This “respect for people stuff”

The following two-minute dialogue between Jeffrey Liker and British consultant John Seddon has caused a stir in the US, primarily for Seddon’s saying “…all this respect for people stuff  is horseshit…”

Note: For a video of the full 45-minute session from which it is excerpted, see Panel discussion – Lean Ísland 2012 (08). The third participant in the conversation, the woman sitting between Jeffrey Liker and John Seddon is Yr Gunnarsdottir.

While dramatically stated, Seddon’s point is actually not that controversial. If you listen closely, he says that respect for people is not a “point of intervention,” meaning not a subject for which you bring in consultants or start projects. Mark Graban pointed out that he had never seen a company have a respect-for-people project, and I never have either. In his comments on Graban’s post, Rob van Stekelenborg writes “Still, more and more often I notice, Lean is attempted primarily as a leadership and a formalized (thru methods), bottom-up continual improvement effort without much attention for the strong industrial engineering roots it also has.” While I agree with Rob, I am not sure this is what Seddon meant.

Digging deeper, the following paragraphs quote some of my preferred authors/bloggers on the subject, with my own comments added:

Jeffrey Liker on Taiichi Ohno’s people skills

The video starts with Seddon asking Liker to rate Taiichi Ohno’s people skills  in a short answer, and Liker answers “terrible.” I would not have answered that. By whatever means he accomplished it, Ohno got thousands of people to work with him to develop and deploy the Toyota Production System, and it makes him only one in a long line of effective business leaders, sports coaches, and military commanders who don’t ooze charm from every pore.

My understanding of people skills is as the art of working with, through, and for other people and that the degree to which a person possesses these skills is measured not by their manners but by their achievements. Some of Ohno’s statements on people issues are surprising. Ohno’s open bursts of anger were not due to lack of self-control but were on purpose, as he explains on p. 93 of Workplace Management:

“I never get angry at the workers. However, with supervisors and above I will get very angry. The gemba is a convenient place to get angry at people. There is a lot of noise so they can’t really hear what l am saying. When I scold the supervisors on the gemba, the workers see that their boss is being yelled at and they sympathize with their boss.

Then it becomes easier for that supervisor to correct the workers. lf you call the supervisor away to a dark corner somewhere to scold him, the message does not get through. The gemba is a noisy place anyway, so if l am yelling at them and the person being scolded doesn’t really know why they are being scolded, this is okay. However, when the workers see their boss being scolded and they think it is because they are not doing something right, then the next time the supervisor corrects them, they will listen.”

For a higher-level manager never to scold workers is consistent with standard management practice going back to Sun-Tsu. On the other hand, that you should publicly scold supervisors for no particular reason in front of their subordinates to generate sympathy and make it easier for supervisors to do their jobs is a strange idea.  I have never done it, nor have I ever recommended it. In the plants I am familiar with, sympathy for supervisors among operators is in short supply, and a public scolding would do nothing more than undermine their limited authority.

Yet, I don’t think Ohno would write this unless it had worked for him as a manager at Toyota. As he explains, he was trained to praise in public and criticize in private, but he did the opposite on purpose. Had he failed, you could use this practice as evidence of terrible people skills, but he didn’t fail.

Art Smalley on the meaning of respect for people

Back in 2010, Art Smalley gave a detailed explanation of what respect for people means in the Toyota context, as he experienced it while working there. In a recent post on the ISPI conference in Reno, I wrote “Lean relies on people to improve operations, provides them with safe and secure jobs, and supports their professional development as a strategy for the company to gain market share, enhance profits, and grow.” While it was not my intention, I think it summarizes Art’s points.

Art also quoted the following excerpt from a TWI Job Relations training manual from World War II as evidence that it is not a new concern:

JR training manual excerpt

But we can dig further. In The Visible Hand, p. 69, Alfred Chandler quotes British textile expert James Montgomery writing in 1832, that “To assure good feeling and understanding, while guarding against too much lenity (modern: leniency) on the one hand, to be careful to avoid too much severity on the other, […] be firm and decisive in all measures, but not overbearing and tyrannical  — not too distant and haughty, but affable and easy of access, yet not too familiar.”

In other words, since the industrial revolution, advisers have been telling manufacturers that it was good business to show respect to their employees, but few have acted on this advice. Taylor’s “scientific management” went in the opposite direction, and so did Ford in its early assembly lines. It could be explained by the prevalence of immigrants from many different countries with limited education in the manufacturing work force of early 20th century America. But  in California 100 years later, Injex was using TPS to make auto parts for Toyota with great success and a workforce with 19 different nationalities and varied levels of education and English proficiency.

Mark Graban on Toyota, Respect for People, and Lean

On 2/26, Mark Graban wrote an extensive rebuttal of Seddon, to which I had also added the following:

In concrete terms, I have found disrespect easier to explain than respect. For example, giving a person a job that requires doing nothing 50% of the time is saying “your time is worthless,” and therefore “you are worthless.”  Many managers do not realize how disrespectful this attitude is, particularly where labor is cheap.

Ignoring complaints about minor safety issues, like sharp edges on a cart, is also showing disrespect. There are many such issues that must be addressed before asking people to participate in improvement and contribute ideas. The Frank Woollard quote in Bob Emiliani’s comment explains why you should pay respect to your people. It’s not about being nice. In the long run, you cannot compete unless your organization fires on all intellectual cylinders.

Frank Woollard was a British industrial engineer in the 1920s, and Bob Emiliani’s quoted him saying:

“This principle of ‘benefit for all’ is not based on altruistic ideals – much as these are to be admired – but upon the hard facts of business efficiency.”

In his article, Mark includes a photo of an exhibit at the Toyota museum, that contains the following text:

Toyota museum photo from Mark GrabanIt is in English, Japanese, and Mandarin, but the titles have slightly different meanings. The Japanese title means “Respect for Humanity,” not “Respect for People,” and the Mandarin title means “People-oriented.” To be even more specific, in Japanese, ningensei (人間性) means humanity in the sense of human nature, not humankind, which would be jinrui (人類).

On the other hand, the English paragraph is an accurate translation from the Japanese and clarifies the difference in the titles. Saying “please” and “thank you” is showing respect for people, but it does not imply any consideration for their specifically human sensory, intellectual and cognitive abilities.

I don’t know what the paragraph in Mandarin says, but it is visibly shorter than the other two. Mandarin is concise, but not this concise.

Rob van Stekelenborg on teaching respect for people

Rob van Stekelenborg,  blogging as Dumontis, also posted on this subject, introducing the new word “resp-act.” What Rob does here is go beyond general statements and give examples of how to show respect for people in situations involving suppliers, customers, or employees.

After all the theorizing on the true meaning of respect for people, it remains a vague and fuzzy guideline for anyone on a  shop floor today and tomorrow, and what Rob does to bring it into focus reminds me of the Critical Incident Technique I heard about from Steven Villachica at the ISPI conference.

85 comments on “This “respect for people stuff”

  1. I think this is an extremely unfortunate statement that should be given little respect. I don’t care what Ohno’s people skills were. Respect for people means listening to your people. It means a system that enables them to solve problems because they are given information and involved in daily or weekly problem solving. It is a false dichotomy to say “this is the system” and this is “respect for people” as if they were two completely separate things. At Honda and other companies they demonstrate respect for people every day and that is built into the system. To say that this is a Western management interpretation is nonsense. Much of what is inherent in TPS is derived from Western sources. What Seddon is doing is filtering his understand through his own prejudices. Heaven help the company that listens to his advice.

  2. One other point: While Ohno made a great contribution and developed a great system (along with Shingo) neither he, nor Henry Ford, nor Jack Welch, are Jesus Christ. In other words they are mortal human beings with faults, like you and me. Ohno’s explanation about why he yelled at supervisors is simply stupid! Demonstrating disrespect or disregard for your supervisors is not more justified than demonstrating disrespect for your workers, your children or your wife. It is a clear fault, an error on his part, and that simply demonstrates his imperfection as a human being.

    • When I compare Taiichi Ohno’s Workplace Management with his other book, The Toyota Production System, I just cannot believe that the two have the same author. The Toyota Production System feels as if it has been thoroughly vetted and edited — if not ghostwritten — by a public relations department. Reading Workplace Management, you feel as if you are having a no-holds barred conversation around a few beers with a live human being.

      And Ohno says the darnedest things! When I first read the paragraph about scolding supervisors, I reacted as you did. It just made no sense. But I am sure that, in the fledgling factories of Toyota in the 1950s and 60s, in the boondocks of Aichi prefecture, with a work force of young men from the farms at a middle-school education level, he experienced what he describes.

      We also have to be careful about the cultural meaning of behaviors. You may have heard some Japanese consultants referred to as “insultants.” In Japan, you are excruciatingly polite to strangers and, at work, with people you think are hopeless. And you don’t waste anything of value on them. On the other hand, you are blunt and direct with your inner circle, and, at work, with people you think have a high potential.

