toyota Way was extremely educational and enriching. However, I must say that the real learning came from the dialogues, discussions and experimentations that took place at our own Gemba, where we worked hard to understand what continuous improvement and respect for people really mean.
First of all, we learned to move from an approach whereby we applied the engineers’ methods and tools and assumed everything would be great (using and tracking the tools as our business goal) to one in which we worked on our understanding of how customer satisfaction and business results are achieved (by developing ourselves to become leaders who are worthy of developing the people they lead).
Then we worked with the front-line to understand and learn the spirit of the “Toyota Business Practice,” which is based around the way of learning by solving problems, and to kaizen it to our Gemba and make it the heart of our business.
After several PDCA cycles, this practice became a powerful vehicle that we could use to accelerate knowledge creation at all levels of the organization. It also turned out to be the compass of our Hoshin at front-line level: an individual and team-wide learning system fed by daily practices performed in a very consistent manner, with the aim to learn and grow by solving customer problems, improving customer satisfaction, and delivering business results.
It might sound trite, but learning to value people was a fundamental part of the process. We started to walk the “respect for people” talk and to build relationships based on trust in order to develop our associates to their full potential. This required the nurturing of our ability to grow them by challenging them and, at the same time, helping them to operate and improve their workplaces every day, every shift. Our learning system was instrumental to this, and the smiles of our customers and stakeholders our common and driving purpose at Gemba.
The end result? We were all able – the front-line remarkably leading this trend – to dramatically increase our ability to see things through, to unearth problems, and to take the initiative to experiment, learn, build skills and drive PDCA all the way through to the ‘A’. The Improvement of results at SQDC was just the consequence. Our goal was to continuously find solutions that lead to the improvement of customer satisfaction by building the capabilities of our people.
One of your passions is enabling human resource development organically in high-performing organizations (HPO). Can you tell us what you mean?
Of course. But first, I believe it is important we stop using the term “human resource development.” It would be better to call it “human self-actualization development.” We must stop considering people just as another asset in a company.
With this clear in mind, enabling human self-actualization organically in a HPO means to connect the value creation for customers with the value of continuous people growth.
In a HPO this visible link becomes, at all levels, the centerpiece of the approach to building organizational capabilities and supporting strategies to realize the potential of all the employees, through the continuous development of self-sufficiency in problem solving, teamwork, creativity and leadership skills.
In companies like Toyota and Procter & Gamble, tapping into human potential to deliver superior value to customers is the core of the organizational culture.
However, as Greek philosopher Parmenides said, nothing comes from nothing. To ensure that this core value grows organically, the organization must make it the essence of its leadership development efforts with all company activities (like career development, performance improvement reviews, company policies, organizational processes, management’s decisions, and corporate strategies) supporting this principle regardless of the business division, location or environment in which the company operates.
Leadership development is indeed critical. The new-hires of today are the leaders of tomorrow, and it is a leader’s responsibility to develop the next generation of those who will lead. Leaders should be mentors and teachers to their associates and represent a role model and the expression of a company culture that lives and breathes lean principles.
Leaders who grow by building other leaders and living lean values is fundamental to placing the development of human self-actualization at the heart of any organization.
Continuing, tell us about your view on Human Resource development during lean journeys?
Lean is a journey of human development, fueled by learning systems that aim to create the knowledge required to deliver superior customer value and performance in all areas.
I strongly believe that one of the main outcomes of a lean journey is the achievement of the flexibility, responsiveness and adaptability that are needed to cope with ever-changing business conditions and evolving customer requirements. How well these business capabilities are mastered mainly depends on how people are developed all the way down to the front-line.
In this sense, the first and the largest source of waste that a lean journey should try to eliminate is the under-utilization and under-development of people’s minds and skills.
Every value-driven initiative that is not tried out by an associate at Gemba represents the worst form of inventory and the worst expression of disrespect for that individual, not to mention the highest threat to the sustainability of the business.
People growth comes with action: experimenting, testing, reflecting, learning and building the ability to solve problems, to coordinate teamwork, to prioritize on the workplace and to improve the value-creating workflow. During this process, leaders grow, too, in their ability to mentor, to develop skills, to communicate, to share knowledge (Yokoten), and to eliminate barriers to organizational excellence.
A related question: what role does Human Resources play in a lean journey?
The primary role of HR is to build organizational capabilities that enable the creation of a workplace where human development takes place every day, in all sites and at all levels.
These organizational capabilities include recruitment, on-boarding, career development, succession planning, organizational design, leadership development, business development, rewards & recognition, communication policies, succession management, and so on.
