Those of us who model our approach to lean management on the Toyota Way recognize that there are two core elements: continuous improvement and respect for people. Each of these elements breaks down into more detailed principles and practices. Continuous improvement includes challenge, kaizen and genchi genbutsu. Respect for people contains teamwork and respect. The “respect” element for respect for people is sometimes termed mutual respect. In any case, respect is the least concrete of these elements. Perhaps because of this it is the one not practiced enough as part of lean.
Too often continuous improvement encourages us to look at the negative side of things. What bothers us? Where is the waste? What problem are we trying to solve? What erodes profit? What makes customers unhappy? While putting a critical eye on reality is crucial for the success of continuous improvement, this negativity can cause people to become defensive and demotivated. It is necessary to blend respect for people with continuous improvement in order for us to keep moving forward. The American holiday of this past weekend reminded me that gratitude is the heart of respect.
During Thanksgiving we gather around for a meal with friends and family, some of whom we disagree with about things that are important to us. Yet we are still grateful to have them in our lives. How hard would it be to have such a dinner when the theme wasn’t “giving thanks”, or deliberate respect and tolerance? In the same way, we need to start with respect whenever we gather in personal or professional roles to discuss our differences, look for solutions and improve our reality. Thanks for showing up for work. Thanks for following the standard. Thanks for being mindful of safety. Thanks for what you did for that customer. I value you and don’t take you for granted. There is more to respect for people than just appreciation, but gratitude is at the heart of it.
It is good to have a holiday dedicated to gratitude. It is better to include gratitude as a part of every step forward or backward on the continuous improvement journey. It is ideal to find a reason to be grateful every day.