‘What OpEx Leaders Should Be Doing’ with Dawn Holly Johnson

‘What OpEx Leaders Should Be Doing’ with Dawn Holly Johnson

by Patrick Adams | Jul 12, 2022

Dawn Holly Johnson is a returning guest on The Lean Solutions Podcast.  Back in episode 46, we discussed operational excellence and, at that time, Dawn was getting ready to release her book, What CEOs Need to Know: The #1 Reason Startups Fail and All Organizations Underperform.  Well, now that Dawn has released her book, I am excited to catch up and learn how things have been going.

What You’ll Learn This Episode:

  • The reasons that companies struggle with OpEx.
  • What should OpEx leaders do instead?
  • Learn about Dawn’s new book, What CEOs Need to Know: The #1 Reason Startups Fail and All Organizations Underperform. And why she wrote it.
  • How can OpEx leaders bring enterprise-wide change?

About the Guest: 

As an Organizational Engineer with transformational experience in every major industry and in every size company, Dawn has been the catalyst for businesses to realize over $6B in cash flow improvements. She is the CEO of 3D value group and the author of the book, What CEOs Need to Know: The #1 Reason Startups Fail and All Organizations Underperform.

Important Links:

Website: DawnHollyJohnson.com

Book: Click Here for Amazon

Full Episode Transcripts: 

 

Patrick Adams 

Welcome to the Lean solutions podcast where we discuss business solutions to help listeners develop and implement action plans for true Lean process improvement. I am your host, Patrick Adams. Hello, and welcome to the Lean solutions podcast. Our guest today is Dawn Holly Johnson. This is Don’s second time on the show her first time on the show was back in episode 46, where we discussed operational excellence. And at that time, Don was getting ready to release her first book, what CEOs need to know the number one reason startups fail and all organizations underperform, or now that Don’s released her book, I’d love to catch up and learn how things have been going. So welcome to the show, Don.

 

Dawn Holly Johnson 

Well, thanks so much, Patrick. Thanks for having me. Absolutely.

 

Patrick Adams 

So how have things been going since the release of your book?

 

Dawn Holly Johnson 

Well, craziness, right. So you know, part of the reason that I wrote the book was after working in operational excellence for about 20 years, and just being frustrated, quite frankly, with the resistance that and the undoing of the goodness that we were providing, by leaders. And I, I really took a step back and actually applied our own methodologies to get to the root cause of what’s really causing all this resistance. Sure. And, and so initially, I was going to write a book, to darn well prove how powerful operational excellence is. And but when I really started to ask the questions is why are leadership’s or leaders not embracing this? Right? What, what? What’s missing? Because? Because they’re intelligent people, right? So, so it’s obviously something they don’t understand. Don’t see the benefit of right. I mean, nobody adopts anything with if it’s not, doesn’t seem advantageous to them, right? And even if it does seem advantageous, came up adopted it but you know, and what’s the resistance to change? And I started to look into well, okay, you hear a lot from folks. And people used to say to me all the time, friends and colleagues, and they’d say, Well, you know, people resist change on that’s just the way it is. But I disagree with that statement. I think that’s too much of a blanket statement. I think people resist what they don’t understand. Yeah. Right. As soon as there’s not an understanding, they’re going to put up all the walls, and just completely not go there. Because ultimately, at the end of the day, is operational excellence experts, we are out to make everyone in that organization, successful. Customer, everybody related to the organization, right, the supply chain, the customers, all the stakeholders. And I think, number one, there’s not a belief that somebody would actually take on a career where they make other people successful. But I love making other people successful. And so I think there’s a disbelief, that, you know, there must be another reason, and I think our profession sometimes pushes methodology, it feels too hard. without there being an understanding of the value, you know, come up out of the trees. Let’s look at the whole forest again. Like we’re here to help make your organization healthier, your people healthier. And and take it from that route. I think jumping right into methodology right away, tends to just confuse people. And the more I reflected on things, you know, another thing I came to realize is our own profession has failed to use our own tools, that we talked very much about how important to customer experiences yet. Operational Excellence has been around at least 80 years. And it’s not a mainstream practice yet. And it’s rare to come across a leader that appreciates the value of it. So So why is that? And so I decided to you know, really get to the root cause of it. And I got into the psychology of it all I started to look at what are beliefs that we’re actually all born into believing? That would, because if there’s this almost carte blanche misunderstanding of what we’re able to bring, now I’m not saying when when I say operational excellence should be mainstream, not saying everyone can lead that effort. I think there’s there’s a, there’s a small percentage of human beings on the planet And I actually, from my professional experience estimated that to be about 10 to 15%, I looked at the research, I was pretty much spot on that think in the terms of systems and processes. So this is the first thing you need to appreciate about the psychology what we’re up to, is, most people don’t think that way. They don’t under they don’t recognize the importance of process. They’re people focused, right. And then what’s happened, of course, especially in the last 2030 years is a huge influx of Information Technology. Right? And that’s how we’ll find efficiencies. And as we know, technology doesn’t always bring efficiency. It’s assumed it does. But it doesn’t always do that. And so how do we start to address that? Right? How do we address the fact that most people don’t even think this way? I, I always had the assumption, until I really went into this inquiry. It was just a natural assumption on my part, and I am an engineer by degree. But you know, I appreciated process, I knew how important process was, it’s actually the thing. People come and go, technology changes, it’s process that delivers value, right people and technology enable it. And the belief system that’s out there in the world is it’s our people, well, of course, the people are important. But I will tell you this, you don’t care much about your people, if your processes aren’t strong, great design, and you’re enabling them to bring their best skills, their best capabilities to the job, right. And people, of course, are happier when they can do that. So it’s, it’s critical, I believe, for operational excellence leaders to understand and check in on their assumptions that other people think process is important. Because I declare that most don’t think that’s the case. And so we’re already fighting an uphill battle with that.

