In this episode of Solving Problems with Technology, Xalt Solutions hosts Chief Revenue Officer of KaiNexus, Jeff Roussel, to discuss how a company’s culture can impact their ability to solve problems and develop technology solutions. Hear from Jeff as he explains best practises that have led to KaiNexus having not only a successful digital transformation but also a healthy and thriving company culture.
GW: Hello and thank you for tuning into this episode of Solving Problems with Technology on HxGN Radio. I’m your host, Geoff Wakefield. In this episode we’ll be talking about the impact culture has on problem solving and technology solutions. Today we have with us Jeff Roussel, the Chief Revenue Officer of KaiNexus, along with Josh Cranfill, the Sales General Manager for Hexagon Xalt. Josh and Jeff, thank you both for joining us today.
Before we really dive into the topic, Jeff, you’re our guest, so let’s hear more about you and your company, KaiNexus.
JR: Okay. Sure. Yeah, I appreciate you guys having me. I’m really looking forward to this. As you mentioned earlier, my title is the chief revenue officer at KaiNexus. I feel like what that does is it puts me square in the crosshairs from a leadership perspective of the marketing and the sales and the customer experience functions within the organisation. So, I know a lot of people think that those organisations or those parts of the organisations work for me, but I certainly see myself as a servant leader, and so I feel like I work for them. My job is to kind of help agitate things and help them kind of get through their obstacles so that the people that we hire can do their work. So, I’m a lean thinker at heart. I really didn’t know what that meant until about eight years ago when I joined KaiNexus. Before that, I had a career in enterprise software. I am certainly a family man through and through, but I feel like—I tell people my mission is just to continue helping people until someone doesn’t let me do it anymore. And I am really just a continual learner at heart. That’s the real thing that kind of gets me going is to learn as much as possible. So, I’m hoping I get to do that a little bit on this podcast today.
GW: All right. And how do you get to be a continual learner, be someone who supports others and helps others while working at KaiNexus?
JR: Yeah. I don’t know if I know the route that everybody can take, but I’ll tell you where it came front and center to me. Years ago, I read a book called StrengthFinders 2.0. I think it’s a Clifton book, and I took the test. And one of my kind of five core strengths was that of learner. And I remember reading in the report they sent that if you can put yourself in positions to lean on these strengths, then you’ll have more energy, you know. You’ll give yourself more energy throughout your day. And so, I started right then and there alternating between reading one fun book and then one learning/business/psychology book. And I was in my 20’s when this happened, and I’ve maintained that habit to this day. But I, you know, I’m trying to learn Spanish. I’m trying to learn guitar. I’m trying to learn how to be a better family man. I’m trying to learn it all. I just I have this addiction and I’m just going to keep feeding it as much as I can.
But yeah, so career wise, I started out as a developer, believe it or not. I was terrible as a developer. I’m much more comfortable talking to people than to computers and made my way through the enterprise sales world and was introduced to a friend to our founder at KaiNexus and just really loved the mission of KaiNexus, which is to spread continuous improvement. And so, I joined forces there about eight years ago and have literally just been doing that ever since. I think I’ll keep doing it until they won’t let me anymore, at least that’s the goal.
GW: So, you say that, you know, the mission of KaiNexus is to spread continuous improvement. Tell us a little bit more about that.
JR: Yeah. So, I think there’s a belief running through KaiNexus that the single most important thing a company can do if it’s going to achieve its goals long term is to adopt and really build a culture of continuous improvement. We really believe in the concept that better has no end. And so, whatever you’re doing today, you can do it better tomorrow. And so, I just think if companies and people apply that ultimately, they’re just going to move themselves in the right direction. I don’t know where the limit is. I just know that if you’re improving, you’re getting better at whatever it is you’re doing and whatever it is that you’re trying to achieve. So that really kind of guides us.
We also have a core belief that technology can and does help facilitate change in people’s lives and that technology plays a bigger role than most people appreciate in developing and sustaining a culture of continuous improvement. I don’t know exactly where that’s going to kind of shake out, but I just know that most people underestimate the role that technology plays in their life. Especially when you consider things like pen and paper, those are technologies. Otherwise, we would just use our brains to try to remember everything. And so, we use technologies every day. And as we kind of progress through the world, technologies are just getting better and better and better.
So, we’ve simply chosen to focus our efforts on using technology to help spread continuous improvement. It’s core to what we are and who we want to be as an organisation. We do a lot to help people organise their continuous improvement activities. But like when I describe KaiNexus, I describe it as a system of record for continuous improvement. And so, for organisations that feel that continuous improvement is important enough that it needs a system of record, well, then they’ll look at a company like KaiNexus to help there. And when we find that alignment, that’s what we do is just try to be helpful for them.
GW: And so, as you try to help others with continuous improvement, how do you drive continuous improvement and develop that culture around continuous improvement internally in your technology centric type of environment?
