What we know as Lean and the Toyota Production System is built upon two pillars – one is continuous improvement through process optimization and waste reduction, and the other is respect for people. The waste reduction piece is relatively easy to grasp because it’s objective and measurable and directly tied to the bottom line. The other piece about respect for people? It’s just as important but far more subjective and not as easy to comprehend.
When one hears “respect for people” it’s easy to picture Gandhi or Mother Teresa or a prayer circle singing kumbaya. None of those examples are incorrect but they are extreme examples that are somewhat celebrated to the point of cliche.
But in Lean parlance, respect for people has multiple applications and purposes with similar qualities.
Institution of Lean principles in operations means finding ways to provide customers the greatest value possible while also being as effective and productive with resources as possible.
Respect for people comes into play through trust and communication with partners up and down the supply/service chain in order to define and create that customer value. It’s not just about “being nice” or philanthropy. It actually has hard and fast applications to optimizing operations.
Respect for people shows up in multiple forms.
- Treating customers, suppliers, employees, colleagues and all other partners with trust and dignity
- Treating people as equals, no matter their level of influence or profile
- Listening and considering ideas no matter the source, instead of dictating unsubstantiated action
- Asking “What do you think?” instead of stating “This is what I think.”
- Prioritizing the safety, health, and well-being of all partners over everything else
- Asking “is this the right way to do this?” instead of writing new ideas off with a “This is how we’ve always done it.”
- Asking “how can we meet this objective?” instead of saying “find a way to meet this objective even though your resources are minimal”
- Challenging partners to think about how to do things better in order to meet the objectives of customer value
- Managers checking egos at the door and acknowledging that process users are more knowledgeable about their processes than they do themselves
- Holding one another accountable, driving out fear of speaking up and trying to do things better
- Coaching users to solve their own problems and to not be so reliant on supervisors to tell them what to do
- Working together up and down the supply and operations chain to solve problems and develop people and partners
- Combining hard facts and objective data with soft skills such as compassion, empathy, understanding, and listening
- Providing to partners the requisite investments in knowledge, training, tools, and services that will help them perform their jobs to the best of their abilities
- Treating people as human beings and not just as tools, resources to consume, or means to financial gain
- Doing whatever is necessary to maximize partner engagement in work in a positive and uplifting manner
I actually think of respect for people in the way of Buddhism:
- Doing personal research and experimentation to see what is true and what is not (combining Kaizen and best practices)
- Maximizing happiness and minimizing suffering of humans AND animals
- Continuous learning and training from books and wise people
- Self-reliance to take charge of one’s own situation and not leave the responsibility in the hands of others
- Advocating doing good deeds instead of following strict rules (again, best practices)
- Compassion and balance
- It’s never too late for improvement!