Manufacturing Executive Billy Taylor’s Favorite Mistake: Not Adhering to the Standard as a Leader

Manufacturing Executive Billy Taylor’s Favorite Mistake: Not Adhering to the Standard as a Leader

My guest for Episode #5 of the My Favorite Mistake podcast is Billy Ray Taylor, a retired Goodyear executive and now the founder and CEO of his firm, LinkedXL.

In today's episode, Billy talks about his “favorite mistake” in which he was “compromising on the standard” early in his career as a leader. “What were the standards for leadership?” he asks. How did mentors and his leaders help him learn the importance of maintaining standards? He then transitioned from being the student to being the teacher.

“What you accept, you cannot change. What you tolerate, you can never change.”

Billy Taylor

You can listen to or watch the episode below. A transcript also follows lower on this page.

Podcast Audio:

Check out all episodes on the My Favorite Mistake main page.

Short Clip:

Video Podcast:


"What you accept, you cannot change. What you tolerate, you can never change."

"Celebrate the process, embrace the individual, because I don't want  heroes."

"Celebrate the red. And so at that point, create a cultural, psychological safety where it's safe to bring things to my attention, because I don't expect perfection because perfection doesn't exist. But what I do expect is transparency."

Subscribe, Support, Rate, and Review!

Please subscribe, rate, and review the podcast — that helps others find this content and you'll be sure to get future episodes as they are released weekly.

Automated Transcript:

Intro (0s):
Episode five, Billy Taylor, retired Goodyear executive and founder of LinkedXL.

Billy Taylor (7s):
We don't want the John Travolta Saturday Nght Fever dance, but you get into the meeting. I I I I'm stayin' alive, stayin' alive. Right? They're going to stay alive. So they're pointing their blame finer.

Mark Graban (21s):
And for those who are listening to the audio podcast, you might want to go check this out, find this video on YouTube so you can actually see the dance Billy was doing when he was talking about stayin' alive…

Mark Graban (1m 11s):
I'm Mark Graban. This is My Favorite Mistake. in this podcast. You'll hear business leaders and other really interesting people talking about their favorite mistakes, because we all make mistakes, but what matters is learning from our mistakes instead of repeating them over and over again. So this is the place for honest reflection and conversation, personal growth and professional success. Visit our website at Thanks for listening. And now on with the show .. And our guest today is Billy Taylor. He is a retired Goodyear executive where his roles included being a plant director, being executive director of commercial manufacturing North America, and was global head of diversity and inclusion. He's now the CEO of his company LinkedXL and Billy, I'm really glad you're here to share your, your lessons and experiences with us today. How are you?

Billy Taylor (1m 46s):
Very good Mark. Thanks for having me. I'm excited to share my favorite mistake because it was also my favorite lesson…

Mark Graban (1m 48s):
And that's all about, right? Turning mistakes into lessons learned.

Billy Taylor (1m 51s):
Absolutely, absolutely. And so thank you for having me.

Mark Graban (1m 55s):
No, sure thing. So we'll, we'll jump right in. What do you consider to be your favorite mistake?

Billy Taylor (2m 2s):
Well, my favorite mistake was compromising on the standard, right? What's the guideline, what's the standard for operation? So early in my career, and I received my first leadership role on a large scale. I was leading approximately 600 people in a business center. And at that point, I'm this young leader around 27 years old. And I moved into this role, but I'm leading people that I grew up within the plant. And so at that point, right, you want to be liked. And at that point you want to kind of fit in and, and, and have the team gel. And so at that point, I started compromising on what the standards were for operating.

Billy Taylor (2m 46s):
What were the standards for leadership? Example — When I walked the plant, sometimes you see people were not wearing their personal protective equipment, you know, to walk by that is compromising the standards. People coming late to meetings, people coming unprepared to meetings and, and not performing tasks. But for me, where the lesson came was my boss and my mentor would take me on a morning walk every morning around it was a leadership wall. And when things were out of place, he would look at me and he would point those out and say, that's not the standard.

Billy Taylor (3m 36s):
And he would always say,And so at that point, I, it wasn't registering with me at that point and he could see it wasn't registering with me. And as a young leader, I would give people passes. There were different standards for different players. There are different standards for the A players and the D players. And so at that point, I'm trying to go along to get along as the leader. And at that point I'm, I'm, I'm going through this regimen and the paperwork hadn't been official yet to me moving to the business in a role of someone in the interim role. Well, this leader called me into a meeting and he had this envelope in his hand and I'm thinking I'm about to get this 15 to 30% raise.

