Chain of Learning: 17 | Leading Change from the Middle [with Pennie Saum]

Does successful change always have to start from the top? 

How can you stop pushing change on your leaders and instead create pull from them for the organizational culture you envision?

If you’re leading continuous improvement internally, these questions are crucial because they address the challenge of how to cultivate a workforce of capable, engaged problem-solvers across all levels.

That’s why, in this episode, I welcome Pennie Saum, a Process Improvement Program Manager at the Port of Seattle, to discuss how to lead organizational transformation from the middle by engaging people’s minds and hearts and bringing them along on the journey. 

You’ll hear Pennie share how the Port’s Continuous Process Improvement (CPI) program has been pivotal in creating an engine of change by developing employees across the organization. From basic foundations to a selective Lean Specialist program, leaders at all levels are being empowered to lead improvement as part of their daily work. ,

Tune in to learn more about community building, inclusion, and effectively involving people in improving processes to create a vibrant culture of continuous improvement.


  • How successful change initiatives can, and sometimes should, be led from the middle of an organization rather than from the top down
  • How leaders and internal process improvement consultants shifting from doers to coaches allows for broader ownership of improvement initiatives across an organization
  • Why belonging and community must exist within the workplace to foster an environment that nurtures  continuous improvement and engagement
  • The benefits of immersive learning experiences, such as study trips to Japan, which provide hands-on learning, enhance team-building, and boost collaborative skills 
  • The importance of meeting people where they are at to increase engagement and ownership of process improvement and change leadership

You’ll also hear why the Port of Seattle has invested in sending cohorts of leaders on my Japan Study Trips as a key part of its strategy to create a culture of leader-led continuous improvement and why Pennie is looking forward to joining me in Japan this November.



  • [00:00] Leadership and learning unite for continuous improvement
  • [04:32] Pennie’s transition to lead lean process improvement across  different industries, from trucking to government 
  • [11:16] Methods for sharing wins and addressing frustrations
  • [16:06] The importance of adaptability and flexibility in organizational leadership
  • [23:16] Encouraging workplace learning and its personal impact
  • [27:38] Leveraging middle managers to drive change
  • [32:43] What it looks like to create a culture of bravery and transformation