The Customer Wanted ONE Person to Blame: Kyle Kumpf

The Customer Wanted ONE Person to Blame: Kyle Kumpf


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My guest for Episode #82 of the My Favorite Mistake podcast is Kyle Kumpf. He has founded a few businesses, has been a consultant, and is currently working in the financial services industry. Kyle has a bachelor's degree in packaging engineering technology from Indiana State University.

Like me, he's been deeply involved in process improvement work (Lean Six Sigma) and his current mission is “ending human suffering as it relates to process in Financial Services.”

In this episode, Kyle talks about his “favorite mistake” involving a time when he “disobeyed one of his personal values” — the customer wanted someONE to blame, and he wrote up an employee. Why did he regret this action and how did he realize it was a mistake? We talk about that, mistakes related to his passion of playing golf, and more.

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Automated Transcript (Likely Contains Mistakes)

Mark Graban (0s):

Episode 82, Kyle Kumpf, entrepreneur and process improvement leader.

Kyle Kumpf (6s):

Where I, I disobeyed one of my own personal values.

Mark Graban (13s):

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 For show notes, links, and more. Go to Please follow rate and review. If you like the episode, please share it with a friend or a colleague.

Mark Graban (53s):

Thanks. We're joined today by Kyle Kumpf. He's joining us from Iowa Dubuque, Iowa, and he has founded previously a few businesses. He's been a consultant he's currently working in the corporate world in the financial services industry. So Kyle, thank you for being a guest today. How are you?

Kyle Kumpf (1m 11s):

Great. Thanks for having me.

Mark Graban (1m 13s):

Yeah, that's true. I know you have a lot of experiences to draw on. I'm curious what the answer is going to be. What Kyle what's what's your favorite mistake?

Kyle Kumpf (1m 23s):

Yeah, happy to share. So my favorite mistake is something that happened very early on in one of my roles I've had in my career where I disobeyed one of my own personal values. And so the scenario is to kind of set up there's a, there was a reconciliation process that happened every day and the one, it was one day the operator was running it and something odd came up. So they stopped and called for help to another department to help them resolve this issue. And through that work, they thought better resolved it. So they continue to move on and complete the process and thought we were all good. And then the next day, all hell broke loose.

Kyle Kumpf (2m 6s):

Something hadn't gone the way it should. And our customer's customer was the one that was being quite negatively impacted from this issue, this hair that had happened. And I, so I found out the second day, because I was copied in, on an email chain to the messages that says who's accountable for this. And judging by who was from like, oh, I better read the rest of this chain to see who's on this. Who knows this? Who's been told what at this point. And then I can go dig in and figure out what what's really going on here. And so I found out who was he, wasn't running the process that day. So I go talk to him. And so we sat down and talked and they explained here's the standard process.

Kyle Kumpf (2m 47s):

Here's what I did. And here's what was different about that day and what I did and who I've called into to fix it. And after going through all that, I concluded that, you know, procedure was followed. Obviously there is a gap because it's air got through. So we need to fix that. But there was nothing negligent on the operators and their process that they followed that day. And so then after a few more, a little more investigation, we actually found the root cause found out that there was a bug that existed in the system that happened to rear its head that day could have happened to anyone. So I thought, great. We found the root cause we can fix that. We have a workaround in place right now until we get the fix in.

Kyle Kumpf (3m 28s):

We don't have any issues going forward. And that's that wasn't enough for the effected party. They, they wanted someone to blame the blaming the process, just wasn't going to cut it a stolen, you know, long story short instead of standing up and saying, no, here's, here's the issue. And here's what I think we can do, even though we're deeply, sorry this happened. Here's why it happened. What we're gonna do to re remedy yet. I instead went and wrote up that employee that had been operating the process that day, essentially telling them you did everything right, but yet you're still to get written up.

Kyle Kumpf (4m 7s):

And now this is going to be on your record going forward, which didn't seem right. I was uncomfortable doing it. You know, not because giving someone bad news is hard. It is, it was, I was again going against my own value of being critical in the process and not the person. And so that, that day I had essentially exercise conformity instead of courage. And in that moment was a boss versus a leader.

Mark Graban (4m 33s):

I think that's, that's like the way you summarize that at the end choice of choice of words there. Gosh. So I mean, that, that story resonates with me because, you know, I'd like to think I share those values with you, Kyle, of, of being different way of saying it hard on the process, not on the person was, was this a situation where, I mean, I, you know, I don't mean the second guests. It's not the, the, the, the point of the podcast here, but was there a, w w would have been possible to tell the customer, or I think you said the customer of the customer that yeah. We wrote them up and not really have done it, or, I mean, that, that's a, that's a different value perhaps of, of lying to somebody that that would be valid and it can elaborate on some of those dynamics, a little bit of, I, you know, I understand like, you know, somebody often, you know, gets upset.