Billy Taylor (4m 21s):
And I'm excited. He gives me an envelope and he writes me up for poor performance. And I was, I was furious because we had performed at, or at a level that that business hadn't seen in three or four years. However, we weren't meeting the standard. And he said to me, the letter says you failed to meet the standard. And for that, there are severe consequences. And he hands me this letter. And I read, read it and I'm upset. And I said, what? You asked me to deliver zero customer losses to my customer over a 30 day period.

Billy Taylor (5m 2s):
And he says to me, is that difficult? Or is it impossible? And I said, it's impossible. I mean, it's difficult, darn near impossible. He says, without a smile, then what you're telling me is it's achievable. He hands me the letter. And I walk out of his office. Now. He had also became a friend of mine, as well as my mentor. And he called me when I got back to my office and I wouldn't answer the phone. I was so mad at him. I thought he was so unfair. And I thought he wasn't treating me right.

Billy Taylor (5m 42s):
And he says to me, you don't own it. And when you don't own it, you want to blame. So you're blaming me for giving you a letter because you accept nonconformance as standard. That changed my life.

Mark Graban (5m 55s):
That, that, that letter, that surprise, that was a wake up call. It sounds like.

Billy Taylor (6m 2s):
Absolutely because your standards shape your culture and culture controls strategy. And so it's ironic over time I shifted. And what I realized when I started holding people accountable for the standard, right? The lessons learned was, again, one what you accept, you can't change. The standard? It should be enforced all the time, every time with every one consistently. Yeah. And so what I realized is when I started to progress through my career, when I went into new organizations, the way that you shape culture, is adhere to your standard?

Billy Taylor (6m 51s):
Don't compromise on your standard because you're compromising on yourself. Even when your personal existence, when you compromise who you are and what you represent, right? You diminish yourself, right. You personally diminish yourself and you undervalue yourself. But later on was what's interesting, Mark. I had a chance to, to, to transition from the student, to being the teacher. And so now I'm in a role and I'm leading North America and commercial. And I had a plant manager whom I had went to his facility on numerous occasion to coach and help develop him.

Billy Taylor (7m 37s):
And I had two questions. I would ask leaders that are allowing nonconformances. I would ask the first question is, what do you need from me? The second question is, why do you accept that now? Why do I say that? I have to be a part of the solution first . When I went to this plant, it was probably the third visit. And I realized this plant manager is not holding his team accountable to the standards, right? And so we're failing to improve. And I show up with my backpack and the picture of my family and my backpack. And I said, hi, how are you doing, sir?

Billy Taylor (8m 19s):
He says, great. I said, do you know why I'm here? This visit? He says, yes, you're here to help. I said, no, Nope. That was the last two visits. I said, see this picture. This is a picture for me to make the decision. I have to make a decision. Who's going to eat, you or them? You are my family. I want to leave this on your desk throughout my whole visit as a constant reminder of why it's important to hold people accountable to the standard, because it's a way of life. And I say, my I take the picture of your family with me to my hotel room, because apparently I love them more than you do.

Billy Taylor (9m 5s):
After, this leader totally transitioned from an accountability perspective. And even today, he is now changing cultures, but the standard is the standard. So when you start to build in standard work processes and procedures, you have to adhere to them, right? If you don't, failure's dominant, right?

Mark Graban (9m 30s):
Right, So I want to go back to that moment where you had that awakening, your boss gave you that wake up call. How did you translate that into action? You earlier, you talked about not holding people accountable to let's say, wearing their safety glasses. How did you start taking steps toward holding people to standard? And how did you learn then to coach others to that, but starting with yourself, what actions did you take after that meeting?

Billy Taylor (10m 3s):
I went back and I took a page from Simon Sinek's book Start With Why. Why are the standards important? Why are we doing the standards? And I brought my team together collectively and we recalibrate it. And it wasn't something I was doing that was punitive. It was actually bringing him together for alignment, right? Because the best leaders do three things very well when you're building standards,define winning, once you define winning, align winning, and once you have alignment, then you can truly execute winning. And so when we, when I went back back, the lesson learned was, was I very clear on my expectation of what the standards were?

