Why is "Respect for People" missing so often?


I got a couple of reader emails last week that prompted me to think about Lean and the Toyota Way principle of “respect for people.” Whether it's a supposedly “Lean” environment or not, why is true “respect” so often missing?

In one case, a major manufacturing company (one that touts their Lean and Six Sigma efforts) did the following to machinists in one division:

  • Management announced some parts/components were going to be produced in Mexico, instead of the U.S.
  • The factory sent some machinists to train their replacements and help set up the new shop.
  • The machinists now spend time “reworking 50% of what comes from the Mexico factory” before final assembly is done in the U.S, factory.
  • The machinists assume that eventually ALL production will be moved to Mexico.

In what ways (and how many ways) do those actions violate the Toyota “respect for people” principle? Would you even consider a company that does these sorts of things to be working on “Lean” or can we call it “Half Lean” because they're not focused on respect for people? I don't know if we can even call it “Half Lean” since I'm not sure if they're even reducing waste, overall (and eliminating waste is the other pillar of the Toyota Way).

In the second example, a hospital reader says they are starting to work on Lean, but the environment is full of fear. People are afraid of autocratic, snap decisions from administrative and medical leaders. The CEO, when walking through the idea, barks orders and makes snap decisions based on a quick observation. They are afraid that changes they are making will be “undone” by an autocratic leader. The team is trying to use data and analysis, but leaders aren't setting that example for them.

In what ways do those practices violate the “respect for people” principle? Seems like the hospital leadership needs Lean training, not just the “workers” right?

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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. To me, it’s as simple as this – the pursuit of profit without looking in the mirror. The mirror shows me – and if I’m the leader, and I don’t recognize that I’m part of the problem, instead of the solution, I may do things that are good for me, but not good for the people in the organization. The autocratic executive thinks he has all the answers, and doesn’t want to hear from the people who do the work day in and day out. The profit-chasing executive sees a lower wage rate elsewhere, and wants to be a hero with his boss by moving work there. All they see in the mirror is a guy who’s right. And if he’s right all the time, he shouldn’t waste his time listening to anyone else. Sad, but unfortunately, all too common.

  2. Why is moving a plant not showing respect for people? What if they had moved a plant from say, Ohio to Michigan?

    Why automatically point fingers at top management? Could it be a case that the machinists who did the training did a poor job of this?

    What is wrong with pursuit of higher profits? What has happened to manufacturers who haven’t been successful at improving profits?

  3. I think moving the plant is a separate issue. If that is indeed the “profit maximizing” decision, then so be it, but many companies do the analysis incorrectly (only considering direct labor costs or underestimating quality or shipping/supply chain costs).

    The part of moving the plant that seems to not show “respect for people” (to me) is the idea of being forced to train your replacement. That just seems cruel. This happens a lot in I.T. (here’s an Indian programmer who is visiting… teach him/her your job so we can outsource it to them at a cheaper rate).

    Put yourself in the shoes of the person who is forced to train their replacement… how would you feel about that?

    If management wants to move the factory, they should find a more realistic and humane way of training the new employees. Why would the displaced employee have an incentive to do anything other than the bare minimum required to not get fired or screwed out of their severance package?

    In any case, the machinists doing a “poor job of training” would be top management’s responsibility, in my mind, since management can create an environment where quality work can be done, or management can be responsible for training the employees on HOW to train (probably not something that was a core skill of theirs as a machinist).

    Those are some of the “respect for people” elements that I see (or didn’t see) in this case.

  4. What is the basic principle of Lean? The two pillars, Respect for People and Continuous Improvement.

    IF (and that may be a big IF) the employees are willing to (or have already) taken on the effort to eliminate waste through continuous improvement, it would be incredibly disrespectful to move the factory. The same can be said for “immediate profit chasing” at the expense of long-term profit enhancement. If I can make the desired profit, why wouldn’t I do it in my own backyard, rather than in someone else’s backyard?

    China is quickly becoming an example of this. How many of our companies chased immediate profit to China, but are now seeing higher Chinese labor rates, devalued US dollar (higher Chinese cost of goods sold) and higher quality issues (with more stock affected by those issues)?

    Had those companies pursued continuous improvement in their domestic facilities, with respect for “those who really know” – called operators – they could have reduced costs, saved jobs, improved quality, and satisfied customer requirements more effectively.

    Alternatively, if ALL employees (managers and operators alike) don’t “get on board” and truly attempt to live by those pillars, waste won’t be eliminated, costs won’t lower, and quality won’t improve. Then no one has the right to complain, as all had a hand in losing the factory to another locale.

    That is one of the difficulties I’ve seen in past experiences. Those 30-40 year employees are so set in their ways that they refuse to change (at any and all levels in an organization). The newer employees risk losing everything because their senior coworkers refuse to improve. They all fully believe THEIR job won’t move…right up until the moving trucks back up to the loading dock and they get a severance check with the door locked behind them.

    Respect is a two-way street. Sometimes we forget that…

  5. a hospital reader says they are starting to work on Lean, but the environment is full of fear. People are afraid of autocratic, snap decisions from administrative and medical leaders.

    Like preparing the soil for planting, you need to create the right environment to initiate successful change, and this isn’t it.

    Management arrogance is an epidemic in America. Too many people go into management because they have a personality type with a need to autocratically dominate others.

    Vast salary differentials for corporate bureaucrats don’t help, either. (Most of them aren’t worth it — they’re pulling in huge compensation not because of unique talent but organizational politics). Executives who make dozens or hundreds of times more than their front-line employees convince themselves they are ‘worth it’ because they are briliantly omniscient and don’t need to listen to anyone making $15/hour. Or their insecurity over maintaining their huge compensation leads them to compulsively ‘do something’ to look busy (“barks orders”), to give a shallow surface impression of being effective.

    One vital aspect of Lean that I keep recalling, which is sadly rare, is the quote posted from Gary Convis of Toyota USA, “My greatest challenge would be ‘to lead the organization as if I had no power.’ In other words, shape the organization not through the power of will or dictate, but rather through example, through coaching and through understanding and helping others to achieve their goals.”

    I wouldn’t exactly call this zen-like, but it bespeaks a humility and absence of egotism that is extremely rare in American management. Arrogance, egotism, fear and autocracy are killers of Lean.

  6. deanbliss..”the pursuit of profit without looking in the mirror”…I think some of the most obnoxiously-managed organizations in America are in fact *non-profit* organizations…various “think tanks,” trade associations, and many universities.

  7. Respect for people isn’t just a principle at Toyota. It’s one of two core values…a pillar, true, as you say. But it’s more than a guiding belief. And the other pillar, the other core value, is not eliminating waste. It’s continuous improvement. Nowhere in the actual Toyota Way documentation is that actually a principle. The two pillars are respect for people and continuous improvement. There are five guiding principles underneath those. Three under continuous improvement are Challenge, Genchi Genbutsu, and Kaizen. Two under respect for people are respect and teamwork.

    There are also two pillars to TPS…jidoka and JIT.

    The test of a core value is simply this: you must rather take a market hit and be penalized than abandon it. If it changes under adverse conditions, it’s not a core value. It’s a strategy.

    These aren’t just semantic differences. At least not inside Toyota.


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