Respect For People

By Lauri Owen, Lean Specialist

Most often when organizational leaders are drawn to Lean it is because of its demonstrated ability to reduce cost and improve the quality and timeliness of products and services through continuous improvement. But “continuous improvement” is only one of the two foundational pillars of the Lean management system. The other, “respect for people”, is often neglected or overlooked entirely by organizations implementing Lean.

World-class Lean organizations understand that the goal is not to implement a bunch of Lean tools to improve processes. Instead, it is to develop all employees into Lean thinkers so that they can use Lean tools to continuously improve. While it sounds nuanced, this view makes all the difference.

When you walk into an organization that is successfully using Lean management to demonstrate respect for people, it feels very different from those most of us are used to. We need only compare some characteristics of a traditionally managed organization with a truly Lean one to begin to understand why.

Traditional Organization

Lean Organization

Employees have limited ability to make improvements or influence change Employees know the goals, are taught Lean fundamentals, and empowered to solve problems
Managers are expected to solve all of the problems which leads to overburden and fire-fighting Managers train and coach employees to use Lean fundamentals to solve problems and reach goals

Leaders of truly Lean organizations demonstrate respect for people by setting what the vision and improvement goals are, then by coaching staff to determine the details of how we get there. Staff is then empowered to surface barriers and identify ideas for improvement. Managers help to remove obstacles and to coach staff to improve the process. By working in this way, all together, problems are resolved and goals are achieved.

Conversely, traditional organizations often find themselves with frustrated staff, burnt-out managers, and frustrated customers. The key, then, to becoming a world-class organization that is continuously improving is to first demonstrate respect for people by setting clear direction and expectations and providing a safe and encouraging environment where employees are given the time and support to work together to solve problems.

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