Billy Taylor (10m 46s):
And then I let everyone know what your role was on alignment. Here's what you own, because in the absense of ownership comes blame. And so then at that point, the next time I was very fair about what, what the expectations were or what the standards were with extreme clarity. And then I started holding people accountable.

Mark Graban (11m 7s):
And so when we talk about getting a climate where people learn from mistakes, what are some things that you did as an executive at Goodyear to, to help try to create that environment where we, you know, you, you probably know the old Toyota-ism, “no problems is a problem,” right? So how do we make it safe for people to bring up problems, to admit mistakes in the name of learning and progress?

Billy Taylor (11m 35s):
Celebrate the red. And so at that point, create a cultural, psychological safety where it's safe to bring things to my attention, because I don't expect perfection because perfection doesn't exist. But what I do expect is transparency. And I wanted to create an environment where they could come to me with real issues instead of hide them. Right? Alan Mullaly tlink says in his book, right, you can't manage a secret. And if people are hiding things, then you can't manage them. You can't fix them. You can't correct them. And the only way they want to bring those things up is you create an environment where it's safe to bring those things, right.

Billy Taylor (12m 17s):
And it's not punitive. So when people bring things to me as a leader, I celebrate them. Now I don't accept them. to say, “Hey, we like mistakes.” I love the fact that you brought those mistakes and those errors to me. And that's the only way we can mistake proof by knowing what the issue is. Yeah.

Mark Graban (12m 38s):
And for listeners and viewers who might not be familiar with the concept, I think this is really powerful. Can, can you talk about practically speaking, what does that mean to mistake, proof work or error, proof work. That's a really important concept.

Billy Taylor (12m 54s):
Absolutely. Mistake proofing is going in and it's almost a PDCA Plan Do Check Act, right. You go in and you identify what the issue is. Right. And in some cases, just for those Lean geeks out there, it's like Six Sigma. Some of you've heard of that and continuous improvement, right. DMAIC. Right? And so we'll go through that. Define, measure, analyze, improve, and control. And for me, it's one, a common language. When I started the mistake proof, I go in and identify what the issue is. And then I really zero in on the root cause of that issue. Why did that issue happen? And then we start to put processes and systems in place to eliminate that from ever happening again, to mistake proof it, if it's my child is getting into a cabinet, I put a latch on there.

Billy Taylor (13m 42s):
I put a lock on there so that my child can not get into that unsafe chemicals that will poison them. And so that's a mistake proofing at home. Mistake proofing at work is the same thing. How do I eliminate situations or conditions that are going to cause the adverse impact to productivity?

Mark Graban (14m 6s):
And I think there are different types of mistakes. There are mistakes we make as individuals, as professionals that lead to learning. But from, let's say a manufacturing standpoint or in healthcare, there are certain mistakes that need to be prevented. It depends on what the consequences are of those mistakes. We, we don't want to let somebody learn from experience that wearing your safety glasses is necessary. We we'd rather prevent that injury than learn from it.

Billy Taylor (14m 39s):
You know, I grew up in a real firm household. My mother was a stickler to the standards. I often tell the story. When I played football in the eighth grade, I called me BT Express or Touchdown Taylor. And I would get six touchdowns a game in the eighth grade. Everybody thought, man, this kid is going to play in the NFL. One day. My mother had a standard that if we made less than a B, we could not play. Okay. I made an F once — notice that I said once. I brought that report card home, and it was a week before the city championship game, we were undefeated getting ready to play for the city championship game.

Billy Taylor (15m 21s):
My mother took me off the team. They played the game without me. Now the school rules said the school standard said you could fail two classes and still be eligible, but not in our household. My mother made it very clear NFL in our house meant Not For Long will you be playing? Okay? And she took out the team and it was the best thing she ever did for me when she established that standard. And I'll tell you, it changed my life. And so standards are important. They help develop your team. They provide structure for your team.

Billy Taylor (16m 0s):
And when you don't enforce the standards, you're doing your team, a disinjustice, you're hurting them. And you don't change culture. As a plant manager. Once I went to a plant in North Carolina, they were struggling. And my first day, when I went to see reality, I didn't have a bad team. I had a misaligned team, a team that didn't have structure or standards, right? Here's the standards. And guess what? That's where we focus. And, you know, we bought everybody in the team a jersey to define winning number 38, why they were making 31,000 tires a day and the company needed a minimum of 36,000 tires a day.

