Lean: Letting our human characteristics flourish…
In this course, I had the chance to pause and revisit parts of Shook’s book. One quote from Toyota chairman Fujio Cho (pictured at left) stood out at me, especially in response to those who think “lean,” based on the Toyota Production System, is a bunch of dehumanizing tools…
Cho was quoted as saying, as translated by John Shook:
“We want to not only show respect to our people, the same way we want to show respect to everyone we meet in life, we also want to respect their humanity, what it is that makes us human, which is our ability to think and feel – we have to respect that humanity in the way we design the work, so that the work enables their very human characteristics to flourish.”
I’ve normally heard Toyota’s philosophy described as the phrase “respect for people,” one of their two “equally important” pillars (along with continuous improvement). The original name, however, of the Toyota Production was simply the “Respect for Humanity” system. Peter Abilla (of the Shmula blog – now creator of a site that can help you find a math tutor and more) often reminds us that, during his time at Toyota, the phrase “respect for humanity” was used, not “respect for people.”
I think I’m starting to see the distinction in language. Respect for people means, in the lean sense, to respect each individual by challenging them to fulfill their potential. Respect for humanity means that we respect the inherent human nature in all people – people’s need to think and be creative and to participate in the workplace, not just being robots who follow a standard process without thinking.
As I thought about that, respecting people’s inherent human nature, I thought that the respect must include a respect for our inherent human fallibility. The patient safety movement makes this same point – since we’re human and we’re fallible, we can’t tolerate the design of systems that require us to never forget anything or never make mistakes.
On the next page, Managing to Learn explained that the foundation for this respect mindset is a “no-blame” culture, where people aren’t afraid to raise problems for fear of punishment or ridicule.There’s a good reason John Toussaint and ThedaCare worked to create a no-blame culture so that they could work together to reduce medical errors rather than have people cover them up out of fear.
A finer point is that this “no-blame culture” does not mean, as MTL says, “a culture of accepting problems that repeat without investigation, nor one that would tolerate excuses.” Jamie Flinchbaugh had a post recently that described this well, along with some good reader comments. Eric Ries, of the “Lean Startups” approach, also emphasized how important it is to not blame software developers for a problem, as that interferes with improvement.
“Respect for people” sounds simple and gets so easily misinterpreted. It doesn’t mean being soft or nice or easy on people. It means helping them be as successful as they can be.
To make the FTC happy, and because it’s the right thing to do, I disclose my employment relationship with LEI, producer of the workshop and publisher of the book.
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