Lean toys with a lot of ideas. One of them is the so-called respect for people principle. A noble idea, a poor translation of the original Toyota phrase, seldom well-executed even among the most committed lean organizations. Respect is not to be toyed with. We know when we are being disrespected. Less talk and more action is needed about lean in general, but with regards to respect critically so.
In the USA we approach this Memorial Day weekend with gratitude and respect for those who took on great burdens and made great sacrifices with the intent to protect the freedoms we enjoy. At the same time we hear very sad news about how the Veteran's Administration is mismanaging, disrespecting and unduly burdening people.
Looking for a more positive and pragmatic way towards respect, I propose to keep it simple. Respect is to remove burden. This makes respect a very individualized and concrete matter. We are all burdened in different ways by different parts of our lives. Where our lives intersect at work, leaders have the opportunity to remove (or at the very least not add to) burden.
People are burdened by not having the tools, materials, instructions, space, information needed to do a quality job on-time. Supplying basic workplace design and 5S is a way of removing burden and showing respect.
People are burdened by the insecurity of not knowing where they stand in the organization. Lean leaders can give clear roles and responsibilities.
People are burdened by a lack of recognition, feedback on performance and coaching of how to improve. Lean leaders remove this burden by doing so.
Workers on high speed manual assembly or packaging lines are burdened by boring, repetitive short cycle, tasks with little sense of fulfillment or completion. Lean engineers know to design manual work cycles closer to the sixty second mark in order to reduce physical, mental and emotional burden of this type of work.
Small businesses are burdened by 90+ day payment terms by large corporations whose finance and purchasing departments treat their suppliers as banks. It's laudable that these organizations aspire to lean and continuous improvement, laughable when they claim respect for people.
And the list goes on.
In order to remove burden without adding cost, we are forced to address the root causes of unstable, unreasonable or unfair process conditions. This in turn reduces cost and improves quality. Respect the people and the process will reward you.
Lean without respect, as the intentional removal of burden, is a superficial at best and burdensome at worst. I hope there are aspiring lean leaders in the world who become burdened enough by this knowledge to seek out advice on how to put respect into practice.