Challenges to "Respect for People"?


    UAW, Toyota workers to talk

    We often talk about Toyota and “respect for people” as one of their main pillars. I'm sure most of us paint a pretty idealistic picture of Toyota when we talk to others:

    • Safety and Quality are priorities (The Toyota Way says the company “never” would prioritize production numbers over safety)
    • Employees are listened to and respected, are involved in problem solving
    • Toyota is non-union (in the U.S., with the exception of NUMMI) because they have paid and treated their employees fairly

    Now the UAW challenges that — and tries once again to get Georgetown (TMMK) represented by the union. Of course the UAW will try to paint a picture that it's an awful place to work (to meet their goal of unionization), so we have to take all of this with a grain of salt. We also have to take it with a grain of salt that Toyota is “perfect” — they're not, they are human. Their managers are human, they won't ever live up to the Toyota Way principles 100% of the time.

    A Toyota spokesman said:

    “The UAW has been trying to organize this plant for over 20 years, so it's not surprising that they're continuing to make efforts in the area,” Sieger said. “For 20 years, the majority of our team members have believed there is no need for third-party representation in our plant.”

    The UAW has made little headway in organizing workers at Toyota plants or any of the U.S.-based plants run by Nissan Motor Co., Honda Motor Co. or Hyundai Motor Co. Toyota has 14 manufacturing plants in North America, and the only UAW plant among them is a joint venture in California with General Motors Corp.

    In 2001, Nissan workers in Smyrna, Tenn., rejected union representation with about two-thirds voting against the measure.

    The union says:

    “Where you have a company that's pushing hard — and that is the heart of the Toyota system — workers' concerns can get ignored in how things are managed,” Shaiken said.

    Toyota certainly pushes hard for improvement — but is that necessarily bad for workers? Is Toyota pushing individuals harder than they can be pushed?

    The Free Press had a story on the meeting:

    John Sparks, an eight-year employee at the plant, said he was concerned about injured workers being branded as trouble makers and the increased use of temporary employees.

    “No one can fake a surgery,” he said. “Tools break down and so do people.”

    UAW representation doesn't mean the end to all problems. When I was at GM, the workers obviously had UAW representation and that didn't prevent the poor treatment that the old “mass production” management system brought, including bad management, abusive yelling and screaming, and inattention to quality.

    I'd be curious to know the inside story on Toyota and the treatment of injured workers. The UAW claims that injured workers are fired and that temp workers aren't given the same respect and benefits of full time workers. I'd like to know what somebody without the obvious union organizing goal has to say about how Toyota treats their workers.

    I don't mean for this to be a pro/anti-union debate, but I think it's healthy to examine the reality of the Toyota promise of “respect for people.” I'm not expecting Toyota to be 100%, but how do they respond when someone acts outside of the “respect for people” realm?

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    Mark Graban
    Mark Graban is an internationally-recognized consultant, author, and professional speaker, and podcaster with experience in healthcare, manufacturing, and startups. Mark's new book is The Mistakes That Make Us: Cultivating a Culture of Learning and Innovation. He is also the author of Measures of Success: React Less, Lead Better, Improve More, the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, and the anthology Practicing Lean. Mark is also a Senior Advisor to the technology company KaiNexus.


    1. Respect for people is certainly an important principle of the Toyota Way. However as this post ( notes on the subject:
      “Ohno was absolutely ruthless, employees and suppliers lived in fear of him.” So clearly then Ohno could have benefited from application of the following:

      > Listen to what others have to say before expressing your viewpoint.
      > Treat people the same no matter their race, religion, gender, size, age, or country of origin.
      > Praise much more frequently than you criticize.

      I think that Jon here ( gets it spot-on when he says:

      I wonder if respect for people isn’t just a euphemism for development of people



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