Respect for people sure sounds great. And most of us have plenty of experience with organizations that dis-respect people continuously (both employees and customers). So what does respect for people mean at the core? For me:
A system that lets people take joy in work and fixes root causes instead of finding people to blame.
A huge part of the disrespect shown by companies to employees is through direct action. But another huge part is forcing people to deal with horribly bad processes that just haven’t been fixed. Most TSA employees have to feel horrible about what they are being required to do. This will often then result in them lashing out in other ways (because they try to hide from those feelings [no-one wants to consciously go to work everyday knowing what they are doing is counter to their core beliefs] – but in doing so they just deflect the feelings into other places). Dealing with these bad processes drives employees crazy year after year.
For me creating a climate where people can take pride in what they do everyday is the key. It isn’t being “nice” to everyone. What matters is providing a workplace where intrinsic motivation flourishes. Eliminating bad practices (paying attention to HiPPO instead of the best idea, huge amounts of paperwork instead of productive action, inflexible and overly prescriptive policies, not trusting employees, providing managers that don’t know how to manage people, embarrassing employees in from of others…) is necessary but insufficient.
Beyond eliminating bad practices though we need to provide a climate where people can flourish. This requires providing meaningful work (people need to know how they contribute, how what they do fits into providing value). Providing managers that know how to manage people is a huge step in the right direction, but often the systems to promote people have little success at selecting those that will excel in this area.
Another practice to respect people, is to give them the training and resources to do what you ask them to do. It isn’t respectful to expect people to take heroic action to overcome the companies poor practices. I can go on and on, and do in my posts about respect for people.
Related: The Two Pillar of the Toyota Way: continuous improvement and respect for people – Hire People You Can Trust to Do Their Job
One big problem I see is people turning “respect” into accepting whatever anybody does. It is dis-respectful to create a culture where no issues are addressed out of fear of someone maybe being uncomfortable. People should be expected to excel. When the process is failing the process needs to be examined and improve so people do excel.