More on Toyota’s “Respect for Humanity”

Much has already been said on this topic, including an extensive discussion in this blog. So, when Frederick Stimson Harriman launched one in the TPS Principles and Practice group on LinkedIn, I was wondering whether I would learn anything. 62 comments later, I would say yes.

The contributors include Toyota alumni  Bob BennettDave CondinhoLuis Javier Sosa Gomez, and Christoph Roser, as well as many others who shared their personal experience outside of Toyota, including Jay Bitsack,  John Davis,  Kris HallanRachel InmanEmmanuel JallasRam ParthasarathyPaul QuesadaŁukasz RogatkaPatrick RossWilliam Ryan, and Stuart See.

Frederick’s question was:

“How have you experienced the TPS Principle: ‘Respect for the Person?'” in the context of “criticism [of Toyota] in Japan and in other countries, with complaints of unfair treatment of labor, and a domineering stance towards suppliers that limits their growth and attempts to deprive them of their right to negotiate prices.”

In response, there is what has already been said but is worth restating, personal stories from the shop floor, and new perspectives on the topic. Below are  the excerpts from the discussion that I found most enlightening, as well as my own, edited inputs. I still recommend checking out the complete thread on LinkedIn.

Following are a few themes around which I felt this material could be organized:

gavelTestimonials of Toyota Alumni

Christoph Roser

During my five years at Toyota I was never blamed for anything, and rarely was anybody else. When I worked for other companies in Europe, not a week went by without someone trying to blame me (or anybody else but them) for something. But then, I also had a very good boss at Toyota, which probably also makes a big difference.

Two observations:

  1. During my last visit to Toyota (Motomachi Plant) I was told that there are very minor differences in the uniform according to employees position, e.g., a regular operator has a gold rim on his cap, whereas his team leader has not. But I don’t know if this is for all Toyota plants or only Motomachi. In any case, the difference was minor. BTW I found it interesting that the “lower” position got the gold rim. In the Military it is usually the other way round 😉 I guess that already tells something about the value of the shop floor operator at Toyota.
  2. According to literature, at Toyota it is quite possible for employees to convince their managers away from their preferred option A to another option/solution B. However, a contact close to Toyota told me that this is changing. If the manager opposes a project, the project leader now prefers to wait 2 or 3 years until a new boss comes around in order to start the project anyway. This is even worse at other Toyota Group companies. My source said that it seems that Toyota is hiring more “selfish” people. The exception seems to be Denso, which for that reason reduces its exchange of managers with other Toyota groups. But as I said, this is not a personal observation of mine, but of a contact close to Toyota.

Just remembered something else I read about Ohno: In my view Ohno is the main driver behind TPS. Regarding respect for humanity, however, according to Reingold (Toyota – A Corporate History, 1999, pg 41f) Ohno terrified his colleagues, gave impossible tasks, criticized, yelled at them, and kicked them. Many tried to avoid him as much as possible. Initially nobody wanted to cooperate with him, and he got lots of resistance. He caused people so much trouble so they could not sleep at night.

Maybe you could call it tough love.

If Ohno would have been a nice sweet guy, there would not be a TPS as we know it (or maybe not even a Toyota at all). In my view, respect can still be demanding, but this takes skill. Unfortunately, I don’t know enough about Ohno to say if his approach was skilled and respectful or more towards abusive. In any case, he got results.

Bob Bennett

In my 29 year Toyota career we generally used the term “mutual respect.” We respected people by giving them meaningful work that challenged them to work hard, creatively, and with a sincere dedication to the satisfaction of their external and internal customers. We expected them to be engaged in their own capability and career development by identifying and working with colleagues to solve problems that helped us strengthen our competitive advantage. We expected that people work during assigned working hours, adding value in return for the very competitive compensation and benefits we provided.

Mutual respect also requires mutual obligation. As a group vice president and officer, my strongest obligation was to ensure that our company continued to survive and prosper so that every employee had the opportunity to spend their career in Toyota, and their children and grandchildren could have the same opportunity. Therefore I have important leadership responsibilities to chart a clear path to our vision, to facilitate effective cross-organizational collaboration and cooperation to develop the process improvement action plans necessary to deliver superior business results, and to create a safe and nurturing environment that enables every person at every level to participate in effective problem-solving to both improve our business results and develop their full human potential.

If things do not happen as I expected my first responsibility is not to blame, but rather to humbly reflect (hansei) and ask questions such as, “How have I failed to help them understand?” or “What can we as management do to solve problems or make improvements so that it is easier for people to do the work the way that we desire?” or “What can I do better next time?” (This is how people and organizations learn and improve. Pointing a finger of blame provides no learning.)

If my company got into a period of financial difficulty, my compensation should be reduced first before we ask our subordinates to sacrifice, as management has the greatest influence on the performance of the company.