JR: Yeah, that’s a loaded question. I wish I had the exact answer there. So, there’s a lot of things that I think we’ve done well over time. So, for instance, we train new employees pretty aggressively on our mission, vision, values, traits, and beliefs. It has taken us a number of years to be able to write those things out in an authentic and an accurate way. You know, it wasn’t where we just kind of, we didn’t find KaiNexus based on the mission, vision, values, traits, and beliefs that we have today. It literally has, we’ve had to kind of feel it first and then document it second. But we’re pretty aggressive at trying to follow those.
Another thing we teach, we discuss lean early and often. We try to talk about the principles from the Toyota Way, the 14 principles, and how can we apply them in our day-to-day activities. Another thing that comes to mind, our executives take part in continuous improvement. I feel like that’s an important piece because if we don’t do it, well, our employees sure aren’t going to do it. And so, we have to hold ourselves accountable to that.
But there’s a lot we do. We do a book club in order to try to become a learning organisation. We’ve committed to the time to read and then talk about what we’re reading. But I think at the end of the day, that first principle from the Toyota Way, if you treat your people with respect and empathy and then you just try to put the tools in their hands for them to thrive, then I feel like the culture comes as a result of that at the end of the day. And you have to pay attention to the culture, but quite literally I think people will show you what kind of culture they want at an organisation. And then if you can trust them and kind of follow them, they’ll lead you down that path.
GW: Jeff, if I could get tactical for a second, what does it look like? You said you document it right? So, you’re going to write those principles down. You’re going to organise them. I’m assuming you go back to it and review or have some sort of a system to reinforce what you wrote down or else you probably wouldn’t have written it down. What does that look like? How does it practically work? Word document. What do you have? What does that look like?
JR: Yeah. So, I like kind of getting into the weeds here. We’re still in the process of this. I am a baseball fan. I’m not necessarily a Cubs fan, but I don’t know if you guys remember Theo Epstein and the Cubs. And he wrote something. I don’t know if he did it in Boston or Chicago, where he called it like the Chicago way or the Cubs way, like their manifesto. So, I always had this vision that we’re going to write this the KaiNexus way. This is how we’re going to do it and we’re going to be able to disseminate the information after we put it down. And we haven’t gotten to that point yet. But I will say putting this sort of stuff on paper was a huge step for us, literally writing out our mission, writing out our vision, writing out the values that we think are important, the traits that we look for in employees that make people successful, and then writing our beliefs statements, writing what we believe as an organisation. That was an important step. That then allows us so like every new employee, they have to go through two sessions with me as a chief revenue officer. One of them is to talk about all of those things. And then one of them is to talk about lean so that everyone at least has a basic understanding of those things and about lean.
From there, we do a mid-annual and an annual all hands session. We always dedicate a half a day to talk about mission, vision, value, traits, beliefs. It’s amazing how much existing people forget it. It’s also amazing how much when you are growing as a company, people come on board and they’ve never heard those things before, or they only heard them in their first training and then they’ve forgotten about them since then. So that’s been a huge part of it.
And then we do an all hands every Friday. We’re small enough where doing an all hands still makes sense every Friday. And our CEO likes to kind of wax poetically about different topics, and we make sure that that’s part of it, that that’s part of something that we talk about on our weekly meeting on a regular basis. I’m certain we’re not perfect at it, but I do know that when we have challenges, when we have employee challenges or something like that, quite literally, we’ve opened up the document and said, here’s what our values say. How does that apply to the situation at hand? And we try to use that as directly as possible. And it’s been helpful for us. I think it’s helpful for us because we bought into it. I think if it were superficial, it wouldn’t be as helpful. But after we bought into it, now, it’s like you said, we’re trying to figure out the tactics to just reinforce that that message over and over again.
JC: Do you feel—
GW: How does having that— Go ahead, Josh.
JC: All right. One quick question. Do you feel like that—I mean, let me phrase the question this way. What do you think is the result of that culture, all that work you put in to putting those things together and making sure you have clarity on those pieces? Does it make your people happier, stickier, more productive? What do you think are the results that come from it?
JR: That is a good question. I think I’m certainly biased here, so it’s hard for me to answer this one and be an unbiased bystander. But I feel like the response we get from the people that fit on our bus, right, that follow our mission is that they love being at KaiNexus. They love what it means from a sense of transparency and honesty. They love the fact that we’re using these values and these traits to manage them. I mean, part of having values and traits is knowing when you’ve fallen down and made mistakes in them, and then we can use that to get better as an organisation. And it gives us a humility where it’s not just me or it’s not just our CEO making decisions. There’s like a guiding force behind that.