Billy Taylor (16m 43s):
What I want to provide clarity around here is the target condition. Here's where we need to be. Now let's assess our current condition. And we knew where the gaps were. And we use standards to close the gap. We use standards to shape the culture. We use standards to recognize people, and we celebrated the process, not the individual. See the process is th standard.

Mark Graban (17m 4s):
So tell us more about that. When you say celebrating the process, the people in a way are a part of the process, but what, how do you distinguish between celebrating the process? Tell us more about that…

Billy Taylor (17m 23s):
Let's use, if it's a continuous improvement event or activity or Kaizen event where we bring the team in to present their project, but we want to know what was the method in the process that you used to get the results, right? And so when they present out the process they use and show us the gains, then we recognize and embrace the individual. And so now the individual will become an evangelist for the process. They walk back ou to the work area and say, this was great. And we presented in front of Billy and the team. And I can't wait to do the next process improvement activity.

Billy Taylor (18m 7s):
Right. And so that's what I mean by you celebrate, . Now what a hero is in manufacturing or operations, they have everyone redirect ownership. They create fires so that they can be recognized when you start recognizing the individual, then they start creating heroic moments. We don't want that.

Mark Graban (18m 34s):
Yeah. So by preventing the need or by preventing those heroic moments, the whole team ends up doing better.

Billy Taylor (18m 42s):
Absolutely. And that's not only a continuous improvement process, but it's a continuous improvement mindset. Yeah. Right. And people just discard the, the, the mindset part of it. I'm working with a client now and they're seeing the shift. They're, they're seeing the big movement and it's based on the cultural shift and the people are buying in. And I have to tell you, what's been really eyeopening for me as moving from behind the table, as the operator to the partner, to helping others is you start with the people, you start with that base.

Billy Taylor (19m 27s):
And that's where the shift starts. Right. I can give you the best computer in the world, but if you don't have a good operator, someone's bought into it, you have a problem.

Mark Graban (19m 40s):
Yeah. So tell us more before we wrap up about the work that you're doing now, as, as a consultant, as CEO of LinkedXL, what, what types of clients do you work with? What types of situations are you getting pulled into? Now?

Billy Taylor (19m 56s):
This is perfect. I have LinkedXL. Really what it stands for is linked excellence. So how do you link your organization, linking functions and tiers so that you can manage the intersections of your business. And so what we do, we are a business operating system architect firm. We go in and build this operating system based on your need in your culture. And it's not a one size fits all. So what we've learned is we don't go in and say, here here's how Toyota did it. You should do it that way. Or here's how a Toyota kata did it. Here's how you should do it.

Billy Taylor (20m 36s):
We say here's some tools so that you can build your own based on your cultural need. And what we do is we go in and we start moving up, we build a purpose map. We start with your purpose and it's really your strategy on a page. And then what we do is build your performance map. Who's at every intersection because we want an owner so that we can stop the pointing, right? We don't want the John Travolta Saturday Night Fever dance, right? You get into meeting. I I I I ‘m stayin' alive, stayin' alive, right people once they get there, they're going to stay alive. So they're pointing their blame hand. But if we were putting everybody at the intersection, that's when the shift starts.

Billy Taylor (21m 17s):
And so what we do is we build an operating system or business operating system that basically cascades through the function, safety, quality delivery cost to the tier value stream. One value stream two, and your organization is linked. And so now it's easy to manage the intersections. So that's what we do are we work with Note Printing Australia. The people that make the currency for Australia, Australia, Peter Ballus and his team. We flew over to Australia and work with them. PPG Cleveland, work with PBG and continental structural plastics, which makes the car, bed, body, the Jeep parts. And, and so we've had some major clients and we have seen some extraordinary results really in a short time.

Billy Taylor (22m 4s):
But what I tell people is follow the process. And I said, it's like baking a cake 350 degrees, 30 minutes, not 400 degrees, 15 minutes faster. Yeah, no, it's 350 degrees, 30 minutes.Now standards are not monuments, but you have to earn the right with something better.