      I know how strange it sounds, but, in this context, a supervisor who does not get scolded may worry about being passed over and one who does may be reassured that the boss has not given up on him.

  3. Michel, that all makes a lot of sense. Taking comments out of an understanding of their cultural context is always dangerous. Dr. Deming also said some outrageous things and some thing that were just flat out wrong! But… he made the contribution he made, and that is what’s important.

  4. Michel – thanks for the compilation of posts and links. Thanks also for the comparison of the English and Japanese text. Very interesting. I’ve heard Toyota people refer to this as “respect for humanity,” which means, among other things, understanding that people are not robots and cannot be expected to be perfect (this is an important lesson in healthcare).

    While a standalone “respect for people program” would be silly and I’ve never seen such a thing (we need broader Lean concepts and methods), I think RFP needs to be a foundation for everything we do, much the same way as Safety needs to be a foundation not a program.

    So, I reject the Seddon notion that respect for people is horseshit. It’s not a program, but we can choose our behaviors and therefore I would describe acting respectfully as an intervention of sorts.

    If I were in Liker’s shoes, I would have answered, “I don’t know, I never met Ohno, have you?”

    We can speculate all we want about his people skills. I’ve heard Masaaki Imai (who met Ohno, of course) say that factory workers would say “Here comes Mr. Oh, No!” — that might have been out of fear or just a playful expression (one that might not make sense in Japanese, even).

    Thanks for sharing the direct comparisons from the different books. It’s always good to revisit that source material.

  5. On a side-note, I fell impelled to pass along a reference to an excellent article in the Institute for Industrial Engineer’s monthly magazine (November 2011): “Exonerating Frederick Taylor” by Jesse W. Brogan (opening paragraphs):

    “Frederick Taylor’s 1911 paper ‘The Principles of Scientific Management’ is accepted as the first major statement of industrial engineering. But in the century since its publication, the myth of ‘Taylorism’ has arisen. This myth considers Taylor’s work a major cause for dehumanizing the workplace. This myth comes from those who judge Taylor’s work by reputation, instead of looking at what he taught in his writings. Although the myth conflicts with what Taylor wrote, it is strong enough to be presented commonly to industrial engineering students.

    “In reality, Taylor dealt with each worker as an individual. He actively encouraged a manager’s positive personal interaction with each worker. Impersonality in the workplace comes from sources other than Taylor.”

    • It’s hard to judge somebody 100 years after the fact. Taylor also wrote, his own words, that many manual workers were “stupid.” This certainly implies that Taylor, the expert, had to figure out the work for the workers. That’s a very different mindset than modern Lean.

      From Frederick Winslow Taylor on ‘Scientific Management’:

      “Now, one of the very first requirements for a man who is fit to handle pig iron as a regular occupation is that he shall be so stupid and so phlegmatic that he more nearly resembles in his mental make-up the ox than any other type … Therefore the workman who is best suited to handling pig iron is unable to understand the real science of doing this class of work. He is so stupid that the word ‘percentage’ has no meaning to him, and he must consequently be trained by a man more intelligent than himself into the habit of working in accordance with the laws of this science before he can be successful … If Schmidt had been allowed to attack the pile of 47 tons of pig iron without the guidance or direction of a man who understood the art, or science, of handling pig iron, in his desire to earn high wages he would have tired himself out by 11 or 12 o’clock in the day.”

    • A goal explicitly stated by Taylor’s, in Shop Management, was to prevent “soldiering,” by which he meant collusion among workers to curtail output. In his explanations, the purpose of time studies is to know how long each job should take so that you can prevent workers from taking longer. His model for compensating workers was the differential piece rate, in which a worker would get paid more for every piece if he exceeded a production quota.
      In his career, Taylor made substantial contributions, but managing workers based on respect for their humanity was not one of them. This is particularly clear when you compare Taylor’s work with that of Frank and Lillian Gilbreth, as documented, for example, in The Original Films of Frank Gilbreth. The Gilbreths’ work was not about policing workers but about improving productivity by making the work easier.

      • All: Read the article I referenced earlier for a totally different view of Taylor’s work…

    • A few of the volumes of my REAL LEAN book series look back in detail at Taylor’s work and writings. Fischer’s citation of Brogan’s analysis is accurate.

      I suggest that folks read Taylor’s extensive 1913 testimony to the U.S. Congress, which is his clearest explanation of the Scientific Management System, and in which he expresses views consist with the “Respect for People” principle.

      On page 191, he said: “It ceases to be scientific management
      the moment it is used for bad” in the context of zero-sum outcomes for people (especially workers).

      Similarly, it ceases to be Lean management the moment it is used for bad, likewise in the context of zero-sum outcomes for people (especially workers).

      See F.W. Taylor, Scientific Management: Comprising Shop Management, Principles of Scientific Management, Testimony Before the House Committee, Foreword by Harlow S. Person, Harper & Brothers Publishers, New York, NY, 1947
      Phone number: 8605587367

    • Having just read Brogan’s paper, courtesy of Wayne, as well as, a while back, the book Bob Emiliani quoted, and Robert Kanigel’s biography of Taylor, “The One Best Way,” I still fault Taylor for lack of respect for workers’ humanity, no matter what he said in congressional testimonies.
      This being said, I still think Taylor should be recognized for several contributions, including some that are purely engineering:

      • High-speed machining. Taylor discovered experimentally that you obtain better results with cutting tools by running them twice as a fast as was previously believed possible, and he received a patent for this invention.
      • Functional Foremanship. Taylor recommended that the production management role be split among multiple functions. While this recommendation was not followed, the roles he identified as “Gang Boss,” “Speed Boss,” “Routing Clerk,” “Shop Disciplinarian,” etc., map to positions that exist today under different names, like “Production Supervisor,” “Process Engineer,” “Technical Data Management,” or “Human Resources.”
      • Time Studies. Since Isaac Newton had done it in 1696 as Warden of the London Mint, Taylor was not the first one to use a stop watch to time manufacturing operations, but he did develop it as a tool that many people after him applied.

      He should not be demonized, but he should not be idealized either.

  6. I have been curious as to what was meant exactly in the discussion by “The system is 95%; the people 5%.” What system are we talking about, and percentages of what quantity?

    Seddon refers frequently to Deming, and I believe he uses “system” in the same sense as Deming, as the source of common-cause variability. As Deming explains it in Out of the Crisis (pp. 317-318), the system is the physical and organizational context of each person’s work, so that it varies with each individual.
    This context is called a system rather than an environment because it is conceived by people and can be changed by people. By contrast, a mountain climber on a wall would not call it a system because it is natural and he has no power to change it.

    It begs the question of what you mean by “the system” of an organization, independent of any individual. Logically, it is the intersection of all the individuals’ systems, which contains everything about the organization except for the individuals themselves.

    “The system” therefore includes:

    • Physical things like plants and equipment.
    • Data like product definitions and inventory records.
    • Structures like organization charts.
    • Procedures, like how to plan production.
    • Customs — behaviors that are part of the culture but not formalized.
    • The business environment, including customers, suppliers, governments, unions, etc.

    Problems have common causes if they are inherent in the routine operation of the system, and common causes are eliminated by improving the system. They have special causes if they can be trace to a mistake by an individual or to an event that is outside the realm of what the system is intended to handle.

    Deming gives the surprisingly precise assessment that 94% of the problems are due to the system and 6% have special causes. But Deming does not bother explaining what quantity it is 94% of. It could number of problem reports or total losses caused by these problems. But it doesn’t really matter: what he is saying is that the overwhelming majority is due to common causes and can only be fixed by changing the system.

    • I don’t know the basis for 94/6 other than Dr. Deming’s experience and gut feel. It certainly can’t be proven. You’re right that the point is the overwhelming percentage of problems or defects are due to the system in which we work.

      I was at a Lean IT conference last week where some people challenged whether 94/6 only applied to factory settings, where the workers had relatively less individual control over their work compared to software developers. The same question could be asked about doctors and surgeons who have a lot of autonomy.

      Good question, hard to answer.

      Most managers, especially in healthcare, would generally assume that 94% of errors are due to the individual, which is probably not true in a complex system like a hospital.

  7. I think the understanding of organizational systems is something that is not strong among most lean managers or consultants. This is a field where a lot of work has been done by people like Russell Ackoff, Fred Emery, Eric Trist, etc. I think a good beginning is to understand that there are three major subsystem in any organization, each of which can be analyzed, improved, and aligned to the others. These are the technical system (the flow of the work, equipment, etc.); the social system (everything about people including hiring, skills, organization, decision making, reinforcement, etc.); and the too often ignored economic system (the flow of money from input to output and the economic value of activities along the value chain.)

    I suspect the Seddon was speaking about the technical system, although he didn’t say. But, the social system is totally interdependent with the technical system and arguing that one is more important than another is about as sensible as arguing that the cardiovascular system is more important than the respiratory system. They are completely depend on each other. If one fails you are dead, either way!