But I also think they don’t say it as much, but I think they realise one of the things I say all the time to our employees is that as soon as the next employee joins, that new employee has no idaea how long anyone’s been at KaiNexus. And so, we follow I don’t know if you guys follow Seth Godin. He’s one of my favourite authors. Great newsletter every day that I get from him. But he has a saying that says people like us do things like this. And so, we take that to heart at KaiNexus. And so, to me, whoever is on our team, well, when the new person comes on board, it’s now their job to show that person how to behave and how to act. And I think they like that. I think people like that responsibility. Like I think it makes them feel part of the company, not just an employee of the company.
GW: Awesome. Yeah, thanks for that.
GW: And have you noticed a change in behaviour since you adopted these mission, vision, values, traits, and behaviours that you’re looking for? Have you seen a noticeable difference or has it just kind of changed organically?
JR: Yeah. I don’t know if I’ve seen a noticeable difference, but you know, I’ll give you an example. One of the things we harp on a lot is having a growth mindset. We really like the book Mindset by Carol Dweck and just the concept of having a growth mindset versus a fixed mindset. And now that we have a language, a common language about that being an important value for us, it’s much easier when we go into a situation where someone maybe is exhibiting a fixed mindset and we can say, hey, it feels like you’re dealing from a place of a fixed mindset right now. Let’s talk about what this might mean from a growth mindset perspective. So, it’s kind of given us a language in which to manage one another, which has been super helpful. That change has made kind of the communication easier between employees, between management and employees, aet cetera.
But no, I don’t think, you know, it’s not one of those things where all of a sudden we wrote out our mission statement and then everybody bought into it. There had to be a commitment and a constant drumbeat of the importance of this before people started to realise that, oh, we need to take this seriously. Like this isn’t just lip service that the company’s paying to it.
So, yeah, I hope it’s made a change. I just I haven’t seen it. It’s like kind of watching your children grow. All of a sudden, my kids are full grown. I never saw them grow day in their life. I’ve been with them every day.
GW: You mentioned the communication piece, a company, Shingo Prize winner, U.S. Synthetics, they used to put all that all over their company, their mission, vision, values, the traits. And any time they would have a conversation, you know, if it was behaviour, if it was a good conversation, you know, a correcting type of bad conversation, they would walk over to any of the places they had this posted. And rather than looking the employee in the face and being across the table, together with that employee, they’d both look at that. They call it a value tree and they would talk together and say, just like you said, this is, people like us do things like this right? You know that saying. And they would say, hey, this is what we’re trying to achieve. You know, our purpose of being here is this and the reason we’re taking this next action, whether it’s a good action, bad action, is because this is who we are. And it made that communication easy. So, it sounds like that’s a similar way that you’re able to make communication easier because you have all these things to find.
JR: I think so. I mean, defining them first, right. You can’t stand next to the wall and talk about them until you’ve defined them. But once you define them, you really got to commit to standing next to a wall and talking about them because if all you do is define them, they’ll just get put in a folder somewhere and you’ll pat yourself on the back for creating a cool value statement. But if you can figure out a way to try to live by it, well, then I think people buy into it, and I think people want to be a part of that, I think. You know, it just helps them to have some direction in their job.
GW: So, there’s probably been several things you’ve tried in your eight years at KaiNexus. Is there anything that you tried when establishing the culture that maybe didn’t work to plan and you learnt something from it?
JR: Oh, that’s interesting. I’ll tell you the biggest problem that we have as a leadership team is when we forget that our best people probably need the most management. I mean, they probably need the most love, the most appreciation, the most coaching. But it’s easy to like, think that, oh, they’re our most talented people. We can just let them go, let them go and work, and then we’ll deal with the other people that need the most “help.” And we have certainly seen that happen, and it’s bitten us a couple of times. And we’re trying to like put things in place to, you know, it’s hard to have visual management to know when your best people are frustrated, right? It’s not like they have a big red light over their head that says, hey, I’m frustrated right now and you can’t really see it. And so, you’ve really got to be in tuned and you’ve got to have processes in place to try to head those things off at the pass as much as you can. And so, we work on that a lot, on trying to figure out how can we keep our best people the most managed, if you will.
JC: It’s so true and so surprising.
JR: Yeah. And you know, I remember from my MBA days, we used to talk about feed your horses. That was one of the lessons I remember writing a paper about, how important it is to focus your time on your best performers, not focus your time on your people who are struggling because you’ve got to take your best performers and turn them into rock stars. That’s really the way you thrive. But when you’re in the middle of it, you just don’t realise you’re not doing it. You just can’t see the forest for the trees, and you think, oh, I’m going to let this person go off and do everything. They’re going to crush it. And over time, they feel like they’re on an island and they don’t feel like they’re getting the appreciation and the help they need from the organisation, and it can become a huge problem.