Mark Graban (22m 34s):
And for those who are listening to the audio podcast, you, you might want to go check this out, find this video on YouTube. So you can actually see the dance Billy was doing. When he was talking about stayin' alive…

Billy Taylor (22m 49s):
On the podcast. You can… Dated myself there. But,

Mark Graban (22m 54s):
But I think, I think people can appreciate that dynamic when there's there's blame and shifting of responsibility, that doesn't create a learning opportunity for individuals that doesn't create a learning organization, which then gets in the way of success.

Billy Taylor (23m 11s):
Absolutely. And as a leader, when I say, I want to go back to my going back to culture control strategy, culture's built off of standards, right? And it's letting people be their authentic self. I understand it. Right. I, as chief diversity officer, I embrace the fact that people can be their holistic self, bring their holistic self to work, but there are standards go to doing so. And, and, and so with that being said, one of the lessons learned around don't compromise on the standard is the same thing I tell my daughter, what's your standard?

Billy Taylor (23m 52s):
And I tell her the best you're going to get out of a guy's the first 30 days. If he's not doing it in the first 30 days, you never going to do it. I said, what's your standard and don't compromise on your standards. Sure. And then, so I don't compromise on my standards as a person, as a leader, how people treat me, you know, Mark you a perfect example. I used a lot of your slides and some of the, the board slide with the dogs and I use some of your material.

Mark Graban (24m 22s):
Yeah. It's a cartoon.

Billy Taylor (24m 22s):
And I benchmark because you do a great job of breaking down the concept. Yeah. So when you build a standard, people don't understand it. And what I really loved about your slide was the fact that when I'm teaching visual management boards, I'm thinking, am I putting a visual management board up because it's something management wants to see or something that people need. And that's the example that you use around building the standard practicality, what the standard, because it's not your standard. I work for the team. They don't work for me as a leader. I worked for them, but I have standards. Okay.

Billy Taylor (25m 2s):
And so that's, that's it in a nutshell.

Mark Graban (25m 4s):
Yeah. Well, I will, I'll post that cartoon Billy is referring to, I'll put that in the show notes. That's something from a couple of years ago and you'll just have to go and see that. But, and, and Billy, so again, our guest has been Billy Taylor, he's now CEO of his firm LinkedXL. Billy. Where can people find you online, learn more, reach out and connect if they want to work with you.

Billy Taylor (25m 27s):
Yeah, absolutely. I'm available out there on LinkedIn. And I respond back to emails that are or comments. So please connect with me. If you have a question you want to talk to me send me an email, on weekends, I sit around and I, I go back through my social media and try to respond to people and go to the website, And you'll see a lot of literature of what we do and how we do it. And, and again, there's an opportunity to connect there as well. So we're available out there through social media and we're available through our website.

Billy Taylor (26m 8s):
And then my phone number is there. So

Mark Graban (26m 10s):
I hope people will reach out. And if they're, if they're looking for you on LinkedIn, they can search for Billy Ray Taylor.

Billy Taylor (26m 16s):
Yes, that's correct. You're listed there. So yeah.

Mark Graban (26m 20s):
Thank you so much for talking about your favorite mistake, lessons learned around standards. It sounds like your mom tried teaching you about that when you were young and then in the workplace, you got some good mentoring or you got, you got that wake up call that you responded to learn from and grew off of.

Billy Taylor (26m 40s):
Absolutely. And my mentor that person had wrote me up is still my mentor today. And so the standard's the standard. Yeah. Thank you for having me.

Mark Graban (26m 51s):
Well, thank you for being here and we'll all. Thank the mentor for helping you become who you are, Billy. So thank you for sharing all that with us. Alright, thanks for listening. I hope this podcast inspires you to pause and think about your own favorite mistake and how learning from mistakes shapes you personally and professionally. If you're a leader, what can you do to create a culture where it's safe for colleagues to talk openly about mistakes in the spirit of learning, please subscribe, rate, and review the podcast. Our website is See you next time.

Mark Graban is an internationally-recognized consultant, author, and professional speaker who has worked in healthcare, manufacturing, and startups. Mark's upcoming book is The Mistakes That Make Us. His latest book is Measures of Success: React Less, Lead Better, Improve More. He is author of the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, as well as The Executive Guide to Healthcare Kaizen. He also published the anthology Practicing Lean that benefits the Louise H. Batz Patient Safety Foundation, where Mark is a board member. Mark is also a Senior Advisor to the technology company KaiNexus.