The question “What is the key to successful Lean Implementation?” is often asked of us. The answer is simply yet, the toughest part of Lean to grasp. In fact it is often the one part many experts try to leave out. It is Respect for people that Ohno placed as the central pillar of the Toyota Production System.
Why is Respect for People so Important?
Well let us first look at the other two pillars of their production system. One pillar involves the achievement of Just in Time, but we all know that there will and are times it won’t happen, despite our best efforts. Additionally ever competitor can gain the same level of Just in Time that you attain, therefore it will never be a lasting competitive advantage. The other outside pillar deals with issues like quality, and production improvements. However it will again never matter how good you do in any of these, their benefits will at best be temporary, and a vast array of thing could happen to shift your relative position in any factor, back in favour of your competition. Thus it cannot sustain you any lasting advantage, either.
Now let us look at the often ignored central pillar Respect for People. It is the one part of the TPS model that can actually compensate for weaknesses in the other two. If done very well it can in fact become strong enough to maintain your company through the collapse of either of the other two pillars temporarily. How can this be?
Well if you consider respect as a noun, then the reality is that it cannot be grown or built; however respect is one of those words whose original meaning was a verb. It is the action of respect that builds the central pillar and earns those who do so the growth and strength in that key central support, which can overcome anything.
If respect is taken as its verb type, it becomes an action which people can choose to do or not do. By actively show respect to others you will eventually gain their respect in return. The beauty is that neither party ever actually talks about it. It simply shows up when needed most.
Whenever people are shown respect the person or organization that shows the respect earns a given amount of respect back, overtime a positive relationship develops. At this point the people you have been showing respect to no longer react negatively on any small issue, in fact as long as they see that you a trying to do your best for them, they will tolerate occasional problems after all no one is perfect.
Additionally if this is a customer, not only does your competition have to be able to deliver as good a product or service, but they also have to be able to deliver it at a price dramatically below yours. Why would someone switch from a good relationship unless it was really worth their while? They wouldn’t, in fact overtime respect, becomes loyalty, when this happens it is often nearly impossible for a competitor to dislodge your customers, your employees, or your investors (I would suggest the book Loyalty Effect).
Respect for People is the central pillar because it is the one pillar that can actually create Loyalty. Loyalty is something every great company or nation thrives on. It can give an organization a level of stability, it can count on, and only it can destroy it, nothing any competitor can do will ever touch it.
So Why is Respect for People Key to Lean Implementation?
Lean is a serious of human efforts to make just minor improvements; it is a journey that never ends. So the first reason is that you need the sustained effort of all your people to actually get anywhere.
Lean is about creating value for customers. Respect is something people place value on, and no organization can actually respect its customers and the end consumers, if it does not first respect it own people.
Human relationships are the only lasting type of competitive advantage, any product, process, tool, or piece of equipment can either be bought for a price, or a better version or substitute could be designed. Loyalty is the biggest competitive advantage you can ever earn, but to do earn it takes showing respect in everything you do.
So for these three reasons alone Respect for People has to be the key to successful Lean Implementation.