Staying on that that side, I feel like incorporating new people has been a huge challenge for us, that despite our best intentions, is difficult and more so in this COVID world. I didn’t appreciate at first how even good smart people that have been at our company for a long time may not welcome new people at first. You know, you’re changing family dynamics. You’re bringing in a kid, you know, a new kid into the equation of a family, and all of a sudden there’s going to be some infighting and some struggles and figuring that sort of stuff out, it’s been really hard. And so, we focused on things like simple things. Does everyone have a best friend at work, right? If you don’t have a best friend at work or if you lose your best friend at work, I’m telling you, that is a person who needs a lot of help from a management standpoint. Someone leaves your organisation, figure out who their best friend was before they left and then go and nurture that person because they’re going to struggle without someone just to have watercooler conversations with. And that’s way harder now that we’re all remote versus when we were actually in the office, and we could see people.
So, all, some of the things we did to try to help people feel engaged when we went remote, some of them worked and some of them didn’t. But trying to figure out ways for people to have best friends at work or I mean, I use that term more generally. I don’t really care if they’re friends. I just care if they’re like partners in crime. But if people don’t have that partner in crime in their job, at some point they’re going to feel isolated and at some point, they’re going to start to disengage from the organisation. Again, though, certainly easier said than done to try to stay on top of that all the time.
GW: Josh, I’ll flip that kind of to carry on to you. Have you seen any team dynamics change and that whole best friend concept, you know, in your role and what you do?
JC: Have I seen it changed within COVID? For sure.
JC: And it’s funny. So, you know, there’s various group chats going around and you kind of think, you know, are we goofing off and sending funny headlines or memes or whatever to each other? But it’s actually vital. Like we got together for lunch yesterday, right? Hey, let’s go have lunch. We’ll pay for it. Let’s just talk about anything. We’re not going to try to accomplish anything. So, I’ve noticed that for me personally, I can get a little bit myopic at what we’re trying to accomplish to sort of forget about that stuff. Then you realise, oh, wait a minute. These people are islands, you know, and we used to be all in the office together, high fiving and making jokes and everything else. And so, culture shifts a little bit. You have to like, you know, if the group chat’s silent for a day, put something funny up there. You know what I mean? Call somebody, not for a pipeline update, but call them to figure out how things were going or whatever. And so, it’s you have to prompt yourself and remind yourself a little bit now in a way that you, you know that you used to handle at the dartboard in the Atlanta office. You know what I mean? So, it’s slightly different, equally or probably more important now.
JR: I’ll tell you; I have personally struggled with it’s not my nature just to call people randomly. Like, you know, it’s just not my nature to pick up the phone at 4:35 just to give someone a call. But those are the conversations that we’re missing the most as an organisation and that we’re trying to replicate as much as we can because you can always schedule 30 minutes. But the fact that you have to schedule 30 minutes to have a conversation, changes everything. And it’s so hard to not be able to just kind of see someone in the break room and say, hey, how’s it going with that thing you were dealing with? Or can I help with any of that sort of stuff?
As a leader, I find that maddeningly difficult to maintain all those levels of conversations. I try to do it with one on ones. And I really enjoy one on ones. And so, I think people like having one on ones with me because I like them. But it’s not the same. It’s, you know, it’s scheduled, and you have to write down the topics you want to talk about and that sort of stuff. And it’s just not the same as an impromptu conversation.
GW: Has this new dynamic changed the way you approach culture and some of the traits that you look for in people as you bring them on?
JR: I don’t think so. I feel like what it has done is we’ve always valued people with initiative, and I think it has just made initiative more front and center as something that we need to come on board. As a startup, we don’t have all our processes documented. I mean, it amazes me that even large organisations don’t have this, but they certainly have resources to throw at these kinds of problems and training resources more so than startups do. And so, coming on board to a small company, you know, there isn’t a manual on how to do things. You just got to be able to kind of pick it up and figure it out. And really testing people for their initiative in the interview process has been pretty big. The people that are uncomfortable with taking initiative end up struggling here. And then the people that are comfortable with ambiguity and having to take initiative to get things done tend to thrive. And it’s really been a difference that’s been visible for us for the last, say, two years since all this stuff happened.
GW: Do you see initiative translating well into, you know, someone who has a good mind for problem solving?
JR: I don’t know. Yes, of course, yes. I mean, I think people that have initiative, if you point them towards problem solving, I think they end up figuring out a way to develop ways to solve problems really well. I think, you know, some people come in and they take initiative just to get their job done and then that’s where they stop. You know, that’s kind of where their evolution stopped, whereas other people, they can take initiative and get their job done in and they have way more capacity to solve problems and think about kind of more strategic issues and things like that. So, it’s a little bit of a—you know, I think it’s part of the individual makeup of a person.
But I look at problem solving as, like so I think that the ultimate goal of any organisation should be to be a learning organisation. Like, I think you should make your processes and decisions in order to try to learn. The work is really just a teaching aspect to that, and so given that goal, I think problem-solving just is simply one thing that needs to be learnt. But I think teaching people problem-solving becomes a goal. Any sort of change like that, the way we think about it is people process technology. And so, I’m constantly looking for, you know, are you committed to teaching problem-solving in your organisation, really committed, like not just talking about it, but like, are you committed that you’re going to put the time and the energy into teaching it? Have you communicated that commitment? And are you communicating your progress toward it? Are you holding not just other people accountable, but are you holding yourself accountable to teaching problem-solving? Are you giving people the resources, training, time, dollars, whatever, to learn problem-solving? And so, to me, that’s the people side of that equation, right? And if you don’t focus on that, one of the legs of the stool is not there and you’re not going to have stability in your problem-solving.
