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  • Positive Polarity Podcast

The Recipe For Creating Greater Levels of Employee Engagement

Jeff Tweten is a Managing Member at, LLC is a company focused on helping customers build profits through Safety, Efficiency and Engagement. The company works with partner companies that share their vision for Lean efficiency and safety.

Jeff shares his recipe to create better employee engagement and why putting people first — investing thought, time, and resources into true talent and leadership development — may be the single most important strategy to pursue.

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So tell me a little bit about started in 2015, but it was really a continuation of a company that we started back in 2000. So we catered to the lumber industry and what we're looking at is to help operators, whether they be wholesalers or retailers. Whether they cater to the do it yourself or to the pro. To build profits through increased efficiency, safety, and engagement.

And for the first 15 years of the business, we were focused on efficiency and safety. And then five years ago, we kind of had the epiphany that it's really about engagement. You know, we were missing the most important component of that workforce, which is really the workforce itself. And how do we get them to engage? Because I can show you a piece of equipment, but if you don't use it correctly, you're not going to get full value out of it. So WorkSafeWorkSmart works with four different companies. We have a flagship property called the lumber buddy, portable workstation. That's the company I was talking about that started back in 2000. We've also represent two different strapping manufacturers because there's a safer, better way of doing strapping than it's been done traditionally in the lumber industry, one out of Texas, one out of the potluck at Rhode Island.

And then we also work with large source systems with a group out of Vancouver, British Columbia called LM saws. So, it's really anything that is going to help people work safer, work smarter. We're all focused on building that lean mindset of how do we eliminate waste? How do we eliminate unsafe conditions within the workforce?

So I want to kind of dig into those three words, safety efficiency, and then the engagement part. So you were cruising along thinking about efficiency and how to improve the bottom line I'm assuming for customers while being safe. You said you had an epiphany, kind of unpack that for us a little bit if you would as to how all of a sudden, this engagement piece jumped in?

One of the things that I've done over the last 20 years, I've visited upwards of 2000 lumberyards. So, I've seen a lot of different yards. We've got lumber buddies in all 50 States. So, we've seen really well ran operations and we've seen operations that needed a little bit of help. The difference was really the engagement and the buy-in of the folks that were there. Were they just there for the hour or were they to bring there to bring value to the hour? And that was partly out of frustration in the use of our lumber buddy platform that we would have guys buy it, but they'd really only use it at about 30% of its intended use.

And we had to do some other changes within the mindset of the group to get them to fully embrace the efficiency. So, part of it also came with lean process improvement. So, I was introduced to lean when I worked for a company years ago, or actually through quality improvement there. Then I was on a trip back from Nashville, Tennessee on a plane trip and I ended up sitting next to a lean consultant and the more he talked, the more interested I got. And so, when I landed in Kansas City and got back to the office, I ended up enrolling in a course in lane at the university in Springfield and was fascinated. And I thought, boy, this is something that our industry can really use.

As we watched Weyerhaeuser embrace lean, what we found was that basically sometimes that it would stall out at the management level because it's meeting intensive. There's a lot of analytics to it. And sometimes the guy that's out on the lot working. All he's trying to do is get to the end of the day. He's already got more work than he can do. And a meeting, that's the last thing he wants to attend. I think I thought maybe it’s not going to work here as well.

About seven years ago, I was out in California at one of our distributors for the strapping product. And he was complaining about his warehouse, he's running out of space. I said, well, have you ever thought of lean? And he said, well, actually I just finished this book. And he had a book called Two Second Lean. He said, I'm not sure that it's an answer, but it was an interesting read. So, I loved to read, loved to listen to audio books. And I was writing down the title and he said, well, just take the book. And I read the book on my way back to Kansas City and got off the plane, bought 20 copies and started sending them out to all of my customers because what Paul Akers captures in that book is really what I consider to be the Americanized version of the Japanese version of lean.

And this is kind of timely when we talk about Asian people wearing masks. Prior to COVID, why were they wearing it? Was it to protect them or to protect you? It was really to protect you. So, they are others focused society. Here, we're really seeing that now in the COVID situation what's in it for me? So, Two Second Lean focuses on fixing what bugs you and coming up with a two second improvement within the operation to help you do your job better. So, in seeing Paul's approach to lean, that's what we've really been championing of late is how do we teach people how to see ways? How do we give them the tools to eliminate waste and then you know, get out of the way and watch the improvements come?