    What bothers me about the little video clip is Seddon’s style. His dismissive manner and apparent endorsement of autocrat leadership behavior is flat out dangerous because some fool manager is going to watch that and say “see, I’m just like Ohno, a real SOB! And, it must be just fine.” Well, its not fine. Not if you want to have good people working for you because they have better options than to work for a jerk! It would be like someone saying “Well MLK plagiarized, therefore it is OK if I plagiarize.” Or, “Kennedy and Clinton had affairs, it must be OK if I do the same.” Wrong! And, wrong if you behavior like Ohno.

    • Yeah, I’m not sophisticated enough to know what a “point of intervention” is or isn’t.

      I am smart enough to know that we shouldn’t excuse autocratic assholes in this day and age just because they get results.

      Leaders at all levels (and employees) can CHOOSE to act respectfully… those actions often being driven by whether they actually hold the needs and views of others before their own.

      To hold up somebody’s behavior from 50 years ago as something to somehow be admired because, “well, they got results” is a strange approach to modern management.

      • You are too humble.

        We don’t have to go back 50 years. Until Steve Jobs died, based on his reputation and personal communication from people who had worked with him, I thought of him as a neurotic, selfish, autocratic asshole… And, on top of that, he had outsourced all manufacturing.

        Reflecting after he died, I realized the enormity of his contributions. Of course, we can never know whether he would have done a better job if he had chosen to act respectfully. It seems, however, that his intransigence and stubbornness were instrumental in pushing technology farther than anyone thought possible.

        And thousands of people followed his leadership. And he got results.

      • “I am smart enough to know that we shouldn’t excuse autocratic assholes in this day and age just because they get results.”

        Amen! And, in the end they won’t get results. They inevitably get short term results and their best people leave them. Getting results today means getting the best from people, their creativity, their initiative, etc. And, that is the result of a good system and good personal behavior on the part of managers.

    • What I am trying to do is look past the style at the substance of what is being said. Maybe John Seddon is haughty, or maybe it is just has an accent and mannerisms that make him sound that way to us yanks. I don’t know and I don’t care.

      This is a man I didn’t know before, who has been consulting as long as I have. I would like to give him credit for speaking with no ulterior motive, based on his own experience. And I would like to completely understand what he is saying and where it is coming from before judging it.

      Any approach can be misapplied. I remember a company that had unfailingly courteous managers who made employees feel respected, right up to the day they laid off 1/3 of them. Straight talk may be neither pleasant to give nor to receive, and it can be mistaken for brutality, but it beats happy talk.

  8. Michel, about Steve Jobs. I have a friend who was employee #1 of Apple who introduced Jobs to Wozniak. He is still there. There is the first incarnation of Jobs, before he left and formed NEXT; and his resurrection, his second incarnation. Most of the stories of his outlandish behavior are from his first incarnation. He was clearly immature and inexperienced in managing people and it cost him dearly. In his second round he was still demanding and he still had the “feel” for product innovation, but he relied heavily on teams to get the work done and was much more respectful toward his people. People were loyal to him because they both saw his genius and they saw how he had personally grown.

    • Interesting, Larry. We still don’t know if Apple will be successful “in the long term” (over what time horizon)? Can the company thrive in a post-Jobs era? If Apple fails, people will say “see, I told you Jobs was a genius!” or you could say “well, he failed because he didn’t set them up for the future”.

  9. What I think is that we don’t even need to talk about respect at all. It should be a prerequisite. So basic, nobody needs to demand respect to others, but as that is not the case, enterprises need to say something about it. And they mention respect in their mottos, strategy and so on, as it was something really difficult to achieve. About Ohno, I think it was so long ago, and in line with his time (maybe advanced. You can see now some managers scolding people in front of others). Nevertheless, I sympathize with being kind with the rest of the employees and being tough on managers. They are supposed to coordinate and manage people to provide results to the organization (obviously, not being rude or disrespectful). Another side comment: I don’t think you need to use a balance to carefully manage respect and results, I think they are generally good companions.

  10. Mark, Can I be a failure like Steve Jobs? Please? I once worked for an all pro NFL quarterback. He said someone called him a “has been” to which he replied, “I’d rather be a has been than a never was!”

    I am not sold on the idea that the measure of greatness is eternal life. I think many companies have a time when they make a great contribution and then their time is past. Maybe they just become another electronic gadget company. But… is that so bad? They have done great things and if we do one great thing in our lives… we’re lucky!

  11. Another thought about Ohno yelling at supervisors. There are many stories about Dr. Deming going through a factory and first talking to (listening to) front line workers, to whom he would be very kind. Then, he’d challenge the supervisor a bit. Then, challenge the next level manager some more… then, he’d read the riot act to the senior leaders.

  12. Mark, I attended large meeting with Dr. Deming. When he walked up to the podium he didn’t look at the audience, just stared at his notes. Then he looked up and said “Well, I don’t know why you think you’re here. But, you’re here to be scolded!” And, the then proceeded with a 45 minute scolding. The odd thing was that the entire audience was made up of change agents working to improve things. The other odd thing was that while talking about quality, he had one overhead projected that was a yellowed, small typed sheet with his 14 points, which you could barely read. So, people are a paradox and no one demonstrates all virtues. We take from each person what is of value and leave the rest behind.

  13. Pingback: "Respect for People" and "The System" - Management Meditations

  14. Comment in the Lean & Kaizen discussion group on LinkedIn:

    Mr. Seddon fails to further the discussion in any meaningful way. First, he provides an implied definition that respect for people is “people skills” with his initial question to Dr. Liker that he then uses as a polemical device to share an opinion. Second, he compounds the confusion by implying that respect for people is seen by Western Management as a verb rather than a noun, a position that he seems to agree with. Third, his argument is buttressed by inaccurate fact and his personal opinion rather than data. All in all, a non value added interaction. Fourth, he removes the contextual aspect of respect for people by ignoring its linkage to continuous improvement. Finally, the measures he presents of respect for people are loyalty and obedience (e.g. they would die for him). Neither of these are TPS/lean measures of performance.
    But let’s ask the questions:

    1. What is an operational definition of respect for people? Should it involve input, process, and outcome ingredients?
    2. What would be the desired outcomes for respect for people and how do we accurately measure the level of attainment?
    3. What might they be the necessary ingredients of respect for people and how can we determine each ingredient and their combinations contribute to the desired outcomes?
  15. Comment in the Lean Six Sigma Worldwide discussion group on LinkedIn:

    I am a bit confused regarding the message here. Is the point that “it is a waste of money to hire consultants so that employees can hold hands and sing ‘Kumbaya'”, or is it that “it is OK if an executive berates, humiliates and scares the bejeezes out of his employees and managers as long as he/she gets results”? Or is it something else entirely? It certainly sounds like an inflammatory comment, but I am not clear on the full context.

  16. It seems to me that neither of those messages have any validity. It is a waste of money to hire consultants have people hold hands a sing Kumbaya, but who in the world does that? I’ve never seen it and I certainly do think any lean consultant has ever approach change this way. I have never heard of a “respect for people program.” That is a red herring. And, the idea of humiliating employees, or anyone for that manner, is both counter productive and unethical.

    I have gone and watched some of Seddon’s other videos and ironically, I have a lot in common with him. I also started my work in prisons and learned the power of the system. I also believe in the effect or power of the system. But, to promote that understanding does not require dismissing other ideas. In fact, it rather requires embracing many methods and theories, rather than trying to sell your services by criticizing everything else.

  17. Comment in the Lean Six Sigma Worldwide discussion group on LinkedIn:

    I was not trying to propose options. I am sincerely having trouble understanding the message, sorry. What is it?

    • I started this discussion because I was intrigued by the exchange in the video between John Seddon and Jeffrey Liker. I was wondering what was behind the statements and what others would have to say about them. I did not set out to push a message. The discussion, however, made me dig deeper into a few issues.

      The first one is that “respect for people” is definitely a mistranslation of the Toyota tag line, which is “respect for humanity” and means making full use of the unique capabilities of people, as well as guarding against their foibles. It requires treating them with respect, but there is more to it, like making sure they have a full load of work, keeping their environment safe, making their jobs easy to do and mistake-proof, engaging them in improvement work, and giving them opportunities to learn and grow.

      The second is that there is more to people skills than the dictionary definition of “the ability to communicate effectively with people in a friendly way.” If you give confusing directions or abuse people systematically to the point that they quit at the first opportunity, you clearly have lousy people skills. If, however, you make yourself understood perfectly and are unfailingly courteous but everybody ignores you, you have lousy people skills too.

      “Good people skills” means more than one. You keep your emotions in check, and adjust your approach to circumstances as needed to be effective. This may mean stroking one person’s ego while applying tough love to another. What you never do is fly off the handle because it feels better.

