"Respect for people" is one of the two pillars of Toyota's corporate culture and the Lean management philosophy. Yet, people think it's just about being polite.
If you ask 100 top-level managers "Do you respect your employees?", you will probably receive a hundred answers "Of course, I treat employees with respect and dignity". If your answer is similar, then you are in trouble.
Being polite to co-workers and maintaining good relationships should happen by default. Toyota's "Respect for people" is a much wider concept that should affect the way you see and maintain processes for the sake of your company's future success.
Respect for People's Opinion
Listening to opinions is easy, but not enough. You need to look after them and create a sharing culture among all hierarchy levels. Workers who are on the field probably have the best understanding of how processes actually happen. This makes them a gold mine for generating new ideas and achieving continuous improvement.
Go and ask your team if there is a problem or if something can be done in a better way. Then raise a discussion about what may have caused the problem. Do this on a regular basis. You will be surprised by the amount of information you will receive and its practical application. After all, the people who do the job can provide you with top-quality feedback.
Having different points of view is priceless. But this is just the beginning of the journey.
Respect for People's Suggestions
After you collect a great number of opinions, you have to proceed with finding a solution. Many high-level managers are tempted to collect all the valuable information and then try to develop and propose a solution on their own. Why? To steal the spotlight and take all the credit. Don't do this.
First of all, there is a much higher chance that a highly efficient suggestion for improvement will come from the front-line workers. Your team is familiar with the daily work in detail and every member is able to give a proper suggestion because they know what exactly may cause a problem. They see it every day.
Second, if you try to take all the credit, you will close the doors for future improvements. Imagine, if you do this, the next time you go and ask your team for good ideas, you will only receive silence. No one will trust you. In other words, your team will keep their ideas, and probably they won't even care about the common goals of the company.
Respect for People's Ability to Challenge
First, you tried to collect some opinions. Then, you discussed suggestions. So far, so good. However, you need to create an atmosphere where people not only share their points of view when being asked but they raise questions and challenge the process without being asked.
Blindly following rules and orders is much easier for workers but devastating for your company's future. If you want to be a lean leader, let your team challenge the way they work. They may find a much better way to do their job and to be more efficient and productive.
Photo by: Mark Graban
Lean organizations, such as Toyota, try to keep their employees highly motivated by allowing them to be challenged. In one of Toyota's factories, there is a poster saying, "Respect for people is the attitude that regards people's ability to think most". I guess it makes you understand that people's ability to think most and challenge will make your team or company a continuously improving unit.
Respect for People No Matter Their Area of Work
Sometimes we are trapped in commonly accepted norms. This is how you may reject valuable suggestions coming from John the developer, to improve some processes in your marketing team. Why? Because John is not a marketing guy and he is far away from the area. However, sometimes colleagues from other departments may suggest a much better solution for your problem because they are not stuck in your daily routine, and they don't have the same boundaries that you have.
As human beings, we like to put labels, and we miss many opportunities by doing so. Toyota's "Respect for people" culture teaches us the exact opposite. In order to evolve continuously, we need to challenge ourselves constantly, listen, learn, and not underestimate others.
A real-life example from Cassandra Lin comes to notice that you should be open to new ideas. No matter where they come from. The 12-year-old created a recycling program that uses food grease from local restaurants to heat the homes of underprivileged community members.
If a 12-year-old girl can give such an idea, imagine what is the potential of your colleagues and what you can miss by ignoring them.
Respect for People's Limits
Even the most efficient modern machinery has limits. Then what about us people? We all have our physical, mental, and emotional limits, and if we cross them, we eventually turn into a burden not only to ourselves but also to the company we work for. Keep this in mind every time you give your employees extra work.
If you overload your team, sooner or later, occupational burnouts will appear. Consequently, productivity levels will decrease dramatically before you even realize it.
You have probably heard about Kanban, a Lean-based method famous for its positive impact on productivity and efficiency. It is not accidental that one of the major Kanban practices is focused on limiting work in progress. This practice prevents the whole workflow from overloading, and it focuses on single-tasking. Through the years, it proved to be much more efficient than multitasking. And it is not just a statement. It is a scientific fact. Executing more than one task splits the brain, and errors multiply.
As a manager, you will probably want everything to happen as fast as possible. But be careful because, in the end, you may receive badly executed work, internal conflicts, and loss of valuable employees.
"Respect for people" is a philosophy that is difficult to describe in a sentence or a paragraph. Respecting people enables them to learn and improve on a regular basis. In other words, it is a mandatory prerequisite for achieving continuous improvement.
Actually, the two major pillars of the Toyota way are interrelated in a very interesting way. As Mark Graban from leanblog.org describes it: "We practice continuous improvement because we have respect for people...we practice respect for people by engaging people in continuous improvement and challenging them to perform better...for the sake of our customers."
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