So, you used a word that I wrote down that I want to make sure and talk about, because I mean, right now, especially it's an important word, mindset. So you go into a situation, how do you work with the guy or girl that is in that same spot where, you want me to invest all this time in these meetings? You want me to do all these things. I don't have time to do it. My mindset is, if it isn't broke, don't fix it. How did you guys manage to break through? What approach did you take?

Well, one of the things that does help us is having that lumber buddy as a lay down, because if they see that and see the value that it brings in their day, you automatically walk in. I can remember being at a facility in Detroit and they introduced us and said, these are the guys from Lumber Buddy. And the young man said, buy anything they're selling. You know, that lumber buddy is the greatest thing that I've ever seen. But you probably know this from your coaching practices, you've got to coach the coachable. I mean, there are not everybody that calls us as a right fit for us, or they're not ready to really look at that. But when you look at how large this industry is, and as I said earlier, we've been doing this for 20 years. There's not a week that goes by that I don't find a chain of five or 10 lumberyards that I've never even heard of.

And it's probably never heard of us. It's an absolutely huge industry. So, we're just trying to find those folks that are ready for change that are already moving in that direction. And then through the tools that you use, because we also are affiliated with TTI and the DISC assessments and some of those other things, we can help them to really understand how to affect change. So I started studying behavioral change back during the recession because I was out of frustration that you could show people a better way, but they were perfectly contented to do it the way that they were doing it because they were making plenty of money and you know, just don't bother me. But once we went through that recessionary period, I think people understood that what's the old saying that change comes either out of aspiration or desperation. I think we had hit that desperation point to say, okay, tell me, I'm willing to listen now.

Whether you're in sales, whether you own a company, a lot is in life behavioral change tends to always be there, especially if we're trying to do continuous improvement, trying to do lean, whatever it is that you're trying to do. But there are people personality wise that just are not interested. They're not open to behavioral change. I've been doing it this way forever. Look back at Kodak or look back at blockbuster. Some of these icons that were just huge that had the opportunity to today's word pivot chose not to, and then look what happened. So how do you take that big behavioral change concept and drill it down to somebody that's operating a punch press or a customer service rep that is working for a large company and they feel like they're just kind of a little cog in this huge wheel. How do you help them through that behavioral change piece? What did your research tell you?

I did a talk down in Texas for the Texas trust association and I was the speaker after lunch. So, I was just trying to keep everybody awake. But one of the first things that we did was I said, in order to illustrate this, I need to show you not tell you. So, I said, if you'll follow me and everybody in the room got up and we walked out the door and we walked around the lobby and in the back door and sat down and I went to the front of the room and I said, okay. So why do you think we just did that? You know, and one guy said, well, it's because we just ate lunch and you were trying to make sure we were awake for your talk. And I pulled up some sheets that said, people will go where you lead them. The key to success in any of this, whether you're trying to build a lean operation is it's really about you sure buying into it. And you leading the charge.

We're doing some work now where we're coaching leaders in each one of those branches. And sometimes it's not the leader that has the label that says leader or the placard that says leader. It's somebody who gets the concept who is willing to put in the work to do that. So, what it really boils it down to is three simple things. He has a morning meeting every morning, which sets the tone and the pace and the expectation for the day, hiring people with the expectation of continuous improvement. So, I'm not just hiring you to do the job I'm hiring you to improve the job. The second thing that he does is he goes out into the workplace or the best definition that I've found for that is where the value is added.

So, he goes out each day and he'll say, Dave, what's your two second improvement for the day? And you'll say like, Jeff, I'm way too busy for that. And I'll say, I understand that, but what, Hey, what, what bugs you? Let's work on something, let's fix something. And he helps them build that muscle to see that they can make change, that they do have a voice in their workplace. And then the third thing that he did that he did is he took advantage of these smartphones, these wonderful video cameras. Now that we carry around with us everywhere. And he asked people to document the current state and then the improvement and then share it with other people. So those three things I think really made lean stick in his operation. And I think it's been a great recipe for us to help others morning meeting, which says, Hey, we're going to do this consistently. There is value in it. We see value in it.

Like a radio show where it was live calling right now, the phone bank would be lighting up because they're going Jeff, I can't walk. I can't meet every day. Come on. I can't walk the floor. I can't invest more time with everybody. I mean, I hear this all the time. And then the smartphone thing. Yeah. It's other people. But then the reality is, as me as the leader, if they're all coming to me, then I'm responsible for a lot. You just added a ton to my plate. How do I possibly do this? What do you say to them?

