Podcast Episode 22: “Having Processes That Don’t Work Well Is Disrespectful”: A Podcast Interview with Karen Martin


In this podcast, we speak with Karen Martin, Founder of The Karen Martin Group. Karen is an expert on organizational improvement and an accomplished writer and speaker. We explore how the methodologies she works can improve organizational performance. You can find the Karen Martin Group on ksmartin.com. She has powerful resources there for organizational improvement, as well as a free, useful monthly newsletter.


About the Karen Martin Group

Karen, what does the Karen Martin Group do? [1:00]

What is an ideal prospect for your group? [1:45]

Do you work with nonprofits? [3:05]


About Lean Management

Karen, I know you are an advocate of lean management practices. What are lean management practices? [3:30]

What’s the “swing thought” for a leader in the throes of a lean management transformation? [5:10]

What’s the relationship between “lean” and humility? [6:45]

It’s tough for a leader to simply observe, isn’t it? [8:40]

Is lean management a toolbox, or is it something more? [9:40]

Edwards Deming (often talked about as the founder of lean management) talks about respect for the worker, right? [10:30]

You’ve written many books. One that I recommend all the time to my customers is your book published in 2014 with Mike Osterling called Value Stream Mapping. What is a value stream? [12:05]

How would you respond to a nonprofit that says that it knows better than its clients about what those clients need? [13:58]

Does learning about the customer require a lot of survey costs? [15:20]

How do value streams differ in for-profit and nonprofit settings? [16:35]

What would you say to a nonprofit who says they don’t have customers and therefore don’t need to perform value stream analysis? [17:40]

How can an organization start get started using value stream mapping? [17:56]

Do you point to resources for those who are beginning to do value stream mapping? [19:20]

How do you begin without spending a lot of money? [20:20]

A lot of people who listen to this podcast are employed in senior positions by nonprofits, which are historically underfunded and understaffed. How do you turn to someone who doesn’t have enough money and doesn’t have enough hours in the day and say that they should nevertheless spend time identifying their basic business systems? [21:35]

What comes after mapping a value stream? [24:40]


About Clarity First

In your newest book, Clarity First, you emphasize that businesses should strive for clarity. You describe clarity as something with multiple forms: an organizational value, a state of being, and an outcome. Can you tell me what you mean by that? [30:25]

Why might an organization prefer ambiguity over clarity? [31:45]

What about just keeping options open? [33:25]

One resistance I face when trying to help organizations begin risk management programs is that people do not like to look under rocks. Especially when they are under stress, they don’t want to know what they don’t know. Over the long haul, how does that attitude impact that worker in the organization she works for? [33:45]

In your book you ask why clarity isn’t more common, and one of your answers is that “clarity is rare because it requires a lot more short-term work than does ambiguity.” What do you mean by that? [34:45]

You also say that clarity is rare because “it’s easy to rationalize why you don’t have it.” Explain that to me. [35:40]

I have often heard creative people say that they need ambiguity in order to thrive. How would you respond to that? (Karen mentions the book Messy, by Tim Harford.) [36:40]

In your new book, you talk about setting priorities. In that discussion, you distinguish “regular work” from “extra work.” Why are those concepts important? (I mention Trello here.) [38:30]

In your book, you draw parallels between your approach and the practice of mindfulness. Tell me about that. [40:40]


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