Let’s focus on one of the above capabilities as an example. At a recent Lean Global Network conference, a former Toyota executive shared his experience going through the on-boarding process at Toyota Japan: he spent the first three months making cars to understand what real value added work is, and the following three months selling cars to understand customer expectations. Only then did he join his team where he was assigned a problem to solve. His boss mentored him throughout the process by asking the right questions and by encouraging him to dig deeper at every step to find his own answers and finally identify the root cause of the problem.
In this specific example, the role of HR in a lean journey should be to ensure that this process takes place for every leader in the company, regardless of the department, the business division, the region or the circumstances of the moment.
The same idea applies to any other capability listed above. The key responsibility of the HR Department is to build capabilities to ensure that each department in the company has the competencies necessary to develop the processes that support the establishment of core lean values.
Neither Toyota nor Procter & Gamble do this perfectly, but both organizations have been working hard and with determination (in the Toyota Institute since 2002 and with the P&G HPO-IWS framework since 1990 respectively) to reach this ideal state.
Going back to your work at Hartmann. For those not familiar with Hartmann, it is a global conglomerate that manufactures products for incontinence, infection, and wound management. You’re in the business of simultaneously serving the needs of healthcare workers and patients. How do you balance the needs of both customer types?
Our mission is to enhance the patient’s well-being. And we strongly believe we have a responsibility to make sure that every-day work to enhance patient well-being is as efficient and cost-effective as possible.
For us it is a privilege to have healthcare workers, particularly those at the front-line, as our partners in this. They know better than anyone else what patient well-being means and what the barriers (in the form of waste) are that they need to overcome if they are to successfully contribute to enhancing it. All we have to do is listening to them, working and learning with them to create innovative all-in solutions – user-friendly products and fit-for-purpose services.
We don’t need to think about ads or marketing campaigns to reach out to our customers; that’s not our business. All we have to do is to build active and collaborative human networks to understand the needs of patients and healthcare partners, and consistently deliver high-quality products and highly performing solutions that fulfill that need. For most of our products and solutions, the moments of truth happen at healthcare facilities, when our ability to contribute to excellent patient care is actually put to the test.
Tell us about your training and facilitation approach for the Hartmann front line workers? How is it going?
It all starts with understanding, together and at Gemba, the customer problems we are trying to solve and making sure that leadership realizes that the only way for them to add value is by supporting front-line individuals and teams in their problem solving activities.
My facilitation approach aims to create the internal self-sufficiency that is necessary to build the organizational structure and competencies supporting front-line staff in creating value.
It is purpose driven (I always try to build consensus on why we are not fully fulfilling customer expectations) and led by the core lean values that I have learned from Toyota:
- Challenging our long-term vision and what we know/do as a basis for value creation;
- Continuous improvement, always driving innovation and evolution through daily improvements at all levels;
- Go and see where the value is actually created to grasp the facts first-hand and make, by consensus, the right decisions for our customers;
- Respect others by taking responsibility for problem solving where value is created, leveraging diversity and building relationships based on trust;
- Injecting joy in the act of making something together, unlocking people’s desire to take initiative and grow, thereby maximizing individual and team performance to satisfy our customers.
These values guide our dialogues at Gemba, the place where the work and situations to balance the JIT and Jidoka pillars we are building, create the challenges that take the creativity and courage of our people at the front-line to new heights, encouraging them to achieve our desired condition.
As we construct these two pillars, we are challenged to find, frame and solve problems and develop new capabilities. We can use tools to create the knowledge that will unlock our ability to improve the work every day by learning together at Gemba to make the right decisions for our customers and stakeholders.
How is it going?
Front-line teams are showing us that we have a great opportunity to maximize value creation at our Gemba, and that we all are taking part in an exciting learning journey in which the acquisition and deployment of new capabilities will result in better outcomes for our customers and for everybody in the business.
In this sense, what front-line teams are accomplishing goes far beyond the improvements they are delivering in terms of Safety, Quality, Delivery, Cost and Value creation.
They are setting the example: improving themselves first, and then helping to transform the mindset and the work dynamics of others, not only in manufacturing but also in the supporting functions – even at corporate level.
They are encouraging the organization to remove the barriers preventing them from improving the work that our customers value. And they are taking full responsibility for strengthening their skills and challenging their own abilities to improve themselves, so that they can in turn improve the value they deliver.
It is remarkable that their work has engaged an entire multinational with 25 manufacturing plants and more than 10,000 employees and convinced the entire organization to commit to going down the lean path.
Back to Human Resources. Now, HR is in the business of supporting the various lines of businesses. I’ve observed that Lean hasn’t been adopted in HR as it has in other lines of businesses. Why do you think that is? Are there opportunities for Lean in HR?
