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Mike Rother

Mike Rother: Respect for People

By Mike Rother, - Last updated: Sunday, November 21, 2010 - Save & Share - Leave a comment

Question:  How do you define respect for people within the lean approach?

I think “respect for people” is often interpreted as be nice. I‘d like to comment on another perspective, as suggested by this illustration from Toyota Kata:

In studying Toyota I often got the impression that respect for people means that it’s disrespectful of people to not utilize their human capability to learn and to grow. That is, each person’s working day would ideally include some challenge, and each person is being taught a systematic way of meeting challenges.

I’m not suggesting that all of our work needs to be a challenge, nor that the challenge needs to be a big one, but simply that our working lives are more meaningful when a portion of the workday involves something we are striving for.

The recognition that work, and factory work in particular, is monotonous has a long history. Our efforts to counteract the monotony have often involved measures to provide more stimulating and interesting tasks that add variety to an employee’s daily routine — job enrichment — such as job rotation, small work groups and enlarging a team’s task. In the 1990’s this was often translated into declaring teams empowered, self-organizing and self-managing.

As a manufacturing researcher in the 1990’s I got to work with and observe a lot of empowered, self-organizing and self-managing teams. I was enamored with the concept, but in hindsight our results were pretty bad. After an initial burst of constructive activity, the weekly team meeting typically devolved into wide-ranging, free-form discussion after which everyone went back to their still-monotonous tasks. As far as I can tell it was not very satisfying for anyone and not much was achieved.

Today I think a little differently. I think a lot of work is monotonous by its nature and that there may not be much we can do to change that. Someone has to open the store at 8 AM. Someone has to take the parts off the machine every 20 seconds and put them in a box. Someone has to bolt a fender to a vehicle every 60 seconds. My current experiments don’t involve trying to change this, but rather they involve ensuring that in some portion of every workday, each person is involved in an effort to strive for a target condition related to their work.

Interestingly, the amount of challenge seems to be irrelevant. Perhaps it’s because what we enjoy the most are the PDCA cycles, I don’t know. Whether I am working on a big challenge or a small one, the feeling I get when I make progress toward it is the same. This little twist of psychology — that the degree of challenge doesn’t seem to matter much — opens the door to everyone having a challenge as part of their workday, as long as they also learn a routine, a kata, for how to achieve target conditions.

Mike

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