Author, Professor and lean thinker Bob Emiliani has made another important contribution with his new book Practical Lean Leadership. I had the pleasure of reviewing and giving editorial input on this fine book and would recommend it for lean leaders. Most recently Bob wrote an excellent article titled The Equally Important “Respect for People” Principle. Please read this article and look for Bob’s new book.
The two key points of the article are:
The “Respect for People” principle is one of two pillars of The Toyota Way ; the other is “Continuous Improvement.” The “Respect for People” principle has existed for several decades within Toyota’s management system, but has been almost entirely ignored by outsiders.
Emphasis mine, and further:
The “Respect for People” principle is deceptive in that it seems very easy to understand and apply, but it is not. Most mid- and senior-level managers think they know what “Respect for People” means, but it is clear from leadership behaviors, common business performance metrics, company policies, management’s decisions, and sometimes even corporate strategy, that they do not.
We’ve been missing a big part of what it means to be lean, and people largely still don’t get it, in other words. The good news is that more people are taking a look at “respect for people” as an aspect of the excellence at Toyota that needs to be understood and copied. The bad news is that unlike the Toyota Production System and kaizen, there is much less of this that is physically visible. By nature, “respect for people” is a mindset and a set of behaviors that result from it. Without experiencing it day to day it is hard to understand, so it is no surprise that many studies have focused on the surface of the Toyota way: methods of management and daily work as well as material and information flow.
“Respect for People”?
If we are to explore the notion of “respect for people” and make practical use of this in combination of our arguably mature understanding of kaizen or continuous improvement with the aim of emulating the excellence of Toyota we need to study the broader context of what “respect for people” means: even to the point of questioning the appropriateness of these words themselves. The Toyota corporate website makes public a surprising amount of detail on the guiding principles, precepts and code of conduct for people at Toyota. This page provides PDF links to the relevant documents.
If the Toyota Production System is represented as the TPS house, perhaps the diagram above is the basement and crawlspace of said house.
The phrase “respect for people” appears in quotations here because I don’t believe those English words do justice to the principle itself as it is embodied at Toyota. One of my great joys as a Japanese-English interpreter for Japanese sense from the Toyota group was to rescue bits of wisdom either lost in translation or in danger of being lost. The term “respect for people” may be in such danger. A closer look at the original Japanese term used at Toyota, as well as the context within which it used and its historical origin may help us in our rescue efforts.
Holding Precious What it is to be Human
The phrase 人間尊重 is not rare within the CSR (corporate social responsibility) statements of major Japanese corporations. The word 人間 means “human”, “humans” or “people” and 尊重 can be translated as “respect”. But the phrase used at Toyota is a bit different. It is 人間性尊重. The observant reader or student of Asian languages may recognize the extra character making “human” or “people” into “humanity” or “humanness”.
For the curious, the red bubble is continuous improvement (wits and kaizen) with branches including challenge, kaizen and genchi genbutsu while the green bubble is “respect for people” with the branches “respect” and team work.
We can gain a better understanding for the Japanese word Toyota uses for “respect” if we break it down into its constituent parts. The phrase 尊い means “preciousness” or “valued” while by itself the character 尊 is an honorific used to refer to buddhas, the emperor or gods. Combined with other characters it can mean revere or respect. In this case it is combined with 重 which means “heavy,” “main,” “principal” or “important” and means to respect or value something. The distinction not to be missed is that between “respect” as in to hold precious or value, not as in to look up to, to defer to or look up or to obey.
So our current understanding of “respect for people” must be broader than simply respecting the rights of every person within a free society or to honor and respect our elders or our peers. To be wordy, the literal meaning of Toyota’s phrase 人間性尊重 is “holding precious what it is to be human” and once could say “valuing humanity” or even “respect for humanity” but “respect for people” in my view is pithy but does not convey the full weight of these words in the original language.
Valuing Humanity in Toyota’s Guiding Principles
Of the seven Guiding Principles at Toyota the one which most directly addressed the question of “respect for people” is the fifth, while each one touches on humanity or what it is to be human such as honoring the ways of each nation (1), respecting and contributing to communities (2), enhancing the quality of life (3) harmony with the global community (6) with principles 4 and 7 being the most obvious and long-term profit seeking corporate principles.
The Guiding Principles at Toyota as they appear on the Toyota website are:
１．Honor the language and spirit of the law of every nation and undertake open and fair corporate activities to be a good corporate citizen around the world
２．Respect the culture and customs of every nation and contribute to economic and social development through corporate activities in local communities
３．Dedicate ourselves to providing clean and safe products and to enhancing the quality of life everywhere through our activities
４．Create and develop advanced technologies and provide outstanding products and services that fulfill the needs of customers worldwide
５．Foster a corporate culture that enhances individual creativity and teamwork value, while honoring mutual trust and respect between labor and management
６．Pursue growth in harmony with the global community through innovative management
７．Work with business partners in research and creation to achieve stable long-term growth and mutual benefits, while keeping ourselves open to new partnerships
This is a very broad and humanistic set of guiding principles for what is essentially an industrial company building a mass market product. Clearly the human-centered approach has worked for Toyota, but what led them value humanity so strongly when essentially their mission has been to build things that go zoom?
