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Mini-cast 202: Continuous Improvement from O2O

Bret Keisling shares an excerpt from Episode 26 of the Owner to Owner podcast with Jesse Tyler, featuring Jon Sweigart of Praxis Consulting Group and Kim Gage of Hypertherm discussing how companies can start a Continuous Improvement program.

The full episode can be found at Jon Sweigart also appeared on Episode 216 of The EsOp Podcast, released earlier this week.

... or watch the video of the episode here.


About Kimberly Gage

"I am the company's corporate improvement specialist, which is a fancy word for the person who gets to really empower associates at Hypertherm to look for opportunities to improve improve in their day-to-day.

This could be processes. This could be product improvements, safety, cost, ergonomics. There are so many different types of improvements that we are encouraging and empowering associates to look for, own, and implement themselves.

As far as me and my background, I've been with Hypertherm now for 11 years. I started in our manufacturing facilities, working on some of our products as an assembler. From there, I moved into our sales team where I worked for five years as inside sales, really understanding our products and what they're doing for our customers, learning about our customers, the industry.

And then after about five years, I did a quick switch over to continuous improvement where I actually now focus on our internal customers. So, what are we doing to make sure that our associates are being taken care of, that our associates' voices are being heard, and that they're able to take initiative and make change? So, yeah that's what I do. Some project management program management, but the biggest joy of my job is really around empowering of associates."

About Jon Sweigart

"I am a principal consultant with the Praxis Consulting Group. Our headquarters are in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. We're a small firm of about 13 people. We were founded by Alex Moss and Ginny Vanderslice over 25 years ago and since then have been working in mostly the employee ownership community, trying to bring together three things, A\and that is strategy, leadership and culture.

More practically, a lot of my work I feel is really bringing together groups of people to have meaningful interactions that communicate. Hearing people, respecting people, bringing in different voices, sharing decision making, sharing information at all levels of the organization in order to make the most of the opportunity of being employee owned."


Mini-cast 202 Transcript

[00:00:00] Bret Keisling: Welcome to the ESOP Mini-cast. Thank you so much for listening. My name is Bret Keisling and as it says on my business cards, I'm a passionate advocate for employee ownership. Earlier this week, on Episode 216 of our primary EO/ESOP Podcast, my guest was Jon Sweigart a principal at Praxis Consulting Group.

[00:00:27] Jon also appeared on Episode 26 of the Owner to Owner podcast with Jesse Tyler. Jesse and Jon, along with Kim Gage of Hypertherm discuss continuous improvement and what it means in general, and specifically at an employee-owned company. Both episodes are well worth your time, and I hope you'll check them out. We'll have a link to the Owner to Owner podcast Episode 26 in our show notes.

[00:00:50] Today I want to share a brief clip from that episode where Jon Sweigart asked Kim Gage how companies could begin the process of implementing continuous improvement. I hope you enjoy.


[00:01:01] Jon Sweigart: So, I wonder if I could ask a couple, you know, fascinating Kim. And I'm thinking about culture and leadership and I'm thinking you know, Hypertherm, in some ways, the more I learn about it, the more, it seems like a great model and the more intimidated I become, because I think there's no way that I could build something like that!

[00:01:22] Especially if certain things don't exist in my culture at work or certain kinds of leadership aren't in place. And so, I wonder Kim, if you could talk a little bit about bigger picture in terms of a system or a culture or leadership, what are the elements that need to be in place in order for this to get started, in order for it to work and be sustained? What are some of those things?

[00:01:44] Kim Gage: That's a great question, Jon. And what's wonderful about it is I'm actually navigating all of those questions that you just asked with, a company that we acquired within the last few years, and I'm actually launching this program with them. So, what perfect timing for these questions.

[00:01:59] So, the things that need to be in place. Well, number one is you have to have top-down understanding of the importance of this program. Because again, these types of improvements are going to be grassroots. These are going to be improvements that are happening right where the work is done. And if you have leaders who don't necessarily understand what work is being done, that granular level of what happens on a day to day, but they're the ones making the decisions, that's where immediately things become broken.

[00:02:30] So, you have to have the whys and the hows answered at that top level so that they can then promote it downward, right? So, if you have a GM, you want that GM to believe in it, and you want them to understand, you know, we are all sharing in the benefits, and this directly impacts our company's profitability. This is going to make your employees happy because they don't need to wait seven months for decisions to be made. It could happen next week, you know?

[00:02:59] So, once have that top level leaders buy in on it then what are they going to do by default? They're going to promote it to that next line of leaders. Hey, this is really important! This is really awesome! These are things that we can do. Here's the benefits of it. Some of this is actually going to reduce the capacity that you have now, because you don't have to manage all of this, your associate base is going to do that. Isn't this wonderful? And then again, we trickle down.

[00:03:24] So, the first thing you always have to do when you're deploying any kind of a change and a mindset change is you got to start with the top because if they don't believe in it, the rest of them are not going to believe in it.

[00:03:36] And so, that's really where I always go and that's the fundamental piece is who is this group looking up towards for that decision making from a support standpoint? And that's the person that you, or the group of people that you have to target first to have them be aligned because then once that has been done, everybody else will naturally follow suit.

[00:03:58] And I can tell you within my experiences we, there are times where you will have top level agreement on it and then it trickles, and then you might have one or two people that are kind of more resistant or hesitant or slow to adapt to it, where their peers might be. And it sticks out that group's performance that group's engagement. The overall culture, the aura about it, it sticks out. You will see your performers and then you'll see the ones that need that extra emphasis.

[00:04:28] So, that's why I always say you got to make sure that you have the buy-in from anybody who's going to be supporting these initiatives.

[00:04:36] And then it's hard sometimes for leaders to take a step back and say, wait, this is something I'm not supposed to own. This is something I'm supposed to support, right? And that's hard. Especially people who take pride in their ownership and leadership skills or people who might be really strongly attached to something, whether it's a process, product, the way that they manage their day to day. And if you're asking them to switch it up a little bit, you got to be empathetic to that and understanding of that.

[00:05:03] But again, you want to make sure that you always have that buy in so that they can then support appropriately.


[00:05:09] Bret Keisling: You'll find a link to Episode 26 of the Owner to Owner podcast in our show notes and you can find my full conversation with Jon Sweigart as well as our 400 plus episodes in our archives at I hope you'll check them out. Thank you so much for listening. This is Bret Keisling. Be well.

[00:05:30] Bitsy McCann: We'd love to hear from you. You can find us on Facebook at EO Podcast Network and on Twitter @ESOPPodcast. This podcast has been produced by Bret Keisling for the EO Podcast Network, original music composed by Max Keisling, branding and marketing by BitsyPlus Design, and I'm Bitsy McCann.

Standard Disclaimer: The views expressed herein are my own and don't represent those of my own firms or the organizations to which I belong. Nothing in the podcast should be construed as guidance or advice of any kind in any field and the fact that I mentioned an organizational website or an advocate or a company on a podcast does not reflect an endorsement, but if you've heard your name or your group's name mentioned on this podcast, I'd love to have you come on and talk about it yourself.

A note on the transcript: This transcript was produced by Descript, an automated transcription service. While it has been reviewed by The EsOp Podcast, we cannot guarantee the accuracy of the transcription. Please refer to the original audio when citing sources.


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