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When people talk about lean there are so many areas that are discussed, there are of course all the tools – 5s, Kanban, load balancing (Heijunka), mistake proofing (poka-yoke) Root Cause analysis with things like fishbone diagrams, A3 problem solving, Andon systems, Gemba walks, Kaizen and so the list goes on, there is the history of it and what it means to people (again lots of variation) and there is an almost spiritual side, almost zen if you like in some of the thinking which isn't overly surprising if you stop and think about it for a minute.
Lean is often pictured as a house; the problem is there are as many variations of this lean house as I have baseball caps (that's' quite a few! – we are called many Caps after all). In reality however there are really only 2 main pillars of lean, one is obviously continuous improvement in all its many forms and with what seems to be an ever growing number of tools and the other, well it slightly depends on the translation used, it is either said to be Respect for People or Respect for Humanity, a very subtle but incredibly powerful difference. I personally like Respect for Humanity, so we'll go with that.
So, what is respect mean to you? For your organisation? To your people? It again can mean many things, the most obvious is that you genuinely listen to people when someone is talking to you then you are listening to absorb and understand what they are saying, you are not performing your reply and counting the seconds or minutes until they finish. You don't cut them off or shut them down. Respect here then is about making that person's voice matter, about welcoming their input and ensuring they feel values enough and encouraged enough to share this.
Respect may be shown in how you train people, or just the fact that you are training people! So many organisations bring people in for a role and then that's' it, that's your role you know how to do it carry on. What about training them for the next role they want? What about training them for the next product or the next industry development that they could bring back and implement with you?
For some respect is the ability for people to have self-determination about what they are doing, you respect them enough to trust their judgement. You encourage them to push the boundaries, to test and experiment with ideas knowing that some will not yield an outcome that solves the current challenge but accepting that each one is valuable learning.
Respect may be how you talk with each other, about how you follow through on promises you make, how you work with each other, support each other.
Respect may be about how you solve a problem, do you work it through, or do you jump directly to finding someone to blame? Surely if someone hasn't succeeded in meeting an expectation or a standard it's the system that's failed? Do you respect them enough to hold this principle dear?
There are other ways of looking at respect from a lean point of view. For instance, do you respect your people enough to give them the support and tools they need to be able to do the job right 1st time and help remove the sole destroying rework? Do you respect your people enough to focus on removing wasteful non-value add work and let them work on more fulfilling value-adding tasks? Do you respect them enough to allow them to stop the line and launch improvement kaizen? Do you garner their constant feedback and improvement suggestions? Better yet do you respect them enough to allow them to just implement that continuous improvement kaizen?
How respectful is it to give someone a tool or a machine that isn't fit for purpose and say well, carry one I know you'll produce less than ideal work and it won't be as easy as it could be or as smooth flowing or a fast, but it'll have to do?
When you are developing your next design, do you respect the people at the Gemba, where the value happens, to involve them in every stage of the design from concept to the design of how you supply this solution?
The need for respect doesn't stop at the end of your company car park it continues out to your suppliers, (and event their suppliers) your customers, do you respect them enough to bring them into your supply chain, to your thinking on what needs to happen, to give them the training they need to be successful?
Do you respect the families of your employees and ensure they you return their family member home to them at least as healthy as they arrived (or better!) and so look after their safety, well being and resilience while they are employed by you? Not I said employed by you, that means not just 9-5 but are you there for them 24/7, 52 weeks if you need to be?
Do you respect people/humanity enough to not use chemicals or materials or processes that can damage their health, the environment? Do you have respect enough to ensure that your products are always safe, that you have a way of recycling what you make and ensure it doesn't go to landfill or harm the waterways or the land?
I could go on with many more examples and questions but I'm sure by now you get the idea. When companies say they focus on respect for the individual it makes me a little sad, as they miss so much by thinking bigger. Still this is far better than a manager I used to work for who explained that until proven otherwise he regarded everyone as an idiot, hardly surprising that he didn't last long in the role.
I'm going to argue that without that focus on respect there can never possibly any true lean taking place. You cannot engage people into the process, you will not get their idea's and their hearts. Don't forget one of the lean wastes is Non-Utilised talent, i.e. you aren't getting everything out of your people that is there, they have so many untapped skills and expertise that could be getting used, if only there was respect, for your employees, your suppliers, your customers, the families and the wider community.
If you cannot provide the respect you cannot have lean.
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