 

Patrick Adams 

Right? And Dawn, you speak from experience as well, for those that are listening that maybe did not catch episode 46 When you were on last time? Can we can you give just everyone maybe a little bit of your background just so that they understand that you know, where you come from when it when you talk about operational excellence leaders up next leaders and and the challenges that they face? You face some of the same challenges, correct?

 

Dawn Holly Johnson 

Oh, absolutely. Which is what put me into this inquiry in the first place. You know, all supercharged every new role I came into a we’re gonna make a difference. And, and the bigger the bigger, the identification of value opportunity that I discovered, the more I was pushed aside and quieted, and sometimes politically assassinated, because, again, back to the belief systems, it’s the leadership should know better. Right? But they’re not trained in what we do. And so it’s, it’s, it’s, in fact, what people are trained in does not actually promote improving a business. Will I’ll get into that in a little bit. But yeah, I mean, I, I worked blue collar for and I started working on, and, you know, for, I didn’t finish my age myself here, but I didn’t finish my engineering degree until I was 30. You know, my mother died and I had a little sister of etc. But then in the meantime, I worked in a lot of different industries and, and customer focused service industries, you know, like serving and, and daycare, and, you know, I took on all this different stuff, but I also began to work in the oil and gas industry with my father. And that was my first experience in corporations was my internships with oil and gas, but when I graduated, gas industry had fallen apart. And I went into aerospace. And I did have an aerospace minor. And so I jumped in there while I had the fortune of working at Allied Signal, which was one of the forerunners you know, GE the you know, GE Jack Welch and then our CEO, Larry, bossy, they were buddies. And so they were launching Six Sigma back then, and total quality management. And we had amazing mentorship and encouragement to take on also up to 40 hours of Free training every year to improve ourselves. But of course, that’s belts. I mean, we were getting 160 hours a year and things like that of training. But, you know, to be mentored and to bring amazing change. So my green belt project alone was a $2 million project. Right. And, and, and my black belt when I was probably still counting, but hundreds of millions, right. So, you know, when I got mentored, but I try to help I was instrumental, I was one of the three people that transformed Allied Signal, 1000, supplier, global supply chain, to an accountability model, and dramatically improved, defects, deliver on time delivery, etc. And then my father suffered a massive stroke, I went into health care, I figured planes weren’t falling out of the sky. But we have a problem in health care. And health providers work hard. It’s a difficult environment, because they’re also very hierarchical, and culture, as well as structure, and that’s a double whammy for that profession. They’re not processed deep thinkers at all, and, you know, it’s not how they’re built, right, their caregivers. And so, you know, I went in to make a big difference in health care. And that was the most difficult part of my career, seven and a half years of really getting beat up trying to bring change. And and since then, I’ve, you know, I’ve been in all the major sectors now I’ve telecommunications and banking, and you name it, I’ve worked with startups to Fortune one hundreds, identify, well, I’ve actually produced over $6 billion in value creation. And a huge jump to that was actually new revenue generation, because customers now experienced an amazing value proposition and they bought more, right. So even though I’m trained to make create operational efficiency, over 5 billion of that was read, Jim. Amazing. So, you know, I have all these amazing results after 20 years, and yet, I continued to get beat up. And I had to I just, I had to step back, it was a very trying time in my life, where I decided, Do I even want to do this anymore? Even though I am so built for it? Do I want to do it anymore? Because I don’t enjoy politics. Right at all right?

