The 5th Myth about the Respect for People Principle

In an excellent blog post by Jamie Flinchbaugh today he introduces 4 myths about the principle of “Respect for People”, saying:

But respect for people means different things to different people. To some it means avoiding layoffs at all costs. To others it means giving them freedom to do whatever they want, or assume that they are right. To others it means trust. In all, I see the principle of respect for people thrown about sometimes casually, and sometimes in direct conflict of what I believe the principle is truly about.

Building on this theme, I offer a 5th myth.

5. Removing the “8th Waste” means utilizing people’s creative ideas for kaizen.
The so-called 8th waste of human potential is often used as an underpinning for employee involvement programs, suggestions systems, and other means of tapping people’s unused creative potential. These things are essential, but is this truly respect for the person? This ultimately goes back to a resource utilization mindset, i.e. “What can the employee do to help reduce cost for the company with their creative ideas?” While smart companies like Toyota use kaizen suggestions and quality circles more to develop problem solving skills then to find big cost savings, this interpretation of respect for people via exploitation of the 8th waste only addresses half of human potential at best, the quantitative half.

When we start removing the 8th waste, stop ignoring people as idea generators, listen and put into practice their kaizen suggestions, we are engaging more of a person’s potential. It is an quantitative improvement. Instead of only physical ability or trained-in job skills, we are making use capacity for creativity, problem solving and so forth. But more thought and more action does not necessarily mean better thought and better action. In fact if an evil overlord succeeds in removing the 8th waste and in empowering his underlings to find more creative ideas for subjugating the masses of the world, this is a bad thing from the view of the majority of humanity.

It is not so much the productive output, the quality of workmanship or even the number of innovative or cost savings ideas that gives us a true sense of what it means to practice respect for people in the widest sense. We must maximize the good that people can do as a result of their work, i.e. serving people. This is too often totally missing from the respect for people discussion associated with lean. Eliminate waste, continuously improve, pursue perfection… to what end?

Although it may seem pre-industrial to argue for ethics as part of the education and management of a workplace, work is where most of us spend more than a third of our waking time. Another third, likely not in ethics class but sinning or striving to do good as one will. And the final third, we sleep, dream to sort and file the impressions made in our mind during the day while we rest our bodies. When, if not at work, can we practice the ethics of service to people? How better to demonstrate respect for humanity?

The respect for people principle must be applied not only to people within the company but to customers and broader society, extended to what some call Corporate Social Responsibility. Firms that fail to embody and teach ethics to their people will ultimately be rejected by societies that value ethics. The same is true for political or social organizations which fail to act in fair and ethical ways; society rejects them through self-organizing protest movements.

The 5th myth is that respect for people can be demonstrated simply by further teaching and practice of kaizen, or investing more in self-directed teams and front-line empowerment. This is easier to understand if one reflects on the original meaning of kaizen which is not simply “improvement”, i.e. change for the better, but change for good.

This is an important topic so I encourage readers to leave comments with their 6th, 7th or 8th myth about respect for people. I encourage other bloggers to pick up the theme, linking to previous articles on this subject, starting with Jamie’s and my. Let’s start a virtuous circle of discussion to deepen our practical understanding of the respect for people principle.


  1. John Santomer

    December 7, 2011 - 11:31 pm

    Dear Jon,
    I like the idea you have thrown out for “tatakidai”…Leaning more on reality, in most cases and people the question would be, “For who’s good will this change bring?”
    The idea of “Corporate Social Responsibility” sometimes is easy to undertsand but very hard to absorb and live by…It requires a certain level of selflesness? Thinking for the greater good and higher purpose?

  2. Manish Prajapati

    December 29, 2011 - 2:20 am

    Dear Jon San,
    Kaizen is all about people and engaging them in Improvement process. They play a key role in sustenance also. People engagement is key element for the success of any such initiative.
    Utilization of Human Resources is really a area of concern for growing economies like India where there is always a shortage of Skilled Manpower. It is a bottleneck in the growth so by Operational Excellence the organization can release some human resources and can be utilized for expansion.

  3. Ron Vance

    December 31, 2011 - 8:33 am

    Do you have a template for determining batch sizes?
    Thank you,

  4. Bahram Bagheri

    January 25, 2012 - 4:58 am

    Kaizen undertakes Respect among company’s diverse layers to improve durable communication between the people interacting one to another.Respect can create insentive to have all engaged people to share information and abilities to head the target of company.To improve better Respect Kaizen spot shots all factors conected in this area to leverage strengths.

  5. Henry Zhuang

    January 25, 2012 - 8:57 pm

    Hi Jon,
    This is very good interpretation of respect people:
    1.Avoid conflicts不惹麻烦,不引起冲突
    2.Be nice (above everything else) 礼貌,友善,有教养。己所不欲,勿施于人
    3.Give positive reinforcement but not corrective feedback强化优点,不必指出缺点
    4. Give people autonomy, but not accountability给人自治权,不要分派责任
    5. Removing the “8th Waste” means utilizing people’s creative ideas for kaizen消除“第八大浪费”,利用人的创造性来改善
    your point 5 is the high level of “respect people”, and tell us the goal and mission of it.
    Everyone has a goals and their happy things to do, let them do they feel good through kaizen is the best.

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