I would probably share with them some folks that have been doing it and that are getting fantastic results. So, there's a lot of folks that have tried the lean piece and it just didn't work. And to me, it's because it's a different mindset. But I think when you think about it and I'm sure in your coaching, Dave, you've also figured out people, one of the ways when people leave, it's not always about money. It's not always about most of the time. It's about a boss that really wasn't a felling them. They weren't growing. They want to contribute to the process. So, what we always say is if you'll lead in the direction that you want to go, maybe not everybody makes that trip with you. But there are plenty of people who you'll find that will gravitate towards that because they want a voice.

They want to be respected. They want to be appreciated for what they do. And those folks that you begrudgingly get to do that first to second improvement eventually are going to say, Dave, come on over here. I want to show you something. This used to take me 10 minutes to do, and now I'm doing it in five. Look what I've done. It's kind of like working with your kids or whatever. I watched a video last week where a guy spent a 30-minute meeting, teaching people how to sweep the floor correctly. And we'll use that in training because it's really about value stream mapping. How do we add value to the process and how do we eliminate those things that don't add value? But they went from sweeping it initially just how the guy thought to do it. 715 steps to 215 steps from taking three minutes and 20 seconds to being able to do it and less than two minutes. So, if we'll concentrate on anything, we'll find a way to improve it. So, for the guys that say, I don't have the time, you don't have time not to do things that are going to reduce the waste in your operation.

And that's so interesting because there are, and I find myself in there when I was when I had my team, I had 22 people on my team, and we were cruising along. And when someone would come along, I remember we were trying to do these carts and we were trying to save time in the warehouse. And we were time studying this and time study. And that if people don't buy into you as a leader, they're probably not going to buy into your ideas. And I tended to feel that the people that didn't buy into me were kind of roadblocking at every time. Right? And then the people that did buy in, they're trying to find ways to make that work. So, I appreciate what you're saying about it. It does come back to the leader and I've talked to plenty of leaders in my time and they try and say if I had a better team, if I had a better product, if I had a better building, if I had a better customer. Everybody’s got every excuse. it's so easy to push off as a leader.

But at the end of the day, we have to really look at this and it does come back to leadership. And I think that's why it's so hard to really find leaders. So part of what you do is leadership development, correct? And so, what do you look for in a leader? That's something that you really are kind of laser focused in to try and find when you're talking to somebody.

I think one of the things that a great leader has to have is authenticity. We're not all going to lead the same. The other thing that I think is an important piece to have is humility. You know, that servant leader concept that they talk about. We've talked a lot about lean and lean leader is if you look at Toyota, which really lean was the Toyota production system. And the thing that draws me to that is it's about respect. It's about sharing. Toyota's not worried about anybody else. They're inviting people into their plant to see what they're doing because they know that their competition isn't anybody else it's themselves. It's how good they can be. And I think a good leader does that. Same thing. You know, there's a couple of guys that really stick out in the industry to me and humility is one of the ways that you would characterize them.

And I can remember talking to one of them and I was getting ready to do a leadership coaching for the senior housing side of our business. And, and I said Mike, what makes you a good leader? What do you think is the secret sauce? And he actually pulled out and this'll be funny for you, but he pulled out the old Dale Carnegie gold book, if you've seen those probably. And basically, the principles that Carnegie laid out so many years ago are still critical today about treating people. Right? And, and the takeaway from that was, he said, I always try, and people make people feel better after they've come to visit me. It's not about me, it's about them. So, Toyota's concept is they're really in the people building business. So, if we can get into the lumber industry and say, we're really in the people building business, we happen to deliver lumber and windows and doors and different things. But at the end of the day, the outstanding organizations are going to be the ones that are building people that are going to stay with them long-term and lean is about respect of the person and about respect of the work that they're doing.

And that's so hard to find leaders that want to be authentic and humble. I mean people in life struggle with authenticity. I mean, one of the reasons that I'm don't spend time on Facebook is purely because I don't really want to see what my neighbors are doing, and I don't want to have that temptation and be like, well you got a 24 foot boat, mine's 25 feet. And so it's just so much easier to not even really have that. And so, I appreciate those two, authenticity and humility. The thing is, they're not even traits that people would consider a few years ago to even register on the radar for a leader and now that's becoming so important. I mean, it's getting easier and easier. The older that I get to kind of truly understand an authentic person and be able to spot them, you know?