Mark Graban (5m 30s):

They want someone hit someone's head on a platter, if you will.

Kyle Kumpf (5m 34s):

Yeah. And so actually a short of, you know, doing that, I had actually offered my name up. Like, you know, what, if they want someone to blame someone to be mad at this, this process falls into my responsibility. Fine. I'll, I'll take it. But in that instance, my manager went to bat for me and said, no, you're not. He protected me. And he, didn't not going to let you do that. And then I essentially just gave into the pressure and all right, fine. I'll go write this, this employee. Yep.

Mark Graban (6m 5s):

It's, it's tough. I mean, I don't know if it's fair to go so far as to say, this is him. Well, to say this is human nature to want to blame others. I mean, I think this, this happens a lot. I, I try to fight that, for example, where, if I'm in a situation where I'm complaining about bad service to an organization I'm often really hesitant to do so, because I'm afraid an individual is going to be unfairly blamed for a systemic problem, but it doesn't sound like what the customer was demanding here. I'm, I'm curious if you have other reflections on this idea of, you know, how common is it or why people tend to want unnamed.

Mark Graban (6m 48s):

I mean, we see this a lot in society.

Kyle Kumpf (6m 51s):

Yeah. I'd agree with what you said earlier that this is human nature. No processes in our, in our world today are all digital. They're not tangible. They aren't there to, you can't feel and touch them. So to say this process, deliver this air. People just, they can't grasp onto that. That if you give them a name, they can picture a person that they can reach out and touch. And I think that just gives them some kind of closure as to, yeah, this person's the one that created this air. They got reprimanded, you know, now, now we're good. Yeah.

Mark Graban (7m 24s):

What was the reaction of, of the operator in this case here of being written up did sometimes people are hard on themselves. D did they agree that, Hey, this wasn't my fault. This isn't fair to be written up.

Kyle Kumpf (7m 37s):

They didn't, you know, they, they took the news pretty, pretty well. I was forthcoming with them and said, you know, I, I didn't just say this was coming from me. I had decided, I don't think this is right, that I'm having to do this, but given the circumstances here's what's happening. And, you know, and they, they generally felt bad for what happened. They were part of the solution and finding out what actually the problem was. And so we could fix it going forward. So then later on, I did end up, you know, well, after the fact, I did go back to them and because I was still on the line like this, this shouldn't have happened that way, because there are instances after that, or the same pressure was there.

Kyle Kumpf (8m 20s):

And I did use this as a lesson and I stood up and said, no, I'm not, I'm not doing this. And I did go back to that operator or original operator and, and apologize. And to say, you know, I'm sorry, this, that shouldn't have happened that way,

Mark Graban (8m 33s):

But it didn't lead to their firing. It probably didn't have huge ramifications than my….

Kyle Kumpf (8m 44s):

Nope. There wasn't really any negative impact to them. Other than now they have this write up on their file. Yeah. They were still employed, still eligible for promotions and other positions and, and all that stuff.

Mark Graban (8m 57s):

Yeah. And I think the phrase you used, the words you used were compliance instead of courage, is that right? Oh, conformity instead of courage. Yeah. Has reflecting on, on that situation helped you, you know, be more brave in other situations that you've come in where you felt like maybe there was conflict between conformance and courage or standing up for the right thing. And I know this is difficult in organizations.

Kyle Kumpf (9m 34s):

Yeah, no, it's definitely given me because I, I, again, like I said, given the person on the news that, Hey, you're getting written up formally did not feel good to do that. And I don't like to feel bad ourselves. And so I use that a little bit as a incentive, not to do that again. And just again, use facts and, and trying to articulate any in any way I can to management or customers, you know, here's why this issue happened. And obviously anything that is a manual process is going to have opportunity for an error to happen. We have, we have to accept that. And then when they do happen, update them, fix them and improve them.

Kyle Kumpf (10m 16s):

But don't, don't reprimand our employees or our operators, because then they're not going to come part of the solution. They're just going to be on the edge all the time, probably make more mistakes, and then we're going to have more issues. And I've, so again, just any way I can frame that and use that in discussions, not, not even when errors happen, but being proactive. And just anytime, anytime I have a, an opportunity to communicate that perspective to people just continually get that message out there so that when the opportunity does come up, I can fall back on, Hey guys, remember we talked about this. Yeah. Let's not, not reprimand this person here. Let's look at the process and, and fix that.