      This “respect for humanity” is something you show in the way you set up what Seddon calls “the system,” which encompasses the entire work environment for each individual. You don’t show it by taking teams off-site to play paintball.

      • Comment in the Lean Six Sigma Worldwide discussion group on LinkedIn:

        Thanks for clarifying, and that explains my confusion: looking for a message when one wasn’t there!

        This topic and discussion has made me think a bit more about this entire “respect at work” dialogue as well. I think the distinction between “respect for people” and “respect for humanity” is an important one. The latter better embodies the sense that we need to treat everyone as a fellow human being, but that we do not neccessarily have to treat everyone the same way. There was a great book on the subject published a few years ago called “First, Break All The Rules” by Buckingham and Coffman that illustrated through research and case studies that treating people should depend on their individual characteristics and their work attributes.

        With that as context, I whole-heartedly agree that initiatives to boost respect at work, unless they have specific business-oriented and measurable objectives, belong more in the social services sphere than a business one. I think pointing out to a poor performer that they are not cutting it is not disrespectful, regardless of how hurt that person may feel afterwards. I think the message needs to be delivered in a respectful way by respecting their humanity. And I think singling out, recognizing and rewarding those that do perform well is not disrespectful to all the other employees, regardless of how upset, envious and upset they may feel. The manager is simply clearly illustrating what behaviours they appreciate and are looking for from everyone else.

        Having said all that, I am still having trouble squaring Toyota’s “respect for humanity” and Ohno’s reaming out his managers in public. Perhaps in the 1980’s and 1990’s Japanese strict hierachical culture, where your company was also your family, that kind of behaviour may have had less of a detrimental impact on the self-esteem and subsequent motivation and productivity of the said managers. However, I have seldom seen public ridicule lead to anything other that fear (of being treated the same way), which in turn led people to be more cautious (less creative) and more protective of their turf (more bureaucratic). My personal beliefs are that praise should be public and criticism private.

      • Peter – you wrote, part:

        >>> “I think pointing out to a poor performer that they are not cutting it is not disrespectful, regardless of how hurt that person may feel afterwards. I think the message needs to be delivered in a respectful way by respecting their humanity. And I think singling out, recognizing and rewarding those that do perform well is not disrespectful to all the other employees, regardless of how upset, envious and upset they may feel.”

        Part of the “respect for people” angle is to not be so quick to blame a “poor performer” when the results are usually more due to the system. Is that personally statistically an outlier or part of common cause variation? WHY are they underperforming? What’s disrespectful and damaging to the morale of all is to blame a person for performance that is within statistical norms… as the red bead game so skillfully demonstrates.

        What is somebody who is “performing well” is also part of common cause variation? Maybe we are unfairly rewarding them (which also damages morale). This is where the work of Deming and Wheeler, etc. is very insightful and practical. As Deming wrote, leaders should be a coach, not a judge.

        There’s far more to “respect for people” than how we treat them in our words and demeanor.

  18. Michel,
    Thanks for getting this on the table. When I first saw the video, I agreed with him …until he said people don’t matter.

    That I fully disagree with and have heard no one support him, not on the panel nor in this thread, so I will put that aside and see if I cannot support Mr. Seddon a bit.

    His characterization was brief and his brutalization of Liker only supported his argument….that was such a weak response by Liker, I felt embarrassed for the guy……. But one of Seddon’s points was..”it was a red is a conventional western management interpretation…..” if I can misquote him to the best of my ability to recall it.

    This I agree with to a large extent.

    I find the majority…yes the majority….of Western management are very weak on RFP. Most I find, equate it with being polite…. and worse yet…they actually believe it. I find when I discuss this concept with them, which is difficult at best, impractical at the worst…we must start with “Just what is this respect for humanity thing Toyota preaches?”

    The initial and frequently final thoughts, of RFP are immature and superficial…..a little like what I see that people often call visual management. What I often see is a mish mash of techno-wallpaper that has no meaning to anyone and only serves the appearnce of wanting to look like transparency. The CXO fellow/gal, jogs to the floor to do his “going to the gemba thing” and sees lots of stuff and declares…”we sure have some good visuals on the floor”. I believe that is what Seddon is referring to…”some convention of western management” so they can “seem to be doing” lean versus the real thing.

    So if the manager sees politeness as “respect for people” it is pretty easy to accomplish it….and if that is what Seddon means….I fully agree with him…..that is caca……

    Nothing could be further from what Toyota means. Read their Green Book and under the large topic of Respect For People they talk about mutual trust and responsibility; sincere communications; openness and acceptance of differences; fairness; accountabilty…and a long list of other items, going well and far beyond politeness. Behaviors that really strike to the heart and soul of not only intrinsic motivation but also good business practices as well.

    I have worked in two Toyota facilities and can tell you they practice what they preach. It is manifest in treating employees as an asset rather than a cost to be minimized; by providing good working conditions, good tools, sound work instructions, a potential to advance if you so wish and a whole litany of sound HR practices….and they are generally polite as well. Although I can tell you that neither facility thought that politeness was a key factor….and on some occasions got in the way of being respectful…….openness and honesty were far more important.

    Where I agree with Seddon is that when you see a lot, and I mean a lot, of western managers claim they have respect for people, put it on their company documents and preach it at shareholder meetings and believe it because they equate it with politeness….well it makes me support Seddon’s position.

    Right up to the time he says the “people don’t matter”

    Quite frankly I am not so sure he means it….sounds like a fun guy to talk to

    • Not everything in the dialog is completely clear. What Seddon says is “We think it’s the people that matter, it’s the system.”

      Then, when Liker paraphrases this as saying “The people don’t matter,” Seddon denies he ever said that and claims that he had said instead “Intervention on people issues is a red herring.”

      When people speak extemporaneously, they don’t always manage to say what they mean the first time and end up contradicting themselves. In this case, I think Seddon’s clarification/rectification is what he really meant.

  19. Comment in the Lean manufacturing & Kaizen discussion group on LinkedIn:

    I’ve got the impression that Mr. Seddon might have been an excellent Sergeant Major in any military unit around the world but for my experience as a Dana Corp. (Uruguay) Production Supervisor and Lean Process Analyst I KNOW that, as long as I had my production Leaders show their profficiency, both practical and technically speaking, empowering every man in the line and allowing them to take pride in whatever task they were performing I KNEW I was running the best assembly line in the Corporation and I MADE SURE THEY FELT THAT WAY TOO !!! And it felt really good for all of us !!! Of course, there were times when I had to get tough on them, at times to solve some specific situation, but sometimes just as a reminder…….

    But in any case I always treated them as my equals, letting them know that the fact I was “in command” was simply because they were backing me up in every step I took.

    And I don’t believe this “respect for people stuff” is horse shit as Mr. Seddon stated so clearly, no matter the color you try to paint this picture with.

  20. Comment in the Lean manufacturing & Kaizen discussion group on LinkedIn:

    Without Respect you have nothing. You can only get people to respect you if you respect them back. Trough dialogue, respect and dialogue you can get people to get involved, cooperate and give their best to meet the goals. Without that, supervisors are just pushing them and forcing and they’ll do the minimum amount of your necessary.

  21. Comment in the Lean manufacturing & Kaizen discussion group on LinkedIn:

    I think too often managers try to show respect for people by hosting rah rah celebrations, giving everyone a hot dog, a tee shirt and a balloon, then ignoring them the rest of the year. You get respect from people and show respect for people by showing that you are truly interested in providing a clean, safe, organized, efficient and effective work environment on a daily basis.

  22. Comment in the Lean Six Sigma Worldwide discussion group on LinkedIn:

    It is interesting to see (in general) that many managers/leaders feel a need to justify any words like “respect for people” with “it is good for the business”. It really isn’t accepted by many to show respect just because it seems like a decent thing to do.

    What Ohno thought about, I really cannot guess. Maybe he was showing great people skills, as suggested by some, but having read only his book about “The Toyota Production System” I can’t help thinking that – to be polite, his way of dealing with people would not fit in well in any company that I have worked for – even considering that these companies had their share of psycopats and other bad people.

    Seeing the translation of “human nature” rather than “people” makes good sense, I think. Lean is very much about understanding how people behave and which capabilities they have, as part of their human nature – if you do not act according to it, you will not make these people do their best.

    As for Seddon’s comment, well, I choose to agree with you, Michel Baudin, as you wrote in the blog “Mark Graban pointed out that he had never seen a company have a respect-for-people project, and I never have either”. I don’t see any evil in pointing that out, even though Seddon could have done it in a less aggressive way 🙂

    Wondering why companies never do such a project, I can’t see any other than two good reasons: 1) It is a silly project without any real goal. I am sure that many projects have been there, just focusing on something comprehensible with a goal, like “making the average employee turnaround time longer” or whatever, and 2) Most projects will, for the reason I stated in the beginning, be wrapped up in something with money, for instance “reduce cost of recruitment”.