 

Patrick Adams 

You and me both?

 

Dawn Holly Johnson 

Get the opinion out and our tools do that, right? Our methods do that and allows teams to come together, get rid of the subjectivity, and actually produce something that you know, a valid solution, right. That’s what the tools are designed to do. That’s right. And, and so I don’t get hung up on methodology so much is what’s the right tool, all to maybe bring in to help this group yet to be the decision, you know, non opinionated solutioning.

 

Patrick Adams 

Hey, Patrick, here, I hope you’re enjoying this episode of the lien solutions podcast. And I always hate to interrupt the show. But I wanted to take a moment to let you know about our Lean Solutions Academy. We offer many flexible learning and training options to include elearning courses, live virtual classroom and on site classrooms. Our newest courses include Leader Standard Work and visual management, check out all of our offerings on our website at finding solutions.com and click on Academy. Now, back to the show. What would you say in your experience, it has been the top reasons that companies struggle with operational excellence and the deployment of Lean or Six Sigma methodologies.

 

Dawn Holly Johnson 

Yeah, well, the first is these natural assumptions that we’re born with these paradigms that we we live in were were bred, they’re bred into us. So I’m not saying Although I I’ve worked very hard to come up with an easy way to actually shift those paradigms. And you know, that when you don’t know that you don’t know something, then you don’t know it. Right? And you don’t you’re not even aware of being able to learn that. We live we live in a society that works not on the ontological level, but on the learning level. So in otherwise, I know, I don’t know something and I’m going to go read a book or take a class or get a degree in that and then I’m going to now know it. So we tend to live as human beings in that I know, I know how to do something, or I don’t know, I know how to do. Or I mean, I know I don’t know how to do something like I know, I can’t fly a plane, right? I could go learn how to fly one if I want to. So the don’t know that you don’t know is the sticky part. Now we are naturally our belief systems. You know, we’re eager, ego driven Human beings right is that if we hire experts, so got an expert in marketing and expert in sales and expert and operations and expert in supply chain, an expert in customer service and expert in Human Resources, an expert in finance, and I put all those people together in a business, the assumption is that the business will run well. And that’s a false assumption. As you know, for instance, I’m not, I’m not trained as a financial expert, but I’ve gone and redesigned financial processes and made them far better. And all those accountants and accounts payable all those folks were so much happier, and so was the business because the business has to interact with finance all the time as an example, right? Made the processes demonstrably better. Didn’t have to be a finance expert to do that. Right. So it comes back to the other belief, which is the importance of process, people aren’t trained on making processes strong, they’re trained on functions. So one of the reasons companies struggle with operational excellence is because the company is designed to functionalize right? And you know, if you do a Value Stream Map of an entire organization, where are the biggest opportunities? In the gaps between the departments, typically, right? So why do we design our businesses to create that havoc in the first place? Because we think leader if as long as we get all these functional leaders in charge, that everything will work well. And the larger the company is, the worst that gets the the ability to communicate well, and to work well together, dissipates exponentially, exponentially. It just still, to this day, I just struggled to understand how fortune one hundreds survive. I’ve been in many of them. And, you know, there’s just a huge amount of capital being thrown at dysfunction, right? At this function, right? So so first of all, it’s don’t assume leaders understand the importance of process, because they’re thinking more around the lines of, but I have all these experts that I thought, okay, that’s what they’re thinking. And so there isn’t an appreciated process. And as soon as you can, it’s tough, it’s hard on the ego, it’s, it’s hard for those of us that know the importance of it, but you have to think about this, and it’ll start to resonate with you if you really think about it. And so they’re focusing on expertise. And that’s typically what you’re dealing with, with the politics in the organization is, well, I’m the expert, I’m the leader over, blah, blah, and, you know, I brought to a CEO, eighth of a billion dollar opportunity, and you got rid of me as fast as he could. So they ended up finally letting him go a year and a half later, recognizing his inabilities, but nonetheless, right? He wasn’t going to deal with that. So. So he didn’t care about the health of the organization, or the people in it. Sure. Right? Well, the structure, the organization set him up to be the king of his kingdom. And that’s, that’s the first failure mode there.

