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.