“You’re Not Developing Your People,” says Norman Bodek


By Norman Bodek, PCS Press

Note: This originally appeared recently on the NWLean email list. This is re-printed with Norman's permission. Consider it a preview of an upcoming LeanBlog Podcast.

I believe that Toyota has always wanted to make great automobiles in the most efficient way. To do that they develop their people by building their skills and capabilities; they focus on relentlessly eliminating the non-value adding wastes; and they improve the work environment for machines and for people. To have the most efficient manufacturing facility to compete with China and other low cost areas of the world you must fully automate your plants. Just look at what people are doing in the plant – those “boring, repetitive tasks.” What a terrible waste of human talent.

One of Toyota's main goals is to reduce the labor content – in essence they would love to have a fully automated factory without people assembling and running the machines. That is what productivity is all about being efficient and effective. But, and this is the big BUT, Toyota does not lay off people as they reduce waste and automate their plants. They uplift their workforce whereby every worker knows how to identify problems and eliminate them – in essence Toyota workers are all becoming engineers to improve the processes and make new automobiles.

Many years ago, I visited a FANUC plant in Japan and saw robots making robots. On the third shift the lights were out with only one engineer in the computer control room while robots were making robots. FANUC employees are all engineers and FANUC is probably the world's best manufacturer of sophisticated machines. And every employee of FANUC has lifetime employment.

Your problem is that you are not focusing on developing people. You are very happy to have people continue to do those “boring,” repetitive jobs.

Develop people to learn and build new skills every day. Challenge people to find and eliminate waste every single day. Let people learn from their own creative ideas.

I once published a book titled “Twenty Million Ideas in Forty Years at Toyota.” They were getting around 70 implemented ideas per employee per year. How many are you getting? How much time do you invest in developing your employees?

Ironically, Toyota comes to America to build cars and we go to Asia to build our products, and what is left over for American workers to do? I am not saying that we should not become global companies but we must, we must develop people for us to be internationally competitive in the long term. For as our high skill jobs leave to overseas what is left over for us to do with the undeveloped talent that we have?

There are seven classic wastes:

  1. Excess inventory
  2. Excess motion
  3. Waiting and watching machines or other people
  4. Over-processing or overproduction
  5. Wrong processing
  6. Defects – scrap. rework and inspection is actually a waste
  7. Transportation is a waste

I added two new ones:

8. Underutilized talents of every worker

9. Every manager recognizes and breaks through their resistance to change.

The manager should be identifying wastes and also be a catalyst to help people break through their resistance to change and eliminate those wastes.

Stop being an “obstacle” to change. As Dr. Shingo would always say “Do it!” You get a good idea, think it through, discuss it with others and then find a way to “DO IT!” – it is easy to find ways not to do it. Sure doing it might cause mistakes, but that is one of the only ways we learn is by making “misacts.”

I have been teaching companies Quick and Easy Kaizen for years and only a handful are doing it. Why not? The average company that does Quick and Easy Kaizen saves $4000 per year per employee and offers people a whole new way of looking at themselves with a new sense of dignity.

It is natural for people to resist change but breaking through that resistance is the only way to grow and a manager's primary job is to help people grow.

For further information, you might like to read my books The Idea Generator: Quick and Easy Kaizen and Kaikaku: The Power and Magic of Lean.

Wishing you the best,

Norman Bodek

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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. Mr. Bodek,
    I read your article on “A new way to become lean” in the August 2010 copy of S.M.E. Magazine. I was impressed with Taiichi Ohno’s 7 classic wastes. But the two you added are the ones that exactly describes my personal experience. I had to leave my brain at home and redesigned a part of equipment for the slitting industry. This unit completely eliminates offline setups for a leaner process, safety, and quality. I have obtained a U.S. patent and applying for a foreign patent as well.

    Best Regards,
    Jesus H. Sanchez
    Aurora, IL, U.S.A.


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