 

Dawn Holly Johnson 

And then the second being, we focus a lot on methodologies, versus first getting to the psychology of some of these, these understandings. And so I think our profession needs to take a big step back and look at maybe there’s a different way to approach which is what I tend to address in my book and why I wrote it with the title of CEO in it, because I believe that C suite needs to learn this, right needs to understand that for their own benefit. And everyone’s benefit. That, you know, we have great methodologies, but we need to step back and really look at the structure of the organization that’s impeding us. For instance, the larger the organization, the more frequent they will reorganize. So you can do a ton of process work inside the business, the reorg hits, it’s all unraveled again, no accountability, process gets disconnected, and then we started again. And so instead of being able to continuously improve on that process, we’re constantly fighting big fires, right? I’m not much for reaction. I like preventive. And that’s the third piece is that You know, unfortunately prevention doesn’t sell as well as come and fight my fire with me, I’ve got a big problem now come and solve it. And that’s part of the human psyche, people tend to ignore things until there’s a problem. They’ll ignore their health until they’re, they got cancer, or the only right Dell ignore their mental health until they get cancer or their cell, you know, whatever it is, right. So. So that’s also natural human nature. And I think we need to, to really take a look at those aspects. And when you really understand that you begin to see me different ways to approach it.

 

Patrick Adams 

Absolutely. That’s great. So what do you mean? What would be your suggestion to pecs leaders that are listening in what what can they do to, you know, to, to combat these these challenges these reasons?

 