Mark Graban (10m 56s):

And, and, and what, what are the origins, you know, professionally and in your studies or, you know, influences that you have that started, you know, taught you the idea of, you know, focusing on process, not the people are being, you know, being tough on the process instead of blaming individuals

Kyle Kumpf (11m 18s):

That would have started early on. Like, I remember my, my first role out of college, I, I was assigned to work with a process engineer who had a pretty strong lean background, and that's where I was actually introduced to lean. And he's the one that really taught me to look at everything as a process. And that process processes produced the results. People just run them, they follow them. And that really stuck with me early on in my, in my career. That's where I developed this personal core value of, you know, hard or critical in the process, not the person.

Mark Graban (11m 50s):

Yeah. And, and for listeners who aren't as familiar as Kyle and I are, you know, lean refers to soften called lean production or lean manufacturing. I've done work in, in what's often described as lean healthcare. And, you know, it has roots in the Toyota Production system. So Karyn Ross, Matthew May a few, you know, a few of my guests come from some of my circles where we do this type of work. And, and, and I just, you know, as I've worked in different industries, you know, I've seen in healthcare, there's, there's such a tendency organizationally to blame nurses or blame low-level individuals for what are arguably systemic problems.

Mark Graban (12m 34s):

You know, it's enough of a, you know, unfortunate cultural norm. And when I first got into health care, there was this expression, you know, a culture of naming, blaming, and shaming, and that doesn't lead to improvement. You know, I'm sure you coming, if, if you were to take a position in healthcare that would, that would seem second nature to you that it's dysfunctional to react with naming, blaming and shaming when a problem occurs where we're all, I think very much fighting that battle. You're trying to sway and influence people around that. Right. So one of our other friends, you know, in this space, you know, related to quote unquote, lean or Toyota is a friend of ours.

Mark Graban (13m 19s):

And, you know, so I wanted to ask you what, what prompted you? What, what got you thinking back to think about this mistake even before you, and I talked about doing the podcast, I think, or you stepped up, stepped up and said, Hey, I've been thinking about something that happened. What was your inspiration for that?

Kyle Kumpf (13m 34s):

Yeah, that was actually a story from Katie Anderson's new book, Learning to Lead, Leading to Learn, not to give too much away, but there's a story in there about Mr. Yoshino on one of his first assignments in a paint shop where he made a mistake,

Mark Graban (13m 48s):

And this was at Toyota, by the way, at Toyota.

Kyle Kumpf (13m 51s):

Yes. At Toyota. And the first thing has manager said to him was thank you for pointing out to us that we didn't set you up for success. This, it makes absolute sense. You're new, the way we had this set up, this mistake was absolutely possible. And so there's obviously a lot more detail to that story about that. That's what prompted me to think, oh, I was that manager only, I didn't say thank you. I essentially slapped the person across the face and told him that they're terrible at their job, but what I did. And so that's what, that's what triggered me to, to think about this. So definitely that, that's a story I would highly recommend to any listeners out there to, you know, to get a copy of it and not just read it to, to read it, but read it to actually understand it.

Kyle Kumpf (14m 37s):

Cause there was a lot, a lot of lessons to learn and there.

Mark Graban (14m 41s):

Yeah. And I, I know you can find the book on Amazon. Katie Anderson's website is her initials. Or you can search Amazon for Katie Anderson, Leading to Learn would, would be enough to bring up the book in Amazon. I've made the mistake of saying the book title wrong before. So one of the many, one of the many mistakes I make as I stumbled through, but Katie's book is great. And Mr. Yoshino, you know, is a retired Toyota leader, shares a lot of, lot of great stories and reflections of his own and mistakes that, that he made.

Mark Graban (15m 24s):

And I think that's such, yeah, that story resonates with me too. I think it's such a rare and unusual reaction to say thank you when a mistake occurs and, and what are your thoughts on how responding that way saying thank you. Instead of naming, blaming and shaming from your experience, Kyle, how does that lead ultimately to better results for an organization?

Kyle Kumpf (15m 48s):

You're definitely going to get the, the staff involved in improvement when they, when they know that if a mistake or an error happens, that they're going to get the full support or their management team to help improve that process. So that, that mistake doesn't happen again, you know, just the, the level of engagement and opportunities you're going to get from your staff are going to go up exponentially versus the ladder where if you're in that, you know, just blame game, it's going to be off the management to, to make the, put the fixes in. And since they're not the ones doing the process every day, likely those fixes aren't gonna be the right ones.