    There is a tendency nowadays, at least in the area where I live, to include humanist approaches in the leaders repertoire of tools. Or, put in plain language, to get rid of the rough manager-type and take in the softer type who will coach and please the employees to success. This is, in my opinion, not the same as good people skills either, as it sometimes becomes pure acting – when things get tough the manager steps out of the humanist shoes and do whatever tough things he pleases. Gone is the image of showing respect.

  23. Comment in the Lean Six Sigma Worldwide discussion group on LinkedIn:

    Great to see all these interpretations !!! and sorry to interrupt 🙂

    Could it be also something as simple as “Respect for work” as he had mentioned in one part of the video… I mean that’s how people should get recognized, not just because of their designations or roles or names… I did respect one of the office-boys in my last company more than some of my seniors !!! I am sorry, I don’t mean offence to anybody.

    Regarding the way it had been put, I am sure the choice of words are open for criticism, but I do believe that sometimes we need to make put our hands in horseshit or may be worse to actually prove the point. I liked the video !!! 🙂

    Also not sure why the stir is limited only to US, whereas this can be a problem at any part of the world, including mine.

  24. Thanks again to Michel for facilitating a balanced debate.

    I have just read an article written by the manager of a company saying that ‘our No 1 policy is respect for people’. Later he discusses the problems he is having getting people to change. Look at your ‘system conditions’ my friend….

    It is the Seddon style to create controversy. To think and challenge. On a personal basis he is a really nice guy, listening attentively. (How many managers really listen? Respect?) He believes that Lean, as practiced in most service organizations, is counter productive. John accuses many Lean ‘experts’ of simply misunderstanding. Yes, neither Seddon nor Liker met Ohno so who knows. But, like Michel, I too wondered about apparent differences in ‘Ohno’s’ two books.

    John and I have our differences about Lean, but I do welcome his thought and stimulation. I do feel that what Margaret Heffernan calls ‘Wilful Blindness’ when TPS is applied unthinkingly in any environment is a real danger. Like religions that believe that they have the word of God, there is no possibility of questioning… and new converts are often the most radical. Do you think Jeff Liker has had his own unquestioned way for so long that when challenged he responds as we have seen? When will have a Lean conference on what does NOT work where?

    I can categorically say that people I have spoken to in organizations that have had the Seddon ‘treatment’ are virtually universally positive. And the results have been sustained over many years. They just can’t go back.

    BTW Seddon and I are in no way financially connected.

    • What do you mean by Liker “responds as we have seen?” What I see in the video is a polite man somewhat sheepishly responding to a bullying line of questioning. Seddon is asking questions to not get a real response from LIker (as he cuts him off), but rather to make a point. That’s not very respectful.

  25. In response to John Bicheno’s points above: I think we have to be careful in judging someone from a few minutes of dialogue on a podium. If I thought that accurately represented his style and beliefs I would definitely hold him in a low opinion. However, I suspect that that is not fair. I am willing to give him the benefit of the doubt that his comments do not fully and accurately represent his views or style.

    One thing Seddon is absolutely right about, and this doesn’t contradict anything Liker or anyone else said, and that is that changing, designing, modifying the system is where you will find the solution to most (but not all) organizational performance problems. Most companies need to get a lot better at that. I shouldn’t mention that I just published a book on that subject. So, I didn’t say that.

    What needs to be emphasized is that in every organization there is not just a technical system, but there is a social system, and that social system includes the organization of people, the design of who makes what decisions, the reward and recognition systems, etc. And, that social system needs to be designed to optimize the technical system. They are completely interdependent.

    I also completely agree with Mark’s comment above.

  26. Hello everyone

    I work for John Seddon.

    Great thread Michel, an important discussion.

    This is what I find interesting. I have read the words dismissive, autocratic asshole, bulling, aggressive and haughty to describe John.

    Yet the only person in this thread (please correct me if I’m wrong) who knows John describes him as ‘a really nice guy’.

  27. Hello Mark

    I think some are keener to perceive John like this than others 😉

    Another really nice guy, David Boyle, referred to John in a recent blog post as ‘the presiding genius over a whole range of related ideas that, taken together, would completely transform the effectiveness of our services’. You can read it here. Also interesting if you follow UK politics.

    Mark – were you being serious when you said you are not sophisticated enough to know what a ‘point of intervention’ is? I couldn’t tell if you were being sarcastic or not (always a problem with discussion threads). If you would like to know, I would be happy to explain it and why it matters.

    • I’m not the only one who is perceiving John this way, as you’ll notice from this thread.

      I didn’t have that perception of Seddon until, you know, I had some actual interaction with him and I also saw how he has been treating others at conferences, in emails, etc.

      Case in point, the coordinated attack that you directly participated in, Charlotte, against a friend of mine a few weeks back – including a vicious video that depicted me as a poodle on somebody’s leash.

      So, I’m not the least bit interested in what you want to explain to me since you’ve worked so hard, apparently, to make an enemy of me.

    • I took “point of intervention” as self-explanatory, and assumed it is the object of a project or program involving management, as well as, possibly, outside consultants. Am I missing anything?

    • Charlotte, I would like you to explain what John Seddon meant by “point of intervention.” I have been in this business a long time and I am not sure what it means. It is not a common term, at least on this side of the pond. I understand “intervention strategies” and other terms that may or may not mean the same thing.

      I what to say one other thing about this dialogue, and this is largely prompted both by Seddon’s apparent style (I say “apparent” because I am willing to assume the video is not representative) and Mark’s comment below.

      I have been in the consulting business for more than 35 years. I have worked with Stephen Covey, Ken Blanchard, Norman Bodek and several other well known authors and thought leaders. All of the good ones have what Blanchard called an “abundance mentality” which means that they believe there is enough to go around and the more you give away the more comes back to you. There is a spirit to this and it is a spirit of collegiality. We are all competitors in one sense, but we are all also learning from each other and contributors to a larger dialogue. And, it is that larger dialogue that moves the field of organization development or management in general forward.

      Any efforts to demean or diminish anyone else demeans or diminishes one’s self. It is not the sign of a competent and confident professional. Perhaps consulting in the British public service sector, which it appears is John Seddon’s field, that may be accepted. I don’t know because it is not my market place.

      No one here has invented or created anything entirely new. We are all learning and borrowing from everyone else and everyone who has come before. Hopefully we contribute some small advance or innovation. I hope the knives are put back where they belong.

  28. Comment in the Lean Six Sigma Worldwide discussion group on LinkedIn:

    @Michel. Excellent points. It is definitely a mistranslation of the Toyota tag line, which is “respect for humanity” I couldn’t agree more. Unfortunately that what many companies do with LSS, TPM, etc.. and as long as that persists LSS will hardly be successfully implemented then LSS utilization won’t be maximized.
    If you look at Top Business Transformation Leaders J Welch, Akio Morita, PM Lee Kuan Yew, Roberto Goizueta, PM Margaret Thatcher, General Patton, Lou Gerstner etc. their personal style wasn’t necessarily peachy…All of them have something in common: Substance & consistency. Been there done that. They walked the talk. They did it first then as SME they shared their own experience writing a books. So any time they talked people listened. How can’t you believe them?.
    Now is the other way around. People write book and tell some one else’s ideas and pretend to be SME…Big difference…How can you believe them?

    @Peter. I don’t think Japanese strict hierarchical Culture has changed a bit that’s was one of their strengths to take them where they are. As Michel points out the key is how they use it which still is a big mystery for most of Western Organizations. In fact you might find that trait in other Asia/India/ME & LATAM Cultures. It’s just showed in slightly different way. I am sure you will find out that in your new job….

  29. Comment in the Lean Six Sigma Worldwide discussion group on LinkedIn:

    People need to be afforded respect for who they are..a positive approach to developing good relationships. This means that by subscribing to a socio-economic system one is subject to the laws of the system and should be held accountable. In a business environment, I afford the same respect for a person working as a janitor as I do for the CEO. When I run projects, I tell the team members to leave their egos at the door and enter as a member of a team. It creates a dynamic working environment with amazing results. This also positively influences the teams members attitude to each other when they are off the project.

  30. Comment in the Lean Six Sigma Worldwide discussion group on LinkedIn:

    Dear all, nice to see that respect for people is interpreted in the sense of relationships.
    In my humble opinion “respect for people” is the mindset (of all employees, not only managers) that all people have skills and opportunities that must be recognized, respected and developed. In the end; providing a suitable place for individuals within the system (organisation), corresponding with their skills and opportunities is respecting people. This will lead to motivated and happy people that are willing to give there best for the cause (or business).

