Michael Ballé: “I’ve been a student of lean for 25 years, and the more that I learn the more I believe that […] lean is a profoundly disruptive way of working. From the time that this new approach was popularized decades ago, there have been two completely different ways to look at the same tools, materials, and stories. Some of us saw Toyota as a disrupter, a small bankrupt company that became the dominant automaker in a saturated market ruled by U.S. corporate giants, by doing something radically different. Others, however, were fascinated by Toyota’s ‘operational excellence’ as a means of safe, incremental improvements—they would cherry-pick tools […] to leverage productivity gains without ever challenging either the strategy or the attitudes of top management.”
Michel Baudin‘s comments: I have been a student of TPS for 38 years, and see it as the best way we know today to make cars and auto parts. And, yes, it has been successfully adapted to other manufacturing industries and even to some service businesses. Lean is a marketing label coined 30 years ago that, in the best cases, has been used to describe TPS or adaptations of TPS in situations where explicit references to Toyota would be problematic, for example at Toyota competitors or in hospitals, where the last thing you want to do is convey the impression that you treat patients like cars. In the worst cases, consultants have slapped this label on approaches unrelated to TPS, just to leverage Toyota’s credibility.
“My fully-loaded 2012 Audi A6 had an intermittent frustrating problem since the day I bought it. No diagnostic codes indicated a problem. Escalation to German engineering had me ready to move back to Lexus. Their response was ‘it must not really be happening. Our codes would indicate if it were.’ That obnoxious response was based on the assumption they had thought of every cause of failure in developing the diagnostic codes. FMEA is not 100% and never will be. Do you have customer data that you’re not actively using to improve your product Four years after I first reported the issue, Audi issued an urgent safety recall for the problem that I had been experiencing. Why the delay?”
Michel Baudin‘s comments: I am sure many have had similar experiences to Becky’s with customer service in many companies. They tell you their product is used by millions and it’s the first time anyone reports this problem. You are probably using it wrong, or misreading its output,… This being said, it’s not really related to the concept of statistical significance.
“The kids are hungry, the driver has a headache and everyone has to go to the bathroom. If you’re traveling by car on a holiday weekend, the last thing you want to find at a roadside rest stop is a long line for a toilet. Companies that run major highway service plazas in Japan go to considerable lengths to ensure you never will, as they compete for the coveted Japan Toilet Award from the transportation ministry…”
Michel Baudin‘s comments: When at airports or museums, you find the Men’s room readily accessible while there is a long line of women waiting on the other side, you cannot help but blame the architects for lack of respect for humanity. The buildings may look great, and may even excel at their primary function — getting passengers on and off airplanes, or giving access to cultural treasures — but they suck at details that are vital to the basic, physical comfort of their users.
Does respect for humanity mean the same as respect for people? I hear that the literal translation of the Japanese phrase “respect for people” is really respect for “humanness” – whatever that means?
I honestly don’t know, but it’s a very interesting point. I don’t know a word of Japanese,…”
My comments: It’s odd that a Gemba coach should admit to not knowing a word of Japanese. This career choice, perhaps, implies an effort at mastering this language.
“…but Jon Miller, who does, makes a similar point here: he says the original Toyota phrase really means ‘holding precious what it is to be human.'”
My comments: Yes, Jon Miller grew up in Japan, speaks Japanese like a native, and has done a great job translating Taiichi Ohno’s Workplace Management. With only four years of immersion in Japan, I am not at his level, but I know the language well enough to read the manufacturing literature and tell the difference between respect for people and respect for humanity in the TPS sense. Here are a few posts on this subject:
As Mike Hoseus put it at the Lean HR summit in Florida last May:
“The important question is not ‘what is Lean’s role in HR’ but ‘what is HR’s role in Lean.’ HR’s role in a Lean Transformation is critical and essential. For a Lean Transformation to be successful and go beyond implementing tools, an organization must address Purpose, Process, People and Problem Solving. HR’s role is critical in all 4, but especially Purpose, People and Problem Solving.”
Contrary to popular opinion, it is not true that only what gets measured gets done. If it were, business, government, and society at large would come to a halt due to the damage done by metrics gamers, and for the lack of the contributions made by people who do not care whether they are measured. Deming is often quoted on this subject, as saying:
“It is wrong to suppose that if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it – a costly myth.” (Deming, The New Economics. p.35)
“People with targets and jobs dependent upon meeting them will probably meet the targets – even if they have to destroy the enterprise to do it.” It is cited on Brainy Quotes, but without a source, and it may be apocryphal.
As he showed in his “red bead experiments,” his primary concern was about people being rewarded or punished based on random fluctuations in metrics that have nothing to do with their talents or efforts, but there are even more fundamental challenges in an area like people development.
You can measure how much dirt you have shoveled by weighing it, but developing people is different. There is not even a single direction. Some individuals are “hedgehogs,” who know one big thing like heat treatment, while others are “foxes,” who know many things like all the technical and human moving parts of a production line.
There is no metric– or even set of metrics — that can reasonably summarize people development, but it is nonetheless tangible and observable.
The problem with this approach is that, at the outset of Lean transformation, management doesn’t know what it’s doing. It’s not the managers’ fault, but the skills of leading a Lean transformation in this particular organization have to be learned along the way.
More often than not, the author’s version of “addressing the issue early” means firing loyal employees for disagreeing with something you later realize was wrong. And the message it sends is not one of commitment but of a mixture of brutality, incompetence and disrespect. Continue reading →
“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:
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.
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.
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.
“Respect for Humanity” versus “Respect for People”
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 人間性尊重. 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.
Corporations 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.
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:
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:
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:
It 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.