Same with your processes. I mean, I would argue it has to be a simple problem-solving process or else it’s too complicated for people. I would argue it’s amazing what you can do to say, oh, you guys want to do problem-solving in your organisation? Cool. Well, how often do you meet about problem solving? And will people start to, well, you know, we talk about it every once in a while. If you really want to do problem solving, it’ll be part of an agenda every week. You’ll have a discipline around problem solving. And so, I think that’s the process side of it.
And then I think technology can make things visible. It can help people to collaborate. It helps you to share best practises with other people. I think it can give you a little bit of an easier way of having a standard in rolling out that standard. And I think it helps, you know, the status of what’s going on. So, to me, it reduces the learning curve, and it helps you to organise. But it plays a role. It’s just not the role, right? Without the commitment, the communication, the resources, the accountability, the discipline, it doesn’t matter what technology you use, but if you don’t use the technology, well, you’re going to cause problems in your visibility, understanding of status, the ability to collaborate, aet cetera. And so, I really look at them as kind of playing with one another, the people process technology. You just apply that to problem solving. You can apply it to anything else that you want to, that you really care about doing in an organisation, I think.
GW: And so, you know, changing slightly from the topic, you know, being in your role at KaiNexus, where you have a lot of interactions around continuous improvement and customers that are interested in and getting better at continuous improvement, what sort of approaches to continuous improvement problem-solving have you seen in some of your customers, your prospects, that has been like amazing and what some pitfalls that you’ve seen other people come into that maybe aren’t doing it so well?
JR: Good question. So, I am a huge believer in I’m going to just call it bottom up continuous improvement. But I just am a believer that if you have a thousand employees and you can get a thousand people doing continuous improvement, that is going to be more effective than having some projects that you’re managing to try to improve certain pieces of your organisation. And so, I’m very biased to this concept of employee engagement of figuring out a way to get ideas from your organisation and then execute on those ideas even if they’re small, even if they don’t make a huge impact to the organisation. I just see that as a better direction than focusing on big, huge projects around continuous improvement. Not that those aren’t helpful. I just don’t think that changes a culture, and I don’t think you’re developing an army of problem solvers at that point. You’re taking a small group of people and pointing them at solving some big problems. So, I feel like the organisations that have done that well, you can just feel it when you walk in there. You can just feel it. Like their bathrooms are cleaner. I don’t know how else to say it. Everything in their organisation feels like, oh, they paid attention to that. The napkins are in the right place. There’s a cup holder for me right here. There’s a foot pull on the door. And I’m just thinking of a barbecue joint here in Texas that has a Baldrige Award, right? And like, you can feel it when you walk in there. That to me is continuous improvement at its finest. You know, you walk into a hospital and the doctor doesn’t think he or she is the boss of the emergency room, but they realise that everyone has a job and they’re all collaborating, and they want ideas. They’re looking. They’re almost thirsting for ideas on how to improve. That to me is real continuous improvement. That has to be leader led in my opinion. You just cannot do that without the ultimate leader of the organisation saying this is important to us. This is the type of culture we want and then everyone else will follow along. If that’s not there, the rest of this doesn’t work. You know, the rest of the tactics just doesn’t work. And so, I think that there’s a lot of like tactics meet regularly, have a communication strategy, track ROI the right way for the right purpose. What all of that rolls up to is it’s got to be a leader-led initiative. It has to be or else it just doesn’t, it falls apart at some point.
GW: Yeah, it’s funny. We sometimes run into companies that you’ll find a lot of kind of that maybe even senior leadership team buy into to take the continuous improvement approach. But then oftentimes it’ll die with an owner that says, well, we’ve been doing it this way for 30 years. And so, it’s like, Oh, that’s not an answer. But nonetheless, I think you’re right. It takes the leadership, and it takes some people or, you know, go and did go into, let’s say, Target because that’s a place that I want to get out of as quickly as possible. But I’m thinking about the quickest route to get what I need. You know, like the Cheaper by the Dozen guy, who used to time buttoning his shirt from the top versus the bottom, right? That’s ingrained in some people. And then in other people, I think it’s not. They’re like, I’ll just buy a pullover. And so certainly I think if that’s lacking in the leadership, I’ve noticed we don’t invest as much time in companies that seem to appear to lack at it at the leadership level, for sure.