To put it simply, I think there are two main reasons for the gap we see in the adoption of lean thinking in HR, which – we should remember – also represent tremendous opportunities:
- The belief, spread by certain harmful consulting practices, that lean is a toolkit that comes straight from a catalogue and can be used to cut manufacturing costs by reducing headcount. This has obviously prevented HR departments from thinking about adopting, or even being interested in, lean thinking and practices;
- The fact that in too many companies the function of the HR department is limited to responding to administrative questions, following procedures and manuals, and forcing people to comply with highly bureaucratic systems (also treating them like just any other asset in the company).
However, both problems quickly evaporate as you bring real lean thinking to HR and people in the department start to experience for themselves the potential of the lean in helping them take responsibility for supporting the human self-actualization development function in the business.
A harmonious fusion of lean and HR begins with working together to develop the department’s internal capability to eliminate waste from its processes. This means getting rid of any activity that prevents the HR function from utilizing all of their time and capabilities to support the company in its attempt to attract, build, and retain a high-quality workforce and to develop a professional, healthy and safe working environment characterized by trust.
Bringing together lean and HR also requires aligning HR policies and daily management practices with the unique purpose of enabling flow in the development of each of the associates within the company.
This translates into lining up organizational policies, practices, processes and systems to eliminate any barrier that might prevent individuals from becoming responsible for their own development and/or prevent leaders from mentoring the self-actualization of each of the associates (their most important job).
And believe me, when this alignment and understanding are finally established, a never-ending journey of discovery and learning, driven by the pursuit of flow, begins.
You heard me… flow!
When HR gets involved, they gain experience at Gemba and quickly learn that flow in value creation is only possible by achieving flow in people development. The common goal of leaders and associates, with the support of HR, is that the development of flow never stops. By interrupting flow I mean that at any point in the process the work of a person does not contribute to learning new skills, developing capabilities, and tapping into one’s truest potential.
Breaking the creation of flow results in the waste of people’s time and intelligence, which is the highest form of disrespect.
However, every time this happens we are also given a great opportunity to strengthen our internal capabilities for problem solving, with HR intimately involved in working with leaders and associates to understand what was behind the interruption of flow. This entails finding, framing and solving the root cause of a problem and learning together to ensure that no interruption happens again. This is also the best time to see and understand together the ambiguities in the process, the underlying values and assumptions or specific “viruses” present in the organizational culture.
Lean can unleash the potential of people working in HR, which in turn can help to leverage internal capabilities to build a workplace that:
- challenges individuals to act and think in a lean way;
- stimulates people’s intellect with assignments that call for a response that is currently beyond their capabilities;
- takes responsibilities for responding to “pull” when it comes to learning;
- offers jobs that let people progress and grow every day through problem solving and continuous improvement.
Thank you Jonathan. Is there anything you’d like to share with my audience?
First, I would like to thank you for the work you do to share the stories and opinions of people who are as madly in love with lean as I am.
I do have a final thought. Lean is not a program you implement. It isn’t a type of business. It is not a job. It is not a responsibility or a business model. Lean is way of living. When you love and respect lean, your life is all about learning it, practicing it, reflecting on it, and teaching it. You could never imagine living without it.
For those in your audience who share this respect and love for real lean, I am always happy to discuss more on Twitter (I am @JEscobarMarin) and on LinkedIn through my personal page and that of the HPO Global Alliance Group.
About Jonathan Escobar
I am an Industrial Organization Engineer and Master in Production Engineering.
I have been working in Hartmann for more than two years, initially with the challenge (and the privilege) to lead, as a Production Manager and Lean Referent, the lean transformation at our manufacturing plant in Mataró, Barcelona. Earlier this year, I also started to coach a leadership team in Germany to facilitate the lean transformation in one of our main manufacturing sites there.
What we achieved in Mataró – increased value delivery through front-line development in self-sufficiency, teamwork and innovation capabilities – inspired Hartmann’s top management and last month I started to facilitate the global transformation of our group, assuming the role of Global Leader of Lean Management.
I am now responsible for the promotion and development of lean principles and practices across the multinational. I also help people to understand the core lean values and principles across an initial network of 20 sites and related corporate functions and management systems.
Prior to working at Hartmann, I was an Operations Leader at Procter & Gamble. During my time there, P&G undertook a benchmark with Toyota, which gave me the opportunity to study, experiment, practice and understand the essence of the Toyota Way.
Before working for Procter & Gamble, for eight years I held different positions bringing lean principles to engineering and product and process development environments in different sectors.
I am Postgraduate Director and Associate Lecturer for Project and Operations Management at the Polytechnic University of Catalonia. I work closely with the team of the Instituto Lean Mangement in Spain (member of the Lean Global Network), from which I constantly learn.
I am co-founder of the High-Performance Organization Global Alliance. For the last four years, I have been studying the holistic framework and organizational development that enables human self-actualization development organically in High-Performing Organizations.