Tips for Lean Managers

Operational Excellence Requires Kaizen and Respect for People

By Jon Miller Updated on May 29th, 2017

Kaizen is easy. Respect for people is hard. I don’t know why. I just don’t see a lot of companies talking about and doing the latter. Talking about only, perhaps. What does respect for people really mean, anyway? At Toyota it is interesting to note that the clearest way respect for people is visible is through their commitment to development of people.
In fact I wonder if respect for people isn’t just a euphemism for development of people. Respect for people sounds better, less self-serving, less demanding of people, more of a catch all. Can a corporation as represented by executives who see themselves as primarily answering to shareholders truly respect the people who work in the company and place them before profit (and indirectly, before the shareholders)? Developing people (as opposed to the more vague respect for people) achieves both ends of profit generation and humanizing repetitive work.
The flow chart showing cost reduction and people development as the end goals of the Toyota Production System is something I sketched on one of the many trips I’ve taken to Japan. It wasn’t Toyota but a company in a different industry that had an ex-Toyota manager teach them TPS. It’s another good way of showing what this TPS-based operational excellence business is all about.

At Toyota they say 物づくりは人づくり or “making things is making people” (monozukuri wa hitozukuri) or “develop people and then build products”. Their commitment to developing people is clear and they take this seriously. It’s part of the culture and management system, and a massive competitive advantage. Since they depend on this to build in quality and maintain productivity, it’s also a possible weakness if they attempt to grow faster than they can develop people.
As a historical question I wonder whether Toyota had this idea before the union requested that they start a supervisor training and development program in 1950 when they researched, found and adopted TWI. Was people development a founding value or one that evolved along the way?
Back to respect for people. Whether that means development of people like at Toyota or something else, what does it take for other organizations to get it? Perhaps love? Love is not an angle that from which we often approach this issue. The Loving Organzation – perhaps that could be a replacement for the unmentionable phrase of the month. It’s certainly an appropriate place for this discussion.

  1. Mark Graban

    October 10, 2006 - 6:50 pm

    It’s not a choice between profit and people. Developing people leads to long-term profit. The choice people struggle with is the choice between short term (laying people off) and long term (developing people). Toyota teaches us to focus on the long term.

  2. Derrick Benson

    October 11, 2006 - 8:07 pm

    Thank goodness I am not the only one. Today my company lost an unbelievable person who was formerly with TSSC and truly believed in the concept of the people being the most valuable resource. This person was also my boss and the only one who would be able to protect me from all who speak one thing and act another. God Bless You Scott! A True Kaizen Warrior and defender of the people!

  3. B S Gaud

    February 15, 2014 - 11:29 pm

    Good to learn more manufacturing practices

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