Dawn Holly Johnson 

Well, I think it’s really critical. To be able to communicate with the C suite, I know that I was often brought in at the director level senior director level, I personally hit a ceiling could never get to VP, especially in healthcare, because, quote, unquote, you needed a clinical degree, which made no sense to me. I’m here for operational effectiveness, what does the clinical degree have to do with that, but that’s the way healthcare thinks. And so. So, but I find, if you look on LinkedIn, or whatever most are coming in is in middle management, they don’t have access to C suite. Now I have reported to the C suite still ran into some problems. So it was a little easier. But I didn’t know what I know, now. And I would have approached those leaders differently, because they’ll get all gung ho about oh, we’re gonna bring in operational excellence, but they have no idea how to use us. And they stick us kind of in this corner in our own group, and say, okay, you know, go go work on things, or we’ll bring problems to as we need to. But one of the things you have to realize is that senior leadership, and this tends to be the trend, I really look at how to CEOs, especially see, I think CEOs, I mean, they tend to be more operational process systems thinkers, is the CFO and the CEO. That, I think, not deliberately, because the cause the problems in this in this very facet, almost all CEOs are driven to m the CFO to make that financial report loaded. Right, we want the company to be growing equity. Right? So if you think about the balance sheet, and you break it down to assets and liabilities. And so, inside of that, how do I increase my assets? is, well, you’ve got the income and expense statement, right? So you got to cut expenses, or increase income to make a difference. Now, as an effects later, you’re gonna go well, that’s what I do I help cut expenses, right, I help to make right and, and eventually actually increase revenue, because I don’t know that we measure that well, but the customers, you know, as they’re getting better value will buy more, right, and the word will get out. So we do affect the revenue stream. But, but why then doesn’t the CEO and the CFO when there’s when they’re struggling with not having great financial records? Why do they rarely ever go to the effects team and ask for help? That’s rare. What they do is they start manipulating the math problem. So what is the CEO and CFO have control that bow CFO has control over the budget? So they’ll stop start whacking the budget to the detriment of the business actually, because there’s no accountability I have seen for instance in telecom that they actually took out color printers out of the budget massive telecom company it absolutely crippled the folks in the field because their prints for any particular job I mean, there this was on the enterprise side so if you’ve got to get internet you know, across the road, so under a road up into a new SkyRise right and wire that whole SkyRise with internet I mean that’s that’s a significant job and so all those prints all those blueprints were in color for a reason and it’s an industry standard, but somebody’s a corporate when we’re gonna just wipe out the color printers. Look at me, pat on the back. I just wiped out millions of dollars annually. Absolutely no consideration of what it did to the process. Right. Right. So but this is what they’ll do. And this is why we see so many layoffs, and then rehiring, and then layoff rehiring. It’s just manipulating the balance sheet, the CEO has control of income and expense, they can tell the sales team go sell more, even though ops might not be ready for it, go sell more, right? Or cut expenses, CFO cut expenses, and then they’re going to make that quarterly report look good. And this, you see this, especially the larger the organization, you see this behavior over and over and over again, okay, and they don’t know how to tap us. They don’t know how to do that. So I think it’s an opportunity to educate senior leaders not on the method, not training them in white belts and yellow belts, and that’s already into the method, instead of the big benefit of all of this is, I’m going to simplify how you manage the business. Right? It’s, it’s going to be, it’s going to run more on autopilot as you empower people to measure and work their processes and make them better. So. But that’s not the thinking out there. Because of the natural belief systems we’re born into. And from what people are trained either in college, or better the school of hard knocks, they will manipulate that math problem over and over again, instead of getting into the business and you know, right, but like lean methodology, leadership should be walking the floor, right, but they should be walking, not just the manufacturing floor, but the accounting floor and the HR floor and right, they should be everywhere in the business. And I think we tend to avoid the service transactional and software side of things, the tech side, and stick to manufacturing. And then you manufacturing is easier because you have a tangible product, everything else is somewhat intangible code is intangible, right? Transactions fly through systems, and they’re intangible, but it can be done. And I think it’s important that the whole business, embrace that. But it starts with leadership fully understanding how to utilize us as best as possible, because we got a lot of talent, and a lot of passion, and a lot of experience. And we don’t have and this is this is back to this one assumption, we don’t have to be an expert, like you’ll see, well, if you have a background in aerospace, then I’ll hire you in aerospace. Well, I went into health care, and made billions of dollars in difference. And I’m an engineer from aerospace. So it doesn’t matter in what we’re trained in. We’re agnostic, we’re industry agnostic. It doesn’t matter what process we’re dealing with, we’re going to make a difference. And so but the leadership team needs to understand that and that’s why I developed my program. I’m programmed for off X leaders to help actually the operational excellence team, all the process engineers, etc. shift their own mindset, because they were born in the same belief system, and then be able to bring that to leadership and shift the leadership’s mindset. Because, you know, it’s not until the second half of my book that I even mentioned the word process. And I do that for a reason, because it’s not important to most people. Instead, I shift their belief systems, but in part two, late in part two, then I talk about, okay, now, here’s your right hand, you’re off X person, you’re off off X people are your right hands and should be throughout the organization, helping you right, being your partner. And, and so ultimately, my book did end up promoting all of us, but not just to promote us just because while I wanted to justify my existence, but because it is the right thing to do.

 

Patrick Adams 

Right. Right. So you mentioned your program briefly. Expand on that a bit. What what are the, you know, when we talk about, you know, what is it that app X leaders should do? What is it that you’re recommending and training op X leaders on what when it comes to enterprise wide change? How do you help obsolete op X leaders lead that charge?

 

