LeanBlog Podcast #91 – Dr. Stephen Covey on Respect for People and Lean



Episode #91 is a very special one-on-one conversation with Dr. Stephen Covey, recorded at the Shingo Prize Conference in Salt Lake City last week. My main question to Dr. Covey was to ask his thoughts on Toyota's “Respect for People” principle, sometimes called ‘Respect for Humanity.” You can listen to the audio or you can read a transcript below in this post.

After the chat with Dr. Covey, I share a few thoughts at the end of the podcast about Dr. Covey's work and Lean, along with a little background about the interview and my personal reaction to speaking with him.

A partial transcript of the conversation:

Mark Graban: The one question I would ask for your thoughts on is Toyota's principle of “respect for people,” or often referred to as “respect for humanity.” Could you share some thoughts on the importance of respect in workplace, what does that really mean?

Dr. Covey: I think that it's of profound importance because it means you are caring and you trust them to do the right thing.

Mark: You were talking earlier about the industrial model and trust seems to not come with that.

Dr. Covey: It doesn't come with that. And the industrial model is obsolete. You know, the supervision is command and control, it's top down. There's such co-dependency about it.

Mark: So we have a situation maybe where we have to convince the industrial world that this industrial model is…

Dr. Covey: … is obsolete. But it's hard to do that because they're so used to it… kissing up to the hierarchy.

Mark: Have you been able to visit with Toyota?

Dr. Covey: I have. I was with the President of Toyota in Japan. We were walking in the plant and he said, “Any person in this plant can close the line down if he can show to the others that would improve quality and lower cost.”

Mark: And so there's a trust inherent in that?

Dr. Covey: Definitely, and it tells you also about the culture. If he can show to the others…

Mark: It's very exciting to have you participate in the Shingo Prize conference and to share your message with the Lean community. What are your hopes, with your professorship at Utah State, to try to help influence…

Dr. Covey: Yes, and also I am very appreciative of that opportunity with Utah State. And I think that the Shingo Prize is one to be really sought after and to be won. It's very significant. But I think that in the next few years it will be knowledge-worker age companies that will win the Shingo Prize, because they are developing and empowering their people.


Thank you to Bob Miller, the Executive Director of the Shingo Prize, to Steve von Niederhausern, the Director of Marketing and Communications, and to Michael Ockey, who works for Dr. Covey and FranklinCovey for their help in lining up the time with Dr. Covey and for helping me prepare. I'm going to have a separate podcast discussion with Bob on his thoughts about Lean and Dr. Covey's work.

One of the conference attendees, an executive from a major corporation told me how they have given every manager the Covey training each year for the last 15 years. This leader thinks that leadership training has been the key to their success with Lean.

What are your experiences with Dr. Covey and his teachings? Do you see it as a core component of Lean, a helpful add-on, or fairly irrelevant? What do you think of the partnership between Dr. Covey and the Shingo Prize?

For earlier episodes, visit the main Podcast page, which includes information on how to subscribe via RSS or via Apple Podcasts.

If you have feedback on the podcast, or any questions for me or my guests, you can email me at leanpodcast@gmail.com or you can call and leave a voicemail by calling the “Lean Line” at (817) 993-0630 or contact me via Skype id “mgraban”. Please give your location and your first name. Any comments (email or voicemail) might be used in follow ups to the podcast.

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  1. Ron Pereira says

    Did he say something after “Definitely, and it tells you also about the culture. If he can show to the others…”? You seemed to cut him off.. or maybe the audio was garbled and you had to edit it out?
    .-= Ron Pereira ´s last blog ..The Most Important Aspect of Kaizen =-.

  2. Mark Graban says

    Ron – Dr. Covey was repeating his previous comment about demonstrating to the others about quality and cost. As I edited out some gaps before my next questions (a second or two that doesn’t like that long in real life, but sounds really long in a podcast), I may have edited my next question a little close to the end of his answer trailing off. I didn’t want to leave the impression I interrupted him!

  3. Ron Pereira says

    I see. No worries… I was just curious to know what he said. Great job being Johnny on the spot with the voice recorder!

  4. […] Dr. Stephen Covey on Respect for People and Lean (LeanBlog) […]

  5. Niels Fester says

    I have trained lean practitioners for years, and always felt that we were missing something. I added training modules based on Covey ´s 7 values beginning 2010 to my lean classes and my students have been so pleased about Lean and Covey ´s principles hand in hand. The two just go so nice together. Then your interview with Dr. Covey suddenly pops up out of the blue .. this is only the beginning … thank you !

  6. […] Dr. Stephen Covey on Respect for People and Lean dal Lean Blog di Mark Graban: Il Podcast con la spiegazione del rispetto delle persone nelle parole di Stephen Covey (traduzione automatica) […]

  7. Ann Svendsen says

    This is so interesting, here in Denmark we finally see a change in focus from Lean Tools to Lean Leadership. However this is only a beginning, as long as top management does’t understand that Lean IS about respect for people – we as teachers and consultants have an important task in our way of working and teaching.

  8. Sue Nagle says

    HI Mark,

    Interesting interview. Thanks for sharing at the sad event of Covey’s death – was glad to see it pop up on my LinkedIn News.


  9. Steve Crate says

    I was involved with a Lean Six Sigma initiative that focused primarily of the metrics of value stream mapping and eliminating waste. But the underlying message, which never was fully articulated was that if we have too many people doing a particular task, then the people become the waste. I am sure managers would never admint this, but with the advances of technology more jobs can be done with less people. How are we going to employ people in the future. We still need to listen, understand and empower our citizens through our workforce development systems. Lean thinking must include respect for people.

    1. Mark Graban says

      I agree, there is too much use of Lean tools in a top down, command and control (or even bullying) style. This isn’t really Lean if “respect for people” is not involved. That’s what I’ve dubbed “L.A.M.E.”:


  10. […] the Toyota Production System. Command and control is outdated (forgive the name dropping here, but the late Stephen Covey said as much when I interviewed him a few years back). As it says in this book […]

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