How Has This Season of Rapid Change and Uncertainty Reinforced Your Values as a Company?

In this series, Jeff Kaas explains what the Kaas Tailored team learned about continuous improvement as we transitioned from making furniture to making PPE during the COVID19 global pandemic. In our first episode we explain why Kaas Tailored started making PPE, Today, Jeff talks about how this season of change and uncertainty reinforced our values as a company.

This is a great question! One of the things we try to do at Kaas Tailored is to ask ourselves, “What are the laws of the universe? What is actually true?” Then, align our efforts to those things that are true. One of the laws of the universe that we’ve found to be true is that human beings really enjoy creating value, specifically creating value in a community with feedback so they know when they’ve done good and when they need to improve. An example of a tight feedback loop is when our marketing team places an ad for a dollar. Then, they find out for each dollar they spend, they make $25 in sales. That’s helpful information to know. The feedback loop is fairly tight, and it helps us make smart investments as a team. 

Then there are feedback loops that take a little more time, like loving your neighbor. There is a benefit to that, just loving people, it’s a thing. But the feedback loop might be a generation or two, or three, or four. In this time of rapid change, the love your neighbor thing has been overwhelmingly coming our way. During the past few months, I would go home, I hate to admit this because I associate this with weakness, but I’d go home and cry. I’d sit in my car and freaking cry before I could go into the house. Sometimes for 10 minutes. And I was crying out of gratitude. We’ve got Nordstrom who is sewing for us. Nordstrom sewed a million of these masks for healthcare workers. Nordstrom is our customer. How crazy is that? Like, what? How does that even happen? That’s a love thing, right? How does that happen? The abundance of feedback on loving your neighbor is mind-blowing. In this case of doing this zoom call, it’s an easy decision to just try to love you all by spending time with you.  

In terms of the systems, I learned something yesterday. Those of you who know me well know that most of my career as a business person, the fear of running a business would cause me to go crazy. I suppress the fear, but that also means I don’t feel the good things in business. I end up being numb. I’ve been going to counseling to learn when I’m actually mad and what causes me to be mad, which is really bad because now I know what makes me mad. At a system level, what really got me raging is that we say we believe in one-piece flow, so that it blesses the people in the front line, and we were not giving them one-piece flow. That is an absolute violation of everything I say I believe. Our system wasn’t being followed. To us, it’s doubling down and teaching my leaders, my colleagues to say, “When you decide to change an operating system, you’re taking a part of my body out, and you don’t know what it’s connected to yet.” My job is to help you understand that this is part of our body, this is how we live, and if you want to change it, there’s a method for doing that. But you don’t just stop doing it. 

That caused a lot of heart-to-heart conversations. I also doubled down on the agreement that my job is to listen to the music and say, “Bravo,” and to write music and try to find people who want to make music with us. My job is not to conduct the orchestra. I was guilty, again, of stepping in and conducting the orchestra. We’ve been putting in a bunch of improvements where I can actually say to the conductor, “Hey, you might be hearing stuff, but you’re not telling the trumpets to play.” We now have a way of actually using that as a teaching tool. The feedback loop was so tight. The blessing of the pace is that you do something stupid and then the next day you’re slapped in the face. An example of that is, I made a training video. “Hey, this is how I want you to set up flow lines,” after we learned how to do it. Then, the next day, Oz and I are working in another part of the world, and we spent our whole day trying to micromanage some stupid little detail. It was a really cool thing, but it was the opposite of what I trained.

The next morning I’m like, “What the heck is wrong with me? Hey, everybody. I did exactly what I told you not to do, yesterday. Boy, do I feel stupid.” I think the blessing of the tight feedback loop is, at least in our situation, is that every day was a new morning and we got to try something new. I’d also say that the thinking models were really important.

In March of 2020, Providence Health and Services started the 100 Million Mask Challenge. The hope was to reach out to their local community to help create much-needed PPE, due to the COVID19 global pandemic. Within a few days, Providence and Kaas Tailored formed a partnership to rapidly-produce face shields and face masks for caregivers. As the new normal settled in, we realized how much we missed hosting guests in our factory and leading Waste Tours. We hosted a zoom call in early June and asked participants to send in their questions about waste and continuous improvement so that we could share what we’d learned about continuous improvement as we transitioned from making furniture to making PPE. Stay tuned for the rest of the series.