Posted by: Knightbird | September 13, 2013

A New Challenge

On Wednesday, I was offered the position of President/CEO of the Maniilaq Association headquartered in Kotzebue, Alaska. I accepted the challenge even though it requires me to relocate to Kotzebue, located about 30 miles north of the Arctic Circle. The people in the region have always been impressive for their hard work and intelligence. Early in my career, I had the opportunity to work with 2 outstanding legislators from Kotzebue. Frank Ferguson and Al Adams were the State Senator and Representative from Kotzebue. Bot were outstanding legislators. Willie Hensley, an influential architect of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act, is also a friend and former state legislator. I have so much to learn, but the board hired me because I have so much to teach, especially about lean management. Accepting the job was easy. And because of lean, I know how to help fix the problems and issues facing Maniilaq. The great challenge is getting employees to adopt the new culture.

Maniilaq does the same type of work that Chugachmiut does. It administers both the Indian Health Service (IHS) and Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) Compact. A Compact is an agreement with the federal government that allows Indian Tribes to administer programs funded for their benefit. This is generally referred to as self-governance. When I was a young man, the federal government administered IHS and BIA services. Now all tribes in Alaska exercise self-governance, for the most part through regional non-profit organizations like Maniilaq.

With annual revenue of $92+ million, with over 800 employees, Maniilaq is over six times larger than Chugachmiut. They serve 11 Villages with a variety of services, including health care services. And the challenge of logistics is significant. The only transportation in and out for people is by air. Goods can come in during the summer by water, but access is only available for about 5 months before Kotzebue Sound freezes. After that, all freight comes in by air as well.

As with any organization that has not implemented lean thinking, there is lots of room for improvements. My initial walk through the President/CEO’s office area and Human Resources after I was hired demonstrated the need for 5S. The three employees giving me the tour were excited to hear my plans for 5S and are anxious to learn. When I began as the Executive Director for Chugachmiut, I didn’t know what waste was. During this tour, I could see waste everywhere. I was also unaware of the incredible resistance that employees can put up when I started at Chugachmiut. Now I fully understand that there will be resistance, and I am prepared and preparing to meet it.

One tool that is advancing rapidly is the art of persuasion and communication. I am reading and practicing the advice contained in a book titled Influencer: The New Science of Leading Change, by Joseph Grenny, Kerry Patterson, David Maxfield, Ron McMillan, Al Switzler. The advice makes a lot of sense based on my past experience in trying to change the way things were done at Chugachmiut. The Lean transformation there took about 5 years to take hold. I am hoping that I can find a way to make the change start happening quickly. At Jabil, a company that acquired Nypro Precision Plastics, a Sealaska partner, their lean transformation took place over 2 years. Art Byrnes new book, the Lean Turnaround, demonstrated that immediate action by the CEO with their acquisitions at Wiremold  helped produce quick results.

Its exciting to be able to lead a new Lean focused turnaround. I will write more frequently about my new adventures in the Arctic.


  1. Sounds really exciting! I was wondering if you could give us detailed accounts on what were the major concerns by resistance and how you were able to address them one by one. Bottom lines and sustainable improvements. Also, although the “higher ups” were in on the same page; were you experiencing some doubts specially if some of the lower ranks were preferred “helps”/”yes men” forming mostly the majority of the resistance. Thanks…

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