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Art Smalley

Art Smalley: Respect for People

By Art Smalley, - Last updated: Friday, November 12, 2010 - Save & Share - Leave a comment

About a decade ago Toyota simplified its philosophy down to the two pillars mentioned – continuous improvement and respect for people. It is true that you won’t find much written about “respect for people” but that is not to say that Toyota does not emphasize the concept in some obvious ways. The roots for the concept inside Toyota at least date back to Sakichi Toyoda’s founding precepts in the 1930’s or earlier depending upon the version.

I think it is worth pointing out that the TWI training that Toyota implemented in the early 1950’s from the United States after World War II also included some practical advice on both the importance of respect for people and the skill of how to handle people and problems at work.

There are also some importance cultural aspects of “respect for people” that I think relate to the Japanese culture regarding how groups interact with one another which influenced Toyota’s thinking on this topic.

Regardless of the various influences here are a few things that stick out in my mind regarding respect for people and how it was practiced inside of Toyota. In reality there was no handbook for doing this sort of thing so the list is just my own subjective set of experiences and interpretations.

  1. The first part about respect for people means providing a safe working environment. Toyota has a very good track record with regards to worker safety in Japan and other countries I visited. A very large emphasis was placed upon making processes safe for workers and this resonates with all employees. Toyota was not perfect in this regard but it did a lot of good things in this dimension.
  2. The second part of the equation was creating a clean work environment and this required some discipline on the part of both employees and management. I won’t elaborate on the practice of 5S but adhering to the basis of this process helped to create a situation where things were organized and maintained properly. People prefer to work in a clean well organized work site and Toyota went to great lengths to practice this discipline.
  3. The third part of the equation pertains to quality. Allowing employees to make bad parts or forcing them to sort and rework defective items is both wasteful and a morale killer. Fixing quality problems at their point of origin and preventing those from recurring is a way to take care of the customer and practice respect for employees.
  4. The fourth item on my list may sound controversial as it pertains to productivity and utilization of resources. At first this may sound like a recipe for “over working” people and you must guard against what Toyota calls Muri or unreasonable burdens placed upon people. However the real danger is under utilizing people. That is where equally serious damage occurs. Toyota strives to make sure that under a 60 second takt time the production employee has very close to 60 seconds of work. Similarly in the office a staff person with eight hours of time will have very close to eight hours of work. Senior staff will generally have greater loads of work placed upon them due to capability and experience. In either case wasting employee time implies a lack of respect and poor planning by all involved.
  5. The fifth item of my list pertains to development of employee talent over time. Respect for people means developing their latent skills in both on the job and off the job training. It is easy to invest money in new technology, software, or equipment. It takes time, effort, and planning to invest in employee skills development. Canned training programs and Powerpoint slide presentations do not do the job.
  6. Respect for people also means having a constructive dialogue during employee performance reviews. A thorough and candid discussion regarding strengths and areas for improvement shows honesty, sincerity, and respect for people.
  7. Finally asking people to improve their work and giving them the tools to do it (e.g. Kaizen) shows the ultimate form of respect in my opinion. In other words management is saying that we trust and expect that you will take a hand in making things better in order to ensure our survival. The implied message is one of mutual trust and respect.

I could add more to the list but these are the starting items for my personal list. I don’t think there is anything that unique or even original on the list. In reality the difficulty is not in voicing the items but in putting them to practice in a meaningful manner.

I also think that while Toyota practices “respect for people” I really think this concept is a two way street. Through respecting the employee Toyota also ensures that the employee in return respects the company and also the customer. The system is not perfect by any means but it gets a lot more right than it gets wrong.

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