Venerate the Gods
The philosophy of Toyota has been very strongly influenced by the life, work and world view of inventor and founder Sakichi Toyoda. This world view results in part from his Buddhist faith. Although even today one can find shrines to various Shinto gods on the premises of major Japanese corporations for various reasons (it was there before the factory was built; offering prayers for health, safety or prosperity; community solidarity; faith of the founding family) the influence of Sakichi Toyoda’s faith on Toyota’s practice of “respect for people” today can be seen most directly in what are called The Toyota Precepts. These words of Sakichi Toyoda have been part of the Toyota philosophy for three quarters of a century:
The Toyota Precepts
１．Be contributive to the development and welfare of the country by working together, regardless of position, in faithfully fulfilling your duties.
１．Be ahead of the times through endless creativity, inquisitiveness and pursuit of improvement.
１．Be practical and avoid frivolity.
１．Be kind and generous; strive to create a warm, homelike atmosphere.
１．Be reverent, and show gratitude for things great and small in thought and deed.
There is wisdom here, but nothing extraordinary, at least in the English translation. Here are the Toyota Precepts as they appear on the Toyota website in Japanese. They are useful for the purpose of identifying one significant difference in translation of these Precepts which may illuminate an important underlying founding intent of Toyota and its influence on the principle of “respect for people”. The fifth and last Precept literally says (my translation):
Venerate the gods and buddhas and live a life of gratitude and repayment for kindness.
It is understandable that the English version of the fifth point in the Precepts is phrased as it is. First, with the rare historical exception of politicized or militant sects, Buddhists are not evangelical (Sakichi Toyoda’s Nichiren sect is arguably one of the more evangelical ones within Buddhism). There is no desire here to convert others to their faith as other religions do, and therefore no doctrinal or faith-based need to leave “god” in these Precepts. Second, it may not even be legal in the United States for a publicly traded company to state in official company documents a requirement that one “venerate the gods”. One can imagine the frivolous lawsuits, Precept 3 notwithstanding. Third, the direct reference to “gods and buddhas” within the context of Japanese religious culture of 8 million gods and sundry bodhisattvas is closer in meaning to “respect for all things great and small” than to any particular set of named gods. Therefore, we can understand why outside the context of Japanese history and society and for the purpose of corporate communications “gods and bodhisattvas” were left out. Yet it is useful to know that they exist in the original and influence the notion of “respect for people” or holding precious what it is to be human.
Toyota’s Basic Thinking on the Development of People
All of this grand talk of humanity, the world and gods aside, there is an inherently practical aspect to “respect for people” at Toyota which must not be overlooked. For Toyota “respect for people” is also a business tool best represented by their excellence in the area of the development of people. It is important to note that many companies in Japan and in other countries may do a fine job of developing people, but only Toyota has parlayed that into 50 years of successful growth, consistent profitability, and preeminence in the global market by vehicles sold. The following are some of the common elements of the basic thinking of Toyota on the development of people:
Building things starts with building people. Another way to say this is that it is necessary to develop good people in order to make good products. Automation may surpass capabilities of human workers, but it is people who advance technology, and people who develop such technologists.
People development is centered on the gemba. Workplace-centered or OJT (on the job) training is the primary means of people development. Off-JT as well as expert training also exists at Toyota but the primary class room is the gemba.
Mutual development by superiors and subordinates. This may be Taiichi Ohno’s game of wits come to full fruition if practice in its ideal form where juniors and seniors can learn from each other.
Repay the debt of being taught by teaching your juniors. Whenever we have the privilege to visit Toyota in Japan and speak with very senior or retired executives, there is always an expression of gratitude towards the people who came before (sensei) an taught them. They are open to teaching us because even after they leave Toyota they want to repay their debt, echoing Sakichi’s fifth Precept.
First Things First
When we value something, we put it first. We place it in a position of reverence, esteem or honor. The things we hold precious are the things we put first. One might even say that we humbly submit before the things we truly respect and hold precious. In kaizen when we clearly understand what the customer values we put that value first by seeking to eliminate all waste. Stephen Covey’s seven habits of highly effective people advise us to put first things first (oddly, as the third of seven steps). It is this habit of venerating all things and placing others first out of humility that is the essence of what we are seeking to practice as “respect for people” in the pursuit of lean management.