When it comes to lean, respect is an integral part of the system

Toyota Lean Continuous Improvement Respect

Written by Stephen Manley.
This article first appeared in the Pittsburgh Technology Council PGH Tech Fuse.

The two key Pillars of the Toyota Production System are defined as "Continuous Improvement" and "Respect." Over the years, tools, techniques and principles have been shaped, documented and attempted to be implemented to bring about Continuous Improvement to deliver previously unattainable performance outcomes.

Our workplace environment is so much more than the systems we have in place. The fuel we apply to these systems is what makes them function to the best of their ability or not. If you put the wrong fuel type into an engine - the engine will fail. Does this mean the engine doesn't work? Of course not. Yet, so many organizations approach Lean implementation this way.

So what about "respect?" How does this feature in a systematic implementation of a methodology such as Lean?

Lean is a humanistic approach. That must position respect front and centre, surely? This means we need to work with more than just behavious. Behaviors are the outcome of thinking. Thinking is what creates motivation (values + beliefs) - our motivation determines what we do and don't do - and to close the loop - our selected behaviors ultimately determine our results.

When implementing Lean systems they can transform our environment. This can support us in our day-to-day decision making (by stimulating our thinking differently) and action taking (behaviors) and therefore guide us to success (results). But even the implementation of the well-documented Lean system elements just isn't enough. They don't guarantee respect - the fuel that really makes it work.

In one of our clients - following an intensive Lean training program - they embarked upon trying to systematically implement what they had learned about through training. Policy deployment (Hoshin Kanri, if you prefer) was an obvious place to start as there was a need to set direction, align and engage their people in taking them towards their vision. From this, we supported a sequence of structured conversations and interactions which aimed to create engagement across the entire organization. The aim here was to create higher levels of engagement than what they'd previously achieved before Lean.

The next component of the system was to establish Visual Management Centers (VMC) so that teams could inform themselves of their winning/losing status which enabled them to take the right decisions to ensure they continued to play their part on contribution to organizational success.

Of course as the workplace became more visual, problems became apparent and priorities became clear - this increased the need for an established way to respond, which led to a structured problem solving approach being developed. Some of the environmental building-blocks were starting to go in place for Lean. From this - the priority areas for standardization, workplace organization and other elements became apparent. But still, this wasn't enough. Despite the logic of the system - this alone didn't guarantee the required uptake to make it a success. The engine was assembled, if you like, but all cylinders weren't firing yet.

As the activity rolled-out through the organizational layers, not only did it become more challenging as they got further away from the point of (vision) origin, but the number of people to engage in the activity dramatically increased as they got closer to the teams who execute the value added work - as defined in the eyes of the customer. Resistance increasingly became an obstacle. While some leaders met this challenge, some struggled to overcome it. Some leaders were working with these newly implemented elements, but were doing so in a way that was "controlling" rather than in a way that creates heightened engagement, for example. Others were resisting completely.

To counteract this - the next element, and the client now argues - the most important element of the system has been to provide coaching for leaders. This is the capability to help individuals discover their own way, through their own experience of their environment, to put the right fuel into the engine to make it work. This means helping individuals to work with and develop their own beliefs and values (thinking) and find a way of satisfying or expanding these - yet, ensuring there is minimal/no conflict in what is required of them to make Lean work. By engaging leaders and being prepared to respectfully understand and work with their thinking, we could help them to try something different (new behaviors) which ultimately are aligned to collective improved performance (results).

Notice how the coaching element approach ensures respect?

If the approach was one of not being prepared to understand and work with the individuals in the clients' organization, this human potential opportunity would have been missed.

Remember the 7 "+1" Wastes? The "+1" is there for a reason.

Are you working with the right system elements in your Lean implementation?


About the author - Stephen Manley is the Coaching Director at Spitfire, a consulting firm with a global reach across Europe, North America, Middle East & Africa. Stephen works with individuals, teams and organisations worldwide to achieve transformational change in thinking, behaviours and ultimately results. Get in touch to learn more LinkedIn

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