Mark Graban (16m 22s):

Yeah. Yeah. And it hampers our ability to fix things. It drives problems underground. And you know, the one thing, you know, I've really tried to embrace as we explore with different guests on the podcast here, it's, you know, we, we need to learn from our mistakes and naming, blaming and shaming. Doesn't allow us to do that as an organization. So I appreciate you and other guests coming on and being forthright in sharing, you know, those reflections and, and how that's helped shape you as a leader and as a business person and as an individual, right?

Kyle Kumpf (17m 3s):

Oh, I, we, if we aren't making mistakes, we can't learn, but hopefully we are, we are learning from them.

Mark Graban (17m 9s):

Yeah. So maybe final question, you know, as you've had different roles, you know, as, as an entrepreneur, you know, w when, when you're in the position of, instead of being an employee, being a business owner and a business leader, are there any kind of examples that come to mind of how you've been able to use that, that value or that principle in, in your own work of not blaming individuals for systemic problems?

Kyle Kumpf (17m 37s):

Oh, I can't think of a specific instance, but I can think of a one, one client that I had when I was consulting, you know, just early on in the engagement, I did set a clear expectation up front. Like, here's, here's how I operate. Here's how I go about my work and just incorporate it in, you know, cause that particular piece of work was around some type of process improvement. So I just like lay the groundwork that I am critical on the process. You know, people, aren't no one wakes up thinking, how can we screw up today? So just go on with that mindset is where I was. We were going through to help solve this problem, go into it with that lens instead of the traditional blame game.

Kyle Kumpf (18m 21s):

And I think that that definitely setting that groundwork and that expectation, our friend had helped that particular engagement go better.

Mark Graban (18m 27s):

Yeah. Okay. Final, final question. So for those who are watching on YouTube, you can see there are many golf balls on the wall behind Kyle and golf is important to you. Does, does, does golfing help you reflect on mistakes and trying to learn from them and improve when you're out in the course

Kyle Kumpf (18m 46s):

That that's essentially the game of golf. It's a one big PDSA cycle. And, and, and

Mark Graban (18m 51s):

Tell the listeners who don't know, by PDSA as an….

Kyle Kumpf (18m 55s):

Yeah. Plan do study act the scientific method. And I liked the joke. I've actually used that analogy with many people before the whole goal of golf is to shoot the lowest score possible. But you got to start with, it's just one shot at a time and you have in your head, here's what the shot's going to do. And I'm an amateur. I don't play eight hours a day, five days a week like pros do. So that shot, I see my head. It doesn't always happen. So after you hit it, you got to go where the ball is now and then assess and then figure out what you didn't do. Right. And try and play that next shot, you know, all the way through the 18 holes. And it does create that discipline to continually assess what you're doing and how you're doing and get better.

Kyle Kumpf (19m 36s):

And I think it was Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicholas said it best, you know, golf is just a game of six inches, which is all I hear between the ears. That's hugely, it's a big part of it's mental. You know, my, my wife asks, you know, why do you torture yourself when you have these bad rounds? And I'm like, yeah, yeah, it doesn't feel good. But then when you have the good ones and you actually win, like, it just feels awesome. Like it all came together and that's one of the things I really love about golf. And plus I can play it until it, you know, it's not like football where you got to stop when you're 40 or younger for most of us. Yeah. Yeah.

Mark Graban (20m 10s):

And, and, you know, back to your point of no one, no one comes to work in 10. They make mistakes. Nobody ever intends to hit it into the bunker. Right.

Kyle Kumpf (20m 17s):

Exactly. Exactly. Or the water or, you know, 40 yards right. Into a corn field.

Mark Graban (20m 23s):

That's your course. That's an Iowa. Yeah. Yeah. There's cornfields. Well, Kyle, thank you so much for, for, for coming here today and for sharing your story. Thanks for mentioning our friend Katie Anderson's book. And again, that title and making sure I don't make a mistake cause I've gotten the title backwards before it is Learning to Lead, Leading to Learn is the, the title. You can find that on Amazon. So Kyle Kumpf has been our guest today. Thanks a lot. Really good talking to you. Thanks for joining us for having me mark again, thanks to Kyle Kumpf for being our guests today for show notes, links, and more information, go to

Mark Graban (21m 6s):

And I hope this podcast inspires you to reflect on your own mistakes, how you can learn from them or turn them into a positive I've had listeners tell me they've started being more open and honest about mistakes and their work. And they're trying to create a workplace culture where it's safe to speak up about problems. Cause that leads to more improvement in better business results. If you have feedback or a story to share, you can email me And again, our website is

Mark Graban is an internationally-recognized consultant, author, and professional speaker who has worked in healthcare, manufacturing, and startups. 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. He is also a Senior Advisor and Director of Strategic Marketing with the healthcare advisory firm, Value Capture.