  31. The following is from an interview of Toyota executives Ken Kreafle, Rich Alloo and Glenn Uminger about working with Fujio Cho in the early days of the Toyota plant in Georgetown, KY, included in Kozo Saito’s Seeds of Collaboration, pp. 124-125:

    “What might have made it more difficult Was that Cho-san was a student of Ohno-san’s. Typically a student will teach others the same Way his teacher taught him. It can seem as if that is the only possible way to teach. Ohno-san was a teacher in the traditional stern and autocratic style. The teacher is the master. The student observes the master. Eventually the student is ready to perform and the master corrects his performance.
    But Cho-san was very wise. He saw that approach would not work here. For example, it might be routine in Japan to scold someone in front of other people but that wasn’t how we do things here. To be scolded in front of others is considered deeply insulting and humiliating.

    But be also knew that was not the whole story ….

    Yes, he knew that Ohno-san could be tough and abrasive but Cho-san saw also that Ohno-san cared deeply about the workers. He would say to managers, “Your job is to fatten the worker’s pay packet” and managers would be puzzled by that. That’s my job? But it showed Cho-san that Ohno-san was tough on behalf of the workers, because he valued the workers and hated to see their work wasted by sloppy procedures and systems.”

  32. Pingback: Carnival of Quality Management Articles and Blogs – May 2013 | The world is too small? or Is it?

  33. What would those who believe lean = respect for people have to say about the shocking levels of sickness and absence in HMRC [Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs] caused by lean?

    This new academic research has highlighted that ‘The numbers of administrative workers reporting mental fatigue increased by more than 50 per cent’

    They reported many worker’s experiences …. ‘After 27 years in the Inland Revenue following the introduction of lean, I am now deskilled, de-motivated, stressed out most days’

    And the research concluded … ‘In the ‘new model office’ of lean – to use HMRC management’s term – the new model workforce was experiencing unprecedented levels of work-related ill-health. Many staff reported suffering from psycho-social complaints, evidenced by the frequency of mental fatigue, stress and headaches and MSD-associated conditions.’

    See the research here:

    • From what I’ve read about the HMRC so-called “lean office” over the past few years, it sounds like a complete debacle (no family photos on desks, tape outlines around computer keyboards)… it’s not Lean. It’s not respect for people.

      The problem with Lean or any methodology is that people can do any stupid thing under the banner. Lean is not about de-skilling or de-humanizing work.

      Do we say cars are evil every time somebody drives drunk?

  34. There is a very simple explanation for this, although the solution is a bit more complex. Every work system, from the family farm to Henry Ford’s factory, to lean, is a technical system, a social system, and an economic system. The design of that system must create balance or alignment between these three systems. Clearly, in this case, the system is out of alignment.

    But, that should not be surprising. Toyota’s own system placed too much emphasis on the elimination of waste, creating excess stress. They had the good sense to then redesign that system to create balance with the needs of the social system. Volvo did the opposite in creating a production system that was “ideal” for people, but it was not economically viable. If you are serious student of these matters go to and download this entire book that analyzes what happened at Volvo and what happened at Toyota. Go to page 383 of this book to read about Toyota’s redesign of their system to respond to social needs.

    Here, I have given a brief explanation:

    I do not know anything about the case of HMRC, but clearly those who were implementing lean in that case did not understand the nature of whole-systems.

  35. In the TPS Principles and Practice discussion group, on 6/1, Norman Bodek asked what “respect for people” is, collecting 25 responses so far. His complete message was as follows:

    Toyota has two pillars for their success: JIT and “Respect for People.” What does respect for people really mean? What gives people respect?

    Look at the work that we give to people to do. Is it boring and repetitive? How can a human being have real respect for themselves when they do the kind of work we give them? Can a manager really respect his workers when they do those boring and repetitive tasks? The worker has to make a living and so they are willing to sacrifice and do the jobs we offer them. Is there another way for us to produce superior products and also give people real respect?

    If I call a large company on the telephone the first thing I normally hear is: “We are recording this conversation for quality purposes?” Does that show respect for the worker? Do you record conversations for senior executives? Is there another way to guarantee superior customer service without monitoring people’s calls?

    What can get people really excited about their work? What are the latest Japanese companies doing in Japan to develop people to their fullest capability?

    The key I believe is challenging every worker to become a problem solver to improve the work around them and to serve their customers. I believe that we should focus on everyone becoming self-reliant. What do self-reliance really mean?

    Please tell me what respect for people means to you and why it is critically important if you want to be successful with your lean efforts?

    • Comment in the TPS Principles and Practices discussion group on LinkedIn:

      Hi Norman
      What a great question and great word —– ‘Respect’.
      It took me ten years of practice and annual visits to Japan before I really understood what this word meant within TPS.

      Initially I thought it was something you gave people. Whilst it is, I now realise it is the key to unlocking the full power of TPS.

      The real power of TPS comes from the people using it, and respect is the key to releasing their total ability.

      Ability has three dimensions;
      Talent The ability to do existing tasks well.
      Creativity The ability to improve things.
      Enthusiasm The emotional ability (enthusiasm) to want to do the first two.

      World class performance needs the engagement of all three dimensions.

      As your people are your only unique resource, how can you not respect them.

      I think this may be part of the answer to your previous question Norman.
      ‘Why does Lean fail’ ——— ‘Lack of respect for all the people’

      I find it easy to respect people when I see them as the Heroes of the organisation.
      You can see my Heroes in operation on Youtube under ‘Sid’s Heroes’ (Video made 20 years ago)

      Like an army only our soldiers can deliver the victory we need on the global battlefield.
      Without them all engaged, you will lose.

      And people have been saying we lose because we pay our soldiers too much.

      Don’t think so!

    • Comment in the TPS Principles and Practices discussion group on LinkedIn:

      Hello Norman my teacher and friend.

      There are myriad definitions and perhaps they are rooted in our personal value systems.
      Mine is, that much I know.

      Respect for People.
      I will make a small change to this phrase, my reference point is Respect for Humans.
      My shallow thinking > We are all from one race, the Human Race.
      IMHO The first condition that must be present for one to create the condition of Respect for Humans (People) is Self Respect, without respect for oneself you will not have the capability to truly respect others.

      Respect for People is simple, to be consistently open minded, unconditionally general, neutral in thinking and unbiased (absence of prejudice) and cordially thoughtful in regards to anyone you come in contact with during your physical time on this thing we call planet earth.

      I was going to write the contrast to the comment directly above, but you get the picture.

      Todd McCann

    • Comment in the TPS Principles and Practices discussion group on LinkedIn:

      The two pillars of the “Toyota Way” are “Continuous Improvement” and “Respect for People” As noted above, when correctly translated “Respect for People” becomes “Respect for Humanity”, or as some interpret it, “Respect for Human Nature”. I agree that this does not just mean “be nice to people”. This puts the emphasis on the word “respect”. I think the emphasis should be on the word “humanity” and its underlying meaning.

      This concept began to make sense to me when I read the economic treatise by the famous Austrian economist Ludwig von Mises. The title of his four volume opus is simply “Human Action”. The foundation of the entire science of economics can be deductively derived from the applied concept of “human action”. This is where “humanity” or “human nature” comes in.

      From Mises Wiki:

      “….[Human] action is will put into operation, aiming at ends and goals, the ego’s meaningful response to stimuli and to the conditions of its environment, a person’s conscious adjustment to the state of the universe that determines his life. The end of an action is always the alleviation of some felt uneasiness. All human beings act by virtue of their existence and their nature as human beings.” ( )

      It is this realization (respect) of human nature that must be taken into account when a counter-current philosophy such as TPS is applied to organizations. A system that is populated by humans will not operate with the certitude that can be expected from purely physical systems such as in physics. Humans add another dimension that must be recognized, if not fully understood, in order for the system to adequately function to achieve certain goals. That is why constant teaching, coaching and learning is a first requirement in making TPS work. That is why the Gemba must be the focal point of an organization if the full potential of human action or “humanity” is to be fully realized. The alleviation of uneasiness is the key to change.

      I found this in the blog referenced by Michel. It is a post by Lawrence M. Miller

      “What needs to be emphasized is that in every organization there is not just a technical system, but there is a social system, and that social system includes the organization of people, the design of who makes what decisions, the reward and recognition systems, etc. And, that social system needs to be designed to optimize the technical system. They are completely interdependent.”
      ( )

      One could argue that the technical system needs to be designed to fully optimize the social system, but the important point is that the two systems are completely interdependent. “Humanity” is the key word; “respect” just means “Pay Attention!”.

      Best regards,
      Bill Gilbert

      • I heartily agree. Your explanation reminded me of a car with a person in it. Companies are like cars with people in them. The purpose of the car is to get the person somewhere. It is not the purpose of the person to get a car somewhere. When these two things get reversed, we may fall into the trap of thinking cars don’t need people. Well they don’t, but there is no point to having a car (or a company) if it ignores the people. It is better to just put money in a CD than build a company that ignores the humanity to the point of abuse or derision. Even worse, a company that does not glean the value and knowledge and motivation and intellect and caring that are the core of the company. When one lean specialist was translating “Respect for People” he made the mistake of trying to say the people are the greatest assets of the company. He was quickly corrected by the Japanese interpreter. The interpreter stated, “People ARE THE COMPANY.”