JR: Yeah. We will try to say, hey, can we talk to that leader? Like, can we try to convince him or her that this is going to be one of the most important investments they can make in their company? But it’s really tough. I mean, at that point, you’re really climbing uphill there. There’s again, I’m going to go back to my MBA days, and I don’t know what book, probably Good to Great or Built to Last or one of those, and they said organisations ultimately take on the behaviour of their highest leader. You know, over time, whatever the highest leader wants, the next level starts to behave in that way and then the next level behaves in that way and then the next level behaves in that way. And so, if that person really wants continuous improvement, the organisation will figure out a way. If they really don’t, then the organisation will figure other things to do. You know, when a roadblock arises, they’ll just go in a different direction.
GW: So, Jeff, you mentioned, you know, the bottom-up culture from continuous improvement standpoint, where we get many little ideas. Some that may not have financial impact, others that are great for culture, others that have some value to them. How does technology enable capturing all those little ideas and make it a simpler process?
JR: Sure. Great question. So, I feel like first and foremost, this isn’t just applicable to continuous improvement technology. I mean, this to me is the same as like my task management that I do on my day-to-day basis. That technology needs to be available wherever I’m at, whenever inspiration strikes. And so, it needs to work on my computer, my iPad, my phone, what have you, where when I have an idaea or a suggestion or whatever, I got to be able to, at the very least, just capture it, you know? And so, to me, facilitating easy capture technology helps a lot.
And I think then it has to help make implementation of that idaea better or easier to follow. I have a belief and it’s not my belief, but like I’ve stolen it from someone, that if you ask for employee ideas and you don’t actually plan to do anything with them, you are much better off not asking for them in the first place, because people will just get mad and they’ll never give you a, you know, they’ll disengage more than they would have had you have just said, I’m not interested in your ideas. I’ll figure this out on my own. And so, I feel like the implementation has to, it has to be there. It has to not let things fall through the cracks, so they don’t get lost. It has to help the managers and the employees work together and collaborate on that implementation. And so, I think that’s an important component is how does it facilitate the implementation? I think there’s a measure component that technology really helps with. You know, it’s hard to measure the impact of the work you’re doing. It’s even harder to measure whether the work you’re doing is moving the variable, and I’m just using that as a generic term, in the right direction. Right. So, if you if you are working on a machine and you’re being measured by throughput, you have got to be able to measure that throughput so you know whether your improvement is moving that in the right direction or the wrong direction. And so, you need to know whether you’re working on the right things and whether you’re doing the right type of work. So, I think there’s a measurement component that technology really needs to help with.
And then I think technology really helps with sharing because when something, especially at any sort of a scale, best practises can usually be shared, just the knowledge that other people are working on improvement can incentivise someone else to actually work on their own improvement, just to realise that it’s a very thoughtful and well-intentioned thing that someone’s trying to do so. So, I just call it capture, implement, measure, share, those four components. But I think any technology around continuous improvement has to facilitate those four things. It might do it in its own way. But now I think of improvement at a very kind of high level, just because that’s what we do at KaiNexus, right? We sit on almost the top of the improvement programme. If you’re developing a process, there’s probably a couple of different things that you need to be—there’s some technical things that you need to be able to handle, but just to manage CI, to manage the ideas that come out of it, those are the four buckets that I usually look for.
GW: OK. And so, you touched on some things that sound like they’re good practises for technology in general. Have you seen technologies that have good intentions but just really aren’t great at achieving the goal that they set out to do?
JR: I have. I’m certainly not going to call any out.
GW: I mean, what, what…?
JC: I know that’s what you were baiting me to do, Jeff. I know it.
GW: You know, so we’ve had a series with Corbins Electric and NOX Innovations on how we go from the idaea of making something better, going through collecting requirements, mapping out a current state, coming up with a solution, implementing that solution, and getting adoption. So, we’ve gone through the whole series of essentially a problem solving process, right? And so, there’s some things that we identified as good practises, some things that we said, hey, we should probably avoid. So, is there anything that you could advise people on from your experiences that are some pitfalls in technology that are easy to fall into, where we think it’s going to help us get better but actually sets us back a few steps?
JR: Yeah. I’ve got a bunch of these, so I’ll start. So, to me, the first one is simplicity. I think it’s really easy for technologies to get into this, I don’t think they mean to, but just get into this bad habit of thinking that the next feature is going to be the best feature. And then, they wake up a couple of years and they’ve got so many features that they’ve lost their sense of simplicity for the user. And that can be a really hard thing, both to manage and to get yourself out of. I don’t know if it’s a true kind of thing, but I always say it’s the Henry Ford syndrome is a problem. I don’t even know who to attribute the quote to, but I read a quote at some point that said Henry Ford said that if he had given people what they wanted, he would simply given them a faster horse. I’m really guilty of that because the easiest place to get feedback from are the people that are using your system today. Those people tend to ask for one step at a time improvements to what you’re currently doing, and it can be really hard to start then thinking about, well, where do things really need to go versus what are the incremental steps that I can take to make this customer happy today? But I think you also have to do that, right. You have to make this customer happy today. But it has to be balanced with this kind of line of sight to the future or someone else will figure that line of sight out. So, I think technologies certainly fall into that trap where you build features for your customers and then you could almost lose sight of, like, what is the big problem that we need to solve or the next big problem that we need to solve?