And I think that's where I don't want to transition over into the DISC side of things for you, because that's the other connection that we have is we do a ton of work with personality profiles and you guys do as well. You know, how did you make that connection? I mean, what was that transition from just cruising along in life, not thinking about assessments, not thinking about personality to all of a sudden, it's like, Hmm. You know, maybe I'm missing a component, or I can add this to my, to me to my day, how did that transition happen for you?

As I've said on our pre-interview, I did a DISC probably back in the nineties and it was amazing. That's when computers were still kind of fresh and new and I took it on the computer and I printed it out, I gave it to my secretary and she said, who wrote this about you? And I said, it was a computer. She goes, Oh my God, it's just exactly dead on. I said, yeah, with the exception of these two things, and she goes, oh no, those, those are the thing. They weren't very flattering, but that was the truth. Right?

So, we started using that, first of all, in the senior housing side of our business to really build rapport with customers that we were working, we want to know how they wanted to be communicated with and how they didn't want to be communicated with. The other thing that I find is motivation. You know, people think that money is the great motivator. Well, it's not for somebody who's altruistic and selfless and just wants to help people. You're actually insulting them when you're trying to motivate them with money. So being able to understand that you have the right person, Jim Collins, right seat on the bus you give them the right tools to work with and you know, just watch him go. And I think that's one of the things that I like about lean as well as one of the things about lean is if there's a problem, and say, Dave messed up. I say, what in our process allowed or caused Dave to make that mistake? So now I can fix the process and whether it's Dave or Jeff or Jim or whoever. We're not going to have that problem again.

Yeah. And it's so interesting because they'd go back to your engagement piece of your safety, efficiency and engagement. You know, the more we understand that individual that we're coaching or is on our team or that we're selling to wherever, whoever you're communicating with, the more that you understand where they're coming from the easier it is to be what they need you to be. And it's so funny because so often when we communicate, we're trying to get them, whoever we're communicating with, we want them to be communicating like us. So I think of it as a chameleon. And I think if I wake up blue and, in this case, Jeff wakes up orange or green or whatever, I'm starting to talk to you. I'm saying, Hey, Jeff, come on over here. You know, talk my way, react my way, process information, my way, it's going to be way better, but it only is only better for me.

And all it does is really frustrate you. And I've coached hundreds of sales professionals over the years that whether they're talking to somebody that's a high D results driven or an C that's very accommodating and very methodical in their decision making, they treat the sales process exactly the same way. And that's painful. I bet you there's a lot more correlation there. How do you present in your leadership training and development? How do you present that an assessment to them if they aren't familiar with it?

Well, first of all, I'll kind of share a little about me because I think again, if we make ourselves vulnerable, other people are more, more open to, to that as well. Or in a lot of cases we get recommended. And because somebody said we'll also do a free one for them or a low cost to them. So, they can actually see it. Because again, if I'm reading about myself and that resonates, and I say, share that with your wife, share it with your secretary, share with whoever. And they say, well, yeah, this is a tool that I could probably use for that. And TTII can't say enough good things about them. It's my favorite conference to go to every year, because it seems like everybody's to help everybody else. It's kind of like the lumber industry. You know, there's a lot of great people in the lumber industry that came up from the bottom at TTI.

There's just so many people who are willing to lend a hand because again, they realized that it's not you against me, but it's us against all the people who haven't had the opportunity to learn about this yet. And I think they've really made some great strides in the driving forces, going from motivators to driving forces and how we, that's a wonderful tool part of the tool that I like to look at in terms of how do people make decisions? What's their driving you know, tendencies in terms of, again, one of the questions I always get is how do I motivate people? Well, not everybody's the same. You've got to figure out what does motivate them. You know, and oftentimes like you said, well, we'll throw money at them and money's not their motivator. So, it really is de-motivating and a lot of cases for that.

But I can remember seeing, I think I saw it on Facebook last year, the meme of the six and the nine. Have you ever seen that? Where I'm looking at it this way, and I see six, you're looking at it across the way and you see nine, it's a matter of getting over and getting perspective. I was talking to somebody this morning about leadership coaching in their morning meetings. And I said do you always lead the meeting, or do you rotate the leadership of the meeting around? And she goes, well, I always lead the meeting. I said, why don't we try rotating that leadership around? Because now that guy who thinks it's a waste of time, we'll understand what you go through to put this thing together, and he'll be more understanding and you'll be able to do that as well.

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