Dawn Holly Johnson 

Well, through a series of inquiry, inquiries and and some exercises to help break down the belief systems that the OP X team has and and empower them on what is really possible and help them to understand where leadership is at. Right. We’re in I know, I’m speaking in generalities, but there are consistent belief systems doesn’t matter what leaders in play, okay? And so we’ve got to be able to be compassionate about that. And and understand that and so how do you get a senior leader to actually give you audience? And how, not by throwing methodology at them? Get them to recognize that, that you’re the best thing that could happen? Because they just they’re trying to make the company successful. Without you, you know, you’re a department. And, yeah, so so there’s that opportunity to help bring the operational excellence team to a new level that I think is long overdue in our profession, of thinking more about the entire organizational design, right, we design processes, but the design of anything, as you know, determines its performance. And we designed businesses all wrong. So that design is important. And typically, the organizational design is shoved over an HR department. And so that those are typically the first people I connect with, to begin to build rapport with. And then there’s the opportunity to know how to request some time from the C suite, to be able to present the opportunity for them to go through the leadership program, which helps to bring them along in understanding the best designs, management approaches excetera, to running a business that are timeless, and will never fail, and how to utilize the off X team to do that. And then the balls in your court, then the effects team has got it right, then you’ve got then you’ve been welcomed in, right. And now you can really create effect, lasting change and not have that C suite begin to unravel. All the good you’re doing right. I mean, I continued to experience that over and over again.

 

Patrick Adams 

Yep, many of us have. So obviously, we’ve we’ve talked a lot about many of the things that CEOs need to know, we’ve given, we’ve given a lot of gold out during this episode. But I think there’s probably quite a bit more still left to be unraveled, in your book, what CEOs need to know. If someone is interested to grab your book, where would they find it?

 

Dawn Holly Johnson 

I currently have it on Amazon. Okay. So, if you type in Don Holly Johnson on Amazon, it’ll pop under books. It’s available on Kindle and paperback, I’m actually in the mode of retitling it and rewriting it for more of the general public. And even though the title says what CEOs need to know, as an OP X person, and it was also written for all of you to be able, because what that CEO is doing directly affects your ability to be successful. Right, right. Right. Yes, we we are here to bring make others successful, but we can’t be successful unless we can make them successful. And they’re fighting us to help them be successful than right. It’s, it’s, it’s just a crazy cycle. Yeah. So

 

Patrick Adams 

we’ll make sure we drop a link to the at the Amazon, on Amazon to your book in the show notes. So if you’re interested to grab a copy of Don’s book, definitely drop, go to the show notes, you can find a link there. Don, if people want to get a hold of you, what are some other ways that they can get a hold of you. And again, we’ll drop these links into into the show notes for them.

 

Dawn Holly Johnson 

You know, actually the best way to get the book and to get a hold of me is just to go to Don Holic johnson.com Okay, perfect. There’s the link right there for the book. So you don’t have to go searching for it. And then also, you can book a 15 minute insights call with me and I can understand you know, better what you’re dealing with. And I like to add value. And then if we want to take that conversation further, we will but I’m happy to you know, I just want all of us to be successful. It’s just the way I’m built. So I you know, I don’t hold stuff back. It’s like if you want to know, I’ll tell you

 

Patrick Adams 

right. Yeah, that’s why I love the Lean community so much all of us are very much a community you know, that that helps each other and definitely wants to add as much value as we can, you know, out to the to the world. So thank you don for what you do, and For your book and I just love having you back love, love hearing how the book is going and and always, always appreciate your insight.

 

Dawn Holly Johnson 

Oh, thank you so much. And yeah, I agree the OP X community loves to impart knowledge and share and wants to contribute. I just want to be able to contribute to you being able to contribute more. That’s what I’m up to.

 

Patrick Adams 

Well, we appreciate that. Thank you so much, Don, again, for being on the show. And we look forward to having you back again soon. Love to have you back on if you do end up rewriting or republishing or throwing another book out there. I’d love to talk about that. And here’s some more of your insights in love hearing about your experiences as well. So thank you so much for sharing.

 

Dawn Holly Johnson 

Thank you, Patrick. Thanks so much for having me.

 

Patrick Adams 

Thanks so much for tuning in to this episode of the lean solutions podcast. If you haven’t done so already, please be sure to subscribe. This way you’ll get updates as new episodes become available. If you feel so inclined. Please give us a review. Thank you so much.

Meet Patrick

Patrick is an internationally recognized leadership coach, consultant, and professional speaker, best known for his unique human approach to sound team-building practices; creating consensus and enabling empowerment. He founded his consulting practice in 2018 to work with leaders at all levels and organizations of all sizes to achieve higher levels of performance. He motivates, inspires, and drives the right results at all points in business processes.

Patrick has been delivering bottom-line results through specialized process improvement solutions for over 20 years. He’s worked with all types of businesses from private, non-profit, government, and manufacturing ranging from small business to billion-dollar corporations.

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