Welcome to our interview with Paul Akers. Paul Akers is founder and president of FastCap, an international product development company with distribution in 40 countries. Paul is also an Author of 2 Second Lean, Lean Health, and a Public Speaker.
In 2000 Paul discovered Lean manufacturing or Toyota Production System (TPS). This newfound knowledge helped him and his wife Leanne to take FastCap from a small start up in their garage into the successful product development company it is today. Using Lean, Paul’s company has prospered and expanded even through the economic downturn, having never laid off an employee nor cut one salary, all while continuing to offer the highest level pay for any business in the region.
His Passion is teaching others how to implement Lean thinking in their own business and personal life. Welcome Paul, and thank you for contributing to the questions that are at the heart of the Exploring Forward Thinking Workplaces conversation.
Bill Fox: How can we create workplaces where every voice matters, everyone thrives & finds meaning, and change & innovation happen naturally?
Paul: That’s really easy and is done if you believe everybody has something to contribute. But if you’re a leader and you think you’re the smartest one and have all the answers, then you’ll never create that environment. And even more importantly, as the leader, you must be willing to celebrate it when people come up with ideas that are more creative and insightful than yours. You must believe philosophically that people are smart and have the capacity to come up with better ideas than you.
Bill: How do we get an employee’s full attention and best performance?
Paul: The first step is you have to apply the 3 A’s (Alignment, Autonomy, Accountability) of Respect to the people who work for you. And that’s a very difficult concept because most people are unwilling to do that—maybe only about 3 to 5%. It seems very harsh.
The problem is that most employers want to coddle people. They want to be liked and not respected. They’re not willing to put high expectations on the people that work for them.
You have to create high expectations. You have to be willing to train people how to meet those expectations and hold people to those expectations. Then if the group of people you’re surrounded with after you’ve invested time and effort to train, support and nurture them is unwilling to try to reach those expectations—but would rather remain comfortable—you need to sort them out of your presence.
Bill: What do people really lack and long for at work?
Paul: There’s really only one thing that any human being longs for at work, at home, or anywhere, anytime, anyplace. It’s the reason why everyone exists. They want to matter.
If a human being feels like they matter, then they are contributing and have some level of importance in what they’re doing. If they feel self-worth, then they will be invested in any process. But the moment they feel like they don’t matter, you’re wasting your time. It’s the job of the employer to make sure you create an environment where everyone matters.
Bill: What is the most important question leaders should be asking employees?
Paul: If you want to keep it simple, it’s “What have you improved today?”
If you want to go philosophical, it’s “What have you done to improve the quality of someone else’s life today?”
Bill: What is the most important question employees should be asking leaders?
Paul: Without giving that any thought, it’s “What is my weakness? What do I need to improve on? What do you see as my weakness?”
I’m sitting next to the chief engineer in my company right now. If he was to ask me that question right now, I would tell him, “Be more aggressive.”
Bill: What is the most important question we should be asking ourselves?
Paul: Are you a coward or do you have courage?
Bill: What has been the most intriguing aspect of your lean journey?
Paul: The most important thing I learned is a revelation that struck me in the last two years and that is how absolutely critical exceptional health is for every individual but particularly those people who are leading.
I think we dumbed down the standard on how important it is to respect our body and respect the amazing gift that has been given us. It’s so important for us to do a terrific job of managing our health. If you look at just America, it is a country riddled with obesity at a level that is almost incomprehensible.
The greatest revelation for me in the last two years— probably one of the most important things I think about every day—was a deep respect for my body and how I treat, feel, and take care of my body. In the process of doing that, I have become an infinitely better leader with much more clarity in my thinking and the way I represent myself to the world and my company.
Bill: If you were going to add a question to this interview from a lean perspective, what would it be?
Paul: Honestly, I think your questions are really good. If I was going to ask another question I would say two things. First, what are you afraid of? What keeps you up at night? What is the next huge challenge you’re wrestling with? What is making you afraid and how are you dealing in overcoming that?
Bill: What question is at the heart of lean?
Paul: Your belief in mankind. Your respect for mankind and the fearful and wonderful way that each human being was created. This is the core philosophy.
Bill: What is the biggest misunderstanding about lean?
Paul: That it’s a tool and not a philosophy. It’s not a tool. At its core, what makes lean so effective is that it’s answering a deep philosophical question. Unfortunately, most companies don’t get that right.
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