  36. I know that Toyota is putting out the message that the two pillars of its system are “continuous improvement” and “respect for humanity.” There are, however, many parts of TPS that I have a hard time placing under any of these two labels. For example, where does heijunka fit?

    • Toyota is talking about:

      1) The Toyota Way (respect for people and continuous improvement)

      2) TPS: just in time and jidoka

      Heijunka probably fits under TPS and the JIT pillar… and it could be both “respect for people” (leveling their workload to avoid overburden) and part of a continuous improvement strategy.

    • Comment in the TPS Principles and Practices discussion group on LinkedIn:

      I join Michel in wishing to understand how the two pillars are arrived at as “continuous improvement” and “respect for people,” or Norman’s version of “JIT” and “respect for people.”

      I have examined three versions of the TPS house, all similar to the diagram Casey chose for the logo for this group. Although the words vary, the essence remains the same. The foundation of the house is Standards. Interchangeably in the right and left hand pillars are JIT and Jidoka. Only in the middle are the people represented – “respect for people”, “safety and morale”, “Kaizen” are just some of the people-related words used inside the house. The roof variously says “Toyota Production System”, “Thinking Production System” and “highest quality, lowest cost, shortest lead time.”

      It was explained to me by two people who have studied TPS as a profession that only when both pillars of the house are pursued actively and diligently (you hand over a process that works (Jidoka) and delivers the customer schedule (JIT) ) does the roof stay up. If this is not the case the roof collapses and the people in the house are ‘injured’. People do not hold the house up, the diligent and professional pursuit of good processes hold it up. The people in the house can therefore work to improve the process and therefore the customer’s delight in the use of their product continuously – Kaizen.

      In this scenario, I can fit the tools and techniques into the pillars of the house (heijunka under JIT, Poka-yoke under Jidoka, etc.) and I understand the importance of my respect for the people in the house to have processes that work for them to deliver the customer value to the customer schedule.

      My data comes from Ohno’s book ‘Toyota Production System – Beyond Large Scale Production (1978)…

      “The basis of the Toyota Production System is absolute elimination of waste. The two pillars that this is based on are just-in-time and autonomation. In just- in-time production, a later process goes to an earlier process in the operation flow and withdraws only the number of parts needed, when they are needed. Autonomation refers to automating a process to include inspection. Human attention is necessary only when a defect is detected (the machine will stop and not continue until the problem is solved).”

      …and from Toyota Global at

      “The Toyota Production System (TPS) was established based on two concepts: The first is called “jidoka” (which can be loosely translated as “automation with a human touch”) which means that when a problem occurs, the equipment stops immediately, preventing defective products from being produced; The second is the concept of “Just-in-Time,” in which each process produces only what is needed by the next process in a continuous flow.”

      At and in many other places there are many TPS ‘houses’ all of which have the JIT and Jidoka (Autonomation) pillars with all the ‘people’ bits in the middle. I can’t explain why Toyota America choose to go away from this teaching from Ohno-san.

      This description is contained in their 2007 Environmental Report which is not focused on their production system. The report is five years old and focused on their role in achieving their local region environmental requirements.

      No one doubts the need for respecting people, least of all me. Perhaps we should return to that topic as, whatever the origins of it, it is key to success for TPS, as Norman suggests in his opening to this discussion.

  37. Comment in the TPS Principles and Practices discussion group on LinkedIn:

    There are now two distinct but interrelated philosophies that have been adopted by Toyota. The first is the “Toyota Production System” which has been around for decades and is the philosophy that is generally discussed at this blog site. The two pillars of the “Toyota Production System” are JIT and Jidoka. This is the framework of the technical system for Toyota operations (as described by Lawrence Miller). Tools such as heijunka fit under this framework.

    The second philosophy is the “Toyota Way” which was adopted by Toyota in 2001. To quote Wikipedia: “Toyota’s managerial values and business methods are known collectively as the Toyota Way” and “[Toyota Way is] an expression of values and conduct guidelines that all Toyota employees should embrace”. The two pillars of the “Toyota Way” are “Continuous Improvement” and “Respect for People”. This is the framework of the social system adopted by Toyota.

    As I understand it, Toyota has put the “Toyota Production System” underneath the “Toyota Way” framework.

    I’m not clear as to why Toyota came up with the “Toyota Way” but I think I have read that they were under some pressure from the media (or someone) who was suggesting that their operations were very hard on their employees due to their strong emphasis on waste and time reduction. This was their way to counter this. I don’t know if this story is accurate or not.

    This is not to say that “respect for people” was not a focus of Toyota until 2001. It evidently has been a mainstay of Toyota for a very long time. Just reading Ohno’s “Workplace Management” confirms that. In fact I became aware of “JIT” (the term used for TPS in the U.S. in the early days) in the late 1980’s when I was looking for guidance in implementing employee involvement and teamwork. In fact, I set up my first manufacturing cells in order to create natural work groups or teams, not to reduce lead time. I created cross functional teams to work around organization functional silos – I did not know I was creating value streams. I have learned a lot since then!


  38. Comment in the TPS Principles and Practices discussion group on LinkedIn:

    Thank you Bill for that clarity. I mis-read Norman’s discussion-opener as the description of TPS which he does not mention, and then read what I wanted to see into Bill’s original post that clearly refers to the Toyota Way. They say eye witnesses are always the least reliable!

    My respect for people is to ensure that I always act with the highest professionalism to deliver to my colleagues processes that work and that allow them, with minimum burden, to deliver their goals and targets to their customers. I learnt long ago that being nice to people and trying to please them did not deliver what was wanted, but being professional and fully supporting their needs did.

    At the risk of some negative feedback, I would say that too many times people try to get a result that pleases people, whereas true leaders take their people to a place they would not find themselves and that often involves hard work and not pleasing everyone. Too much is often made of respect. Those leaders that take people to places they can’t envisage live not by respect, but by trust.

    I am not sure what respect is or how to earn it, but I know who I trust and that is what is needed when you lead people on a journey through TPS to a place they cannot envisage for themselves. The question is do they trust you to take them there. If they don’t trust you and they don’t follow, then you become just another guy taking a walk.

    Respect is a laudable aim, but trust is a tangible destination.

  39. @Norman – You wrote: “The two pillars are ‘continuous improvement’ (JIT) “… Do you equate JIT with Continuous Improvement? Or are you quoting somebody else?

    I see much in JIT that is not Continuous Improvement, as well as work done as part of Continuous Improvement that is not JIT.

    @William – The phrase “Toyota Way” makes me think of Jeffrey Liker’s 2004 book by that title, which spells out not 2 but 14 principles. While 14 is too many to remember, 2 strikes me as short.

    When you allude to pressure from the media on Toyota to put on a kinder, gentler face, it tells me that statements of philosophy on its website are primarily for public relations. They are not intended to communicate the real story.

    In the Japanese glossary, we might add tatemae (建前), the facade, and honne (本音), the true music. For a Japanese organization, tatemae is what you present to outsiders, as when you stuff the kids’ mess into a closet before guests arrive. Honne is what you discuss only among insiders. It has all the complexity of real life, and the participants exchange frank, and occasionally brutal feedback.

    What I value most in this group in members’ knowledge of the honne.

  40. Another way to formulate the respect for humanity principle is to say that the way to improve the performance of a business is to focus on the work people do, not on the hardware used to do it.

    At a conference a few years ago, I heard Norman use a golfing simile: wearing the same clothes and using the same clubs as Tiger Woods will not substantially improve your score.

    Likewise, the possession of equipment does not make a manufacturer competitive. Anyone with money can buy equipment, but the development of an organization that knows how to use it takes years.

    In the late 19th century, Andrew Carnegie used to say that, if all his plants were wiped out his people would be able to restore his production capacity within five years. I wish I could tell you when and where he said this, but I can’t locate the reference right now.

    Historically, the validity of this theory was put to the test in the reconstruction of the German economy after World War II. It took not five but ten years for Germany to rebuild its industrial base to the prewar level. The country was able to do it because of the skills of its people. Japan is not a comparable example in this respect because, pre-World War II Japan was not a fully industrialized country, as Germany was.

    In Germany, the Marshall plan helped, of course, but there are counterexamples, where throwing money at development failed to achieve it. Many developing countries with no manufacturing tradition spent windfalls from oil exports on acquiring factory equipment, yet failed to become industrial powers as a result.

    The managers of companies that do not practice Lean manufacturing often believe that the key to competitiveness is the possession of the right equipment. Instead of focusing on people, GM in the 1980’s responded to the challenge from Toyota, Honda and others by spending on robots and automation, and failed to reach its goals.

    And this has nothing to do with costs. Compared to jumbo jets, even well-paid pilots are cheap, but their work is still key to an airline’s ability to make money. In a manufacturing plant, even if your production people worked for free, you would still have to pay attention to the way you use them.