Yes, expectations are very, very high at Toyota. With a kaizen spirit, we often describe a “permanent state of dissatisfaction” always seeking a better way. This is our duty to our society, to our customers, and to our employees. Mutual trust and respect are mutual, with strong obligations on both sides of the relationship. And for me “leadership his heart” and the values and behaviors I describe above must come from the heart as well because the brain. And what a thrill it is for the entire team to build such a great legacy, and to have achieved it with the integrity, and humanness, and value to society that we can be proud of!

Luis Javier Sosa Gomez

I worked for Toyota from 1998 to 2008 , Toyota always manifested a personal interest in people and the protection of the environment and of course, to generate profits for its shareholders

Although times change and now, I’m not working with Toyota, I am working with Nissan – Renault Alliance , Toyota made ​​a legacy very difficult to forget , especially if we talk about human resources.

As for the relationship with suppliers, like any business , always looking to achieve profitability and a least we are talking about business , there will always be some degree of pressure from the bargaining unit , handle low prices, after all is a struggle to be more competitive , to sell a car in good quality, environmentally friendly and reasonably priced compared to those offered in the market.

So is that Toyota , surely ; will maintain its philosophy that has enabled it to position itself in such a high place, everyone wants to imitate , when you see things from the outside , perhaps, even could say something, but when you’re in and work for Toyota, things look different.

“Respect for Humanity” versus “Respect for People”

Aretha Franklin about Respect
Aretha Franklin demanding Respect

My first reaction was that, as explained before, the TPS principle is not “respect for the person” or “respect for people” but “respect for humanity” (人間性尊重, ningenseisoncho). To me, this means paying due consideration to human nature when designing work in order to take full advantage of employees’ brains as well as muscles, while protecting the output from operator fatigue, forgetfulness, or the power of habit. This is very different from being polite.

Frederick pointed out a 2008 article by Jon Miller on the subject, where he essentially makes the same point:

“The phrase 人間尊重 is not rare within the CSR (corporate social responsibility) statements of major Japanese corporations. The word 人間 means ‘human’, ‘humans’ or ‘people’ and 尊重 can be translated as ‘respect.’ But the phrase used at Toyota is a bit different. It is 人間尊重. The observant reader or student of Asian languages may recognize the extra character making ‘human’ or ‘people’ into ‘humanity’ or ‘humanness.’ […] So our current understanding of “respect for people” must be broader than simply respecting the rights of every person within a free society or to honor and respect our elders or our peers. To be wordy, the literal meaning of Toyota’s phrase 人間性尊重 is ‘holding precious what it is to be human’ and once could say ‘valuing humanity’ or even ‘respect for humanity’ but ‘respect for people’ in my view is pithy but does not convey the full weight of these words in the original language.”

Kris Hallan took a stab at clarifying this distinction as follows:

“The difference between these two definitions/translations might boil down to this: I can be very respectful to an individual person and everyone can agree on the amount of respect I show…while I lay them off for a lack of work. In that situation I can show tremendous respect for the individual by listening, being honest, forthright, and sincere. At the same time I completely disrespect what makes that person human by ignoring all of the diverse capabilities and potential that person inherently possesses. By laying them off, I disregard the potential for that individual to earn their pay, while being oh so respectful about it.”

The following was advice to factory managers: “to assure good feeling and good understanding, while guarding against too much lenity on the one hand, to be careful to avoid too much severity on the other, to be firm and decisive in all his measures, but not overbearing and tyrannical — not too distant and haughty, but affable and easy of access, yet not too familiar.” This exhortation to show respect for people is from James Montgomery’s “The Carding and Spinning Masters” (Glasgow, 1832), quoted by Alfred Chandler in The Visible Hand.

The language is quaint, but the substance is not far from the kind of advice today’s would-be managers receive on working with subordinates. You have to show them respect as people, but that is not what I understand Toyota’s “respect for humanity” to be about.

Being human means being able to learn skills, sense your environment, apply logic to solve problems, and create. Showing respect for humanity means being aware of the unique capabilities of people and putting them to use. Courtesy may be a means to this end, but it is not the end.

Generic corporate philosohyCorporations and Philosophy

Mission statements and other expressions of corporate philosophy need to be taken with a grain of salt. Philosophy is best written by individuals with no commercial stake in the way their ideas are received.

What is really behind the emphasis on “respect for humanity”? Clearly, the practices of US car makers post World War II did not fully leverage the potential of the work force. They have been variously described as “check your brains at the door,” command-and-control, or “management knows best.”

And what resources did tiny Toyota have to compete with these behemoths? The brainpower of its people is high on the list. Finding a way to leverage it was a key to competing with organizations that didn’t value their own.

It’s nothing philosophical; it’s only business.

Respect for Humanity and Management Practices

A management style

As a manager or as a consultant, you don’t implement or recommend policies labeled “respect for people” or “respect for humanity.” Instead, you make changes to the way work is being done and organized that are aligned with these values and needed for your business.