JC: Right. Leadership is so key, right? It’s the innovators dilemma, for sure. It’s do we have a vision of in context what problems we’re trying to solve and what that context is going to change into, right? And we’re seeing that a ton right now with the proliferation of IoT. There’s a sensor for everything. There’s parables. There’s different devices. I mean, just things are changing at such a rapid pace right now that it’s hard to address technical data. It’s hard to know exactly what to do.
JR: Yeah. I think this isn’t just like software technology, either wearable technologies. Like, they’ve all got so many features now, it’s like, OK, what are we trying to accomplish here? Like, you know, I don’t know if my watch even tells time anymore, but it does a lot of other cool things. Sometimes the screen doesn’t have the time on it because I’ve manipulated it wrong. But, still, it doesn’t have the time on it.
JR: I feel like a lot of technologies miss the boat on the nudge concept. I don’t know if you guys have read—I don’t even know the authors of that book, but there’s a cool book called Nudge that really just talks about the little subtle ways that technologies can promote a better decision, or a worse decision, for that matter. Like, you know, one of the examples they use in the book is if you can preselect someone to signing up for your 401K at your company and they have to unselect it to not contribute, well, then they’re more likely to contribute, right? You’ve nudged them to selecting it. And I think software is a great opportunity to give those little nudges. Now that can be used for better or for worse, but I think software misses the boat on those little nudges sometimes. That can be a really, really hard thing.
And then I also think software in general has a problem because software is created by developers. And oftentimes developers are far away from the gemba of where the software gets used, and that can make the software somewhat impersonal sometimes. It can mean that it lacks some of the touch and the feel that people are looking for when they want to kind of create a relationship with a software platform. And so, I’ve seen that happen a lot, even with really good intentioned technologies that, you know, they can fall into that trap. I say all the time at KaiNexus, we are better at developing processes to take feedback from customers to evolve our software than we are at having a software platform. Like, I don’t want any customer buying KaiNexus because of what we do today, because they’re going to, you know, one, will just overrun them at some point, you know. I want them buying us for our process of building software because it’s going to evolve over time. And I think there’s probably some technologies out there that don’t realise that, that they think their technology is what matters versus their ability to listen to people and to build technology is what matters. You know, it’s going to evolve over time.
GW: Yeah. We take the stance to try to be problem solvers first and solution providers second, right? And even if that means we offer a solution and recommend a solution that’s not with us, we want to be known as problem solvers. Someone is more likely to come back to us and be a customer, if they’ve had a good experience with us helping them solve a problem. That’s the stance that we like to take on that.
And speaking of customers, how have you seen a customer buying process affect the way they buy or select the technology to go forward with?
JR: Hm, interesting. So, I’ve been doing sales now for 20 plus years in the enterprise space. I first started selling into the IT part of the organisation. Then I sold it to the marketing part, and now I’m selling to the continuous improvement part. And I can tell you the evolution of the buying process in those different parts of the organisation is completely different. I mean, it’s completely different. In the space we’re now, kind of trying to support and help continuous improvement people, I feel like a high percentage of them, they don’t have a buying process. They’ve never done this in their department before. They’ve never really procured software before. And so, the ones that are I think more successful at it, they’re willing to be honest and transparent about that, and they’re willing to take recommendations on what that process should be.
Now, that said, we’re pretty adamant about trying to guide them down a process where even if KaiNexus is not the right fit, I’d rather them get to that answer and go in a different direction than to buy us as a bad fit. But I know there’s probably some other sales organisations that are not that way. They’re going to talk you into it, no matter what you’re doing. So, I get why people have those guards up. But I feel like if you can let that guard down, if you can figure out which sales teams you trust, and then if you can, as much as you can, work in their sales process, you’re going to do yourself a favour as long as they have a good sales process. The people that follow our sales process and let us go through a proper discovery and let us go through a proper scoping exercise and let us try to help them figure out what is the value of the problem they’re trying to solve and what will the ramifications be if it’s not solved properly, you know, a lot of customers don’t know those answers. You know, that’s not something that people sit up and think about all day long. But if you come to the, if you get those answers, well, then you can make a much better decision on whatever technology solution you’re looking for. But some people are so afraid of that. They’re so afraid of opening up and going down that road with someone. So, I think that’s really hard.