    In cheap labor countries, manufacturers are prone to hire more people than they need, to “create jobs for the people,” but it actually hurts their performance, and not only in productivity. As responsibility is diluted, quality suffers; as people fight over the work instead of doing it, even production quantity may drop.

  41. Comment in the TPS Principles and Practice
    discussion group on LinkedIn:

    Repetitive does not necessarily mean boring. I actually think that stating something like that is rather disrespectful. Repetitive jobs may appear boring and they can often be done without an engaged workforce but they won’t be done well. There is a point in continuous improvement when the variation and waste are eliminated so far that there is nothing left to do of any substance and at that point, the respectful thing is to automate. Automating before that point is automating waste/mistakes and not automating after that point is disrespectful. Most repetitive jobs aren’t at that point yet.

    I think of this in terms of American football but almost every sport is the same. An offensive lineman has a very repetitive and apparantly boring job. They are asked to do one of two things over 50 times per game. They are expected to run block or pass block. They might change directions occasionally but fundamentally, that is all they do. If you had a game tape zoomed in on a single offensive lineman and watched the entire game from that perspective, it would be the least interesting and most repetitive game you have ever watched, regardless of how good of a game it was. The job however is anything but meaningless and it is one of the most respected jobs in all of sports. The second highest paid position in football (next to quarterback) is that of Left Tackle. They are also generally considered the smartest players on the field that know the most about the game.

    What’s the difference? Lineman and the organizations around them understand their place in the whole. Everyone in or around football knows how important their job is to the fundamental goal of the entire organization, i.e. winning football games. Lineman also have a very deep understanding of how the single play that is in front of them affects the entire organization. They take it very seriously and they try to be prepared for anything. After watching a couple of games zoomed in on the lineman, you would start to notice small and subtle things that they do in order to gain an advantage over opponents and do a better job. What looks repetitive on the surface, can be full of nuance in the details. The best lineman on the planet work very hard doing the most fundamental work but they also have the deep understanding of the entire game to make a small adjustment within the game that may be the difference between winning and losing.

    Repetitive work in a factory is much the same. A poor leader may take one of these seemingly simple jobs for granted the same way a poor coach will take for granted his lineman. It won’t get either of them very far.

    So what is Respect for People? For me it has a lot less to do with the nature of the work and a lot more to do with responsibility and trust. As a leader, you have to make them understand the big picture and how their job fits into that big picture. You respect them enough to take the time to coach them on the fundamentals of the job so that they don’t feel overwhelmed by the majority of the job that is normal and is routine. Then you respect them enough to coach them on how to make the subtle adjustments that will seperate them from a mediocre worker and make them the best. You also give them the autonomy to take the big picture you have given them and use that coaching to be responsible for improving everything within their control.

    I have never found a job, no matter how routine, where when i asked around, there was NOT a high performer. There is always someone who does the job “best” and most everyone will recognize that person. For some reason, most companies don’t respect their associates enough to try and make them as good as the “best” associate. There is something that he/she is doing that seperates them from the rest. Respect is studying to understand that exceptionalism, recognizing it, rewarding it and then coaching everyone else to achieve it in the same way.

    • Comment in the TPS Principles and Practice
      discussion group on LinkedIn:

      I think “respect for people” and many of the Toyotaisms that are often debated here are simply ways of recognizing the reality of work organizations, and there are many different ways that reality can be described. You can look at an ocean and describe it with the language of chemistry and physics and you can look at it and describe it with poetry and both are “right.” Our feeble minds too often insist on knowing the “one right way” to define the Toyota house, or principles, or culture. There is no one right way. There are a hundred ways that the reality of Toyota, or any effective work system, can be described.

      Too often, I feel like reading these discussions is like listening to debates among clerics as to the exact meaning of some quote from their Prophet. And the result is often the formation of different sects that will eventually go to war with one another, sure that they have the true “Word.” Our thinking should be better than that.

      Norman well knows, I have benefited from the field of socio-technical systems (thanks to Norman) which says simply that there is a social system and a technical system (I would add an economic system) in every organization, from the family farm to Henry Ford’s factory to Toyota. Respecting people (one of many ways of viewing it) is to recognize that the technical system (work flow, equipment, job definitions, etc.) and the social system (skills, organization, teams, decision making, etc.) must be aligned to one another and aligned to the requirements of the external environment. If you think you can design the “ideal” work process independent of the social system you will fail. Ultimately, it is people who make things work, it is people who improve things, it is people who we work for and with. Recognizing that reality is to recognize respect for people.

      Kris, on the subject of repetition and job satisfaction or boredom. You might know that this is an area that has been researched and there was an entire theory or field of “job enrichment.” The key point of it is that it is not only “repetition” that is important it is also autonomy or control. The lineman on the football team is following a designed play, but he is also making split second decisions and is in control of his movements. He is observing his opponent and is expected to think and react to what is happening on the field. It is not the repetition that makes the work satisfying, it is the degree of control and autonomy and the teamwork. Feeling an essential part of a team, that wins and loses together, is also a key factor in job satisfaction.

      The degree to which you give employees autonomy and control and encourage teamwork are also indicators of “respect for people.”

    • @Kris — I think what makes the lineman’s “repetitive” job thrilling is the presence of an opposing team. Likewise, a stage actor who repeats the same lines every night for three years may still enjoy it because of the interaction with a new audience every time.

      The assembly line worker who attaches the same parts every 24 seconds on an engine has neither opponents nor an audience. I don’t think it’s disrespectful to describe it as boring, and the assemblers who do this work in real life will be happy to confirm it.

      I have met some who enjoy putting things together in private life, but that is end-to-end assembly of devices their family can use and their kids can point to and say “My dad built this!” But these same people found no satisfaction in assembly line work.

      It has been a dilemma for 100 years now, that the best way we know to assemble products involves dividing the task into repetitive and tedious jobs that assemblers hate. In the 1910s, Ford had to pay twice the Detroit going wage to retain them.

      With Lean, we can make it less tedious by enriching each job and systematically rotating operators between jobs, more intellectually stimulating through participation in continuous improvement, safer by paying more attention to work station design, and more attractive as a career choice by providing advancement opportunities into management or technical positions…

      What nobody has succeeded in doing, however, is making assembly line work fun.

  42. Comment in the TPS Principles and Practice discussion group on LinkedIn:

    What a great discussion topic. In my humble opinion, lack of respect for humanity is the reason for why there are so few long term TPS companies out there.

    I share the perspective of several posters, so I will not try to repeat those. In my experience learning and trying to follow TPS, the respect for humanity stems from one underlying behavior, rather, mindset, Intellectual Honesty. The intellectual honesty to recognize that one has to “get out of the way” of people making improvement in their own work. This is in contrast to “allowing” people to make improvements. We often arrogate to ourselves (especially the high IQ / high rank ones) the patronizing role when it comes to making improvements to others’ work. We feel we know, and of course, better. Sure, over time, as we coach, lead, mentor, we may have well come across similar situations which may lead us to thinking we know better but the person doing the work, every minute/hour/day for years is simply going to know the work much better than someone else, no matter the IQ. This is simply how it is.

    Being intellectually honest about this sets the context of respect for humanity in TPS practice. Unleashing this is why TPS has been so successful over such a long time and across all world cultures. I would also like to throw in here that the basis for this lies in Oriental spirituality, a central theme being that the human Self is limitless in capability. No limits to self-improvement, including the work we do.
    Respectfully submitted,

    • I think everyone here would agree that working on shop floor projects puts you in contact with bright people whose potential had previously been underestimated.

      In your post, however, you refer to IQ as if it were a genuine measure of intelligence. I submit that the very idea of reducing human intelligence to a number is itself disrespect for humanity. (See The Staying Power of Bad Metrics.)

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  44. People can believe John Seddon (that it’s horse shit) or they can listen to an actual Toyota executive:

    Tanguay commented, “What makes quality is people and respect for people.”

    The Toyota plant here in San Antonio also talks constantly about “respect for people” when you go visit the plant. I doubt the notion is a Western creation and I know from learning from former Toyota people that the notion is very real, very practical and actionable, and the furthest thing from “horse shit.”

    Seddon is doing a real disservice to people by spreading his opinions in the guise of facts.

    • Tanguay does not say that “respect for people” is a “point of intervention.” And, where he says “respect for people,” we should read “respect for humanity,” or “due consideration of human nature.”

      What he does say is that we should pay attention to the way people work and engage them in improving. it. He goes as far as saying that each employee should participate on two circle projects/year.

      I knew that circle activity had been big at NUMMI. I didn’t know this was also the case at Toyota in Canada. I am wondering when American companies that implement Lean will rediscover the value of this tool.

      We should also always be careful about reading too much into speeches made by company officers at conferences. They are part of the facade their company presents (tatemae or 建前), and are not meant to reveal too much about what they really do, the “true music” (Honne or 本音).

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