It goes beyond the obvious realization that the effectiveness of the Stalin/Darth Vader model is limited. It also means taking a critical look at current fads, and, in particular, putting a stop to counterproductive, demoralizing practices like 360 evaluations, Rank-and-Yank, or Management-By-Objectives, and replacing them with others that are tailored to the business at hand, including, for example, policies that are part of TPS like career planning for permanent employees, a pay-for-ability component in the wage system, and Hoshin Planning. But the list is not limited to TPS. It can include, for example, the Balanced Scorecard developed in the US.

To be more specific, following are a few differences between management practices that I think are relevant to this topic, as discussion starters:

  • Supervision: I have seen many factories where one first-line manager is in charge to 90 to 100 operators, with 4 or 5 work leaders as intermediaries. In Toyota car plants, you have one first-line manager on the average for about 17 operators. The operators are further organized in teams of 4 to 6, with one member acting as team leader.
  • Career planning for operators: Major American companies used to offer career plans for their professional staff. Today, these plans are mostly gone, and are sometimes replaced by Rank-and-Yank. They never existed for production operators. I know Toyota has them for operators in the past, and I assume they still do.
  • Response to safety concerns: An operator complains about finger cuts caused by sharp edges on a fixture. Does the manager respond immediately, by adding rubber guards while organizing for the tooling department to smooth the edge on the fixture? Or does he ignore the issue?
  • Fashion: At Porsche, you can tell employees’ positions from what they wear. At Toyota, you can’t; when on the floor, the plant manager is dressed much like an operator. At Honda, everybody wears white uniforms. At Boeing, there are no uniforms. A dress code, or the absence of one, is a management statement on the way it views people.

Emmanuel JALLAS

As far as I am concerned, I never met respect for me when I was employed. I was fired 4 times. Not because I wasn’t doing the right things, nor because I and my teams had no results. But because I didn’t behave the way the King and his court wanted me to behave. I also raised some (a lot of?) jealousy. I have also no love for company politics which always end in a human disaster for the team members. Nor did I jostled for my position. So I also left when the job wasn’t fulfilling. Simple respect for me, my values and beliefs.

On the other hand I can remember myself answering to one of my operators, shortly after being hired myself, 20 years ago. This operator, Jean-Pierre was his name, came to me with a dismantled welding mask. “Can we have this mask replaced sometime ?” did he ask. “Here are the keys of company’s car. Go right now to this shop. Ask for Alain (vendor’s name). Ask him to provide you the mask of the latest technology that fits your need, and to send me the bill. By the way, if you need some other tools, please buy them.”
Jean-Pierre remark was “I’ve been here for four years, and never had a tool bought to help me do my job. I can’t believe It.”

My belief is that respect is shown in small details of working life. Your teamates are behaving the way they do, not because they want to annoy you, but because they are who they are. (just try to change yourself or your behaviors !). If you consider them smart enough to do the job, so you shall consider them smart enough to know what they need, to try what they want to try, to say what they think they need to tell you, and to know what’s good for your company from their point of view. After all, aren’t they making your living?

flagsIrrelevance of National Culture

We cannot over-stress the irrelevance of national culture to this issue. Japanese traditions, for example, are short on respect for people in many ways. Young people who married against their parents’ wishes, for example, were not viewed as courageous but selfish, because they were shirking their duties to family. Sons of small business owners were shunned in recruitment by large companies, based on the assumption that they would eventually leave to take over the family business. And women’s talents were simply ignored…

Conversely, the culture in which I have seen the greatest respect paid to people who do menial jobs is the US. I think the reason for it is that doing these jobs is considered a normal part of education. For all you know, your waiter tonight may be the teenage child of a high-level business executive. Later in life, this experience is the basis for claiming to have been “born in a log cabin he built with his own hands.”

Yet the national cultures do not translate into consistent practices on manufacturing shop floors or in offices.

Ram Parthasarathy:

Michel, to take your very valid analysis a step further, the challenge is to turn this “negative” into a positive. These different people from diverse cultures have different strengths and weaknesses. It is important to understand these and leverage these strengths.

In a small town in India, we used girls just out of high school, with minimal English speaking knowledge, to manufacture engine valves which were accepted in Europe by Daimler, Audi, VW, Fiat, etc. These kids were like a blank slate, but the advantage of that was that you could mould them any way you wanted to. Results were simply amazing.

humanismFaith in People

What is necessary for managers to even attempt to put to use their people’s ability to sense, learn, analyze, and create is a belief that these abilities exist. It is an act of faith. It is easy to have faith in people when living a comfortable life with many opportunities; it is much harder when you have been living in misery or subjected to injustice, discrimination, or persecution.

Having faith in the abilities of factory workers was also a challenge in the American Midwest of the early 20th-century, because communications were severely limited. Many were non-English speaking recent immigrants from farming economies and with limited education, like the heroes of Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle.

The management practices that we inherited from that era are based on not taking up this challenge, relying exclusively on managers and engineers to do the thinking, and simplifying jobs. In recent decades, however, the experience of TPS implementation in California has shown that you can compete in manufacturing by leveraging the brain power of a multi-cultural, immigrant work force.

The challenge can be overcome, but it requires faith in people, which I like to call humanism.