The customers that are the most successful with us, they are looking to solve a real business problem versus figuring out which features make sense. You know, they’ve figured out in their core that there is a business problem that needs to be solved that is going to affect the bottom line of their organisation. And then they go out looking to solve that versus looking to buy a tool or a partner or tool or a system there. And I think because of that, they look at, they’re looking, they place a greater importance on partnership than they do on the actual tool or system or whatever, right? They’re looking for a partner that’s going to listen to them, take their feedback, when things go wrong going to fix those problems as quickly as possible, that sort of thing. I guess I could say like this. Our best customers, they actually desire to be good customers. You know, as a salesperson, you don’t think of it that way, right, that some organisations want to be good customers. Others don’t. They, you know, they might want to bully their vendors, or they might want to be a little adversarial in their relationships. But for us, our best customers, they have a desire to be—they’ll even ask us, what can they do to be a better customer for us? And that’s a super helpful relationship when we can find that.
GW: Mm-hmm. Well, that’s great. We need to meet some of these customers. That sounds like they’re—
JC: Don’t we all?
JR: We need more of them, too.
GW: —good ones to have.
JR: We need more of them, too.
GW: Well, we’ve covered a lot of ground today. We started with culture, got into some problem solving, and talked about technology. Is there any kind of closing thoughts you want to leave us with as we start to wrap things up here?
JR: You know, I appreciate what you guys are doing. I’m very much a believer in the theory of abundance and that the rising tide lifts all ships and that if together your organisation and my organisation, we can make continuous improvement better, well, then, it’s going to open up more opportunities for not just us but for everybody out there in this. And if we can spread continuous improvement, that’s going to be a good thing for the people we’re spreading it to and for all the ecosystem that supports continuous improvement.
And so, I’m super excited that we look at this problem in two different lenses. Like, I’ve learnt a lot from you guys just in talking with you here and researching and stuff like that. And KaiNexus does a completely different thing. And so, I’m excited that we are starting to see the results of continuous improvement with large across companies and to see that when organisations do it well, there’s an impact to their bottom line. There’s an impact of their turnover, their employee satisfaction, their customer satisfaction, their revenue, their profitability. They’re getting better in all aspects. And so, to me, that’s the goal.
JR: What I do might change over time, but like, that’s the goal of figuring out how to make that more effective. And so, yeah, this has been a super fun session for me to just think through and talk about.
JC: Yeah, me, too. Thank you.
GW: And Jeff, we definitely appreciate your time and having you on the podcast today.
If anyone wants to connect with you or learn more about KaiNexus, where should they go?
JR: Yeah. I can give you my email. It’s jeff.rouss[email protected], although most everybody will misspell Roussel. You can find me on LinkedIn. That’s probably a good spot, you know, to hit me with a message there. I just cannot get turned onto Twitter. I cannot find myself doing Twitter on a comment on a regular basis. So, to me, LinkedIn and email are going to be the best options.
GW: And as far as KaiNexus, where could our listeners hear more about that or learn more about that?
JR: Yeah, great. So, you can certainly just go to www.kainexus.com. But I think I would recommend go to blog.kainexus.com or navigate to find our blog or our webinar/podcast series.
Just like you guys, we’re very committed to not talking about KaiNexus. We really want to kind of spread the gospel of continuous improvement, not specifically about how KaiNexus affects continuous improvement. And so, I feel like we’ve become a really good resource for people that are just trying to learn and immerse themselves in continuous improvement.
And so just start at kainexus.com and if you find the webinars and the blog link, I think it’ll prove a helpful avenue.
GW: Great, that’s perfect.
JR: Can I ask a question?
GW: Yeah, go for it.
JR: What are you guys reading right now?
GW: For fun or for work?
JR: Let’s say, for work.
JC: I just started The Qualified Sales Leader, like just now, so we’ll see how that goes.
JR: Well, I am reading that one, too. So, as you’re going through it, I would love to compare notes.
JC: All right. Yeah.
JR: Mine is so marked up with ink and underlines and notes in the margin right now. That’s going to be our next book club on our sales team—
JR: —is that one. So, how about you, Geoff?
GW: I’m reading Understanding Variation: The Key to Managing Chaos by Donald Wheeler. So, I know Josh wanted me to read a couple of books before this, but this is a good book about, you know, process control and everything like that. So, definitely a highly recommended one.
JR: You know, one of the thought leaders at KaiNexus is a gentleman named Mark Graban, and he wrote a book recently called Measures of Success that kind of get into the variability, that sort of thing. And Dr. Wheeler was a hero of his. I don’t know if he was a mentor or whatever, but certainly he speaks often of him, so that’s really cool.
I like to know what people are reading. That’s the habit for me. If you can build a reading habit, everything else follows.
GW: Well, that’s great. We got some good professional reading list items and some books here for fun. We’ll go ahead and wrap things up. Again, Jeff, Josh, thank you, guys, so much for the time today. This has been a ton of fun. We’ll have to do this again, and really appreciate it.
For anyone that wants to hear more about this podcast or others, you can cheque out all of our podcasts from across Hexagon at hxgnspotlight.com, on Apple Podcasts, or on Spotify. Thank you so much for tuning in.
Again, Josh, Jeff, thank you, guys, so much.