TL;DR – The two pillars of the Toyota Way are: respect for people and continuous improvement.
One of the big reasons my career followed the path it did (into management improvement) was due to the impact of respect for people. My father was a professor (in statistics, engineering and business) and consulted with organizations to help them achieve better results. To achieve results he took advantage of the gains possible when using statistical tools to manage with respect for people.
Managing Our Way to Economic Success: Two Untapped Resources, 1986: “American organizations could compete much better at home and abroad if they would learn to tap the potential information inherent in all processes and the creativity inherent in all employees.”
After he died, for years, people would talk to me about the difference he made in their lives (at conferences mainly). Other than those with PhD’s in statistics (of which there were many, but a very small number compared to all the others) the thing that made a difference was respect for people. Those who chose to talk to me are obviously a self selected group. But of those, the people that made the largest impact on me basically said he talked to me as though everything I said mattered. He didn’t talk down to me. He helped me see how I could help improve: the organization and my own skills and abilities.
This didn’t happen 5 times or 10 times of 20 times, it happened many more times than that. Year after year of this helped push me to stick with management improvement. These served as a great incentive to perserve as I ran into the typical difficulties actually improving management systems.
The senior executives he talked to were not very impressed that he spoke to them with respect. So none mentioned that with awe, but a few did notice that he was able to connect with everyone – the senior executives, nurses, people on the factory floor, secretaries, salespeople, front line staff, engineers, janitors, middle managers, doctors, union leaders. The senior executives were more likely to be impressed by the success and his technical ability and knowledge as well as communication skill. Doctors, statisticians and engineers were more impressed with knowledge, technical skill, skill as a teacher and advice.
A few of the senior executives talked about how their lives changes from dreading work to one where they enjoyed going into work: they could effectively work on systems to let their people flourish which was much more rewarding and much less stressful. But really their stories, by and large, were not as heartfelt as those who talked as though his respect and belief in them, let them see that they could do much more and have a career that they never would have had otherwise.
My focus is more on results. I value changing the system to build the capability of the enterprise. As part of that, I realize, it is important to create a system that at its core respects people. Dad’s work made a big difference to people by improving the management system within which they worked, but what they remembered was the face to face respect he showed to everyone.
The two pillars of the Toyota Way are: respect for people and continuous improvement. I hear over and over that lean manufacturing (which is just a name given to Toyota’s management system) can only work for manufacturing. What is it about a management system build on continuous improvement and respect for people that isn’t compatible with knowledge work (or any other type of work)?
Are some of the detailed tools, and practices, that Toyota developed for their manufacturing plants going to be less useful in other domains? Yes. Sill, most any organization would benefit greatly by learning about lean management practices and adapting the ideas to their organization.
Some reject the idea of using lean manufacturing in their workplace. They see themselves as creative and innovative. They see lean manufacturing as acceptable for those people in manufacturing plants but far too limiting for themselves. This attitude often stems from their lack of respect for people it seems to me (as well as an outdated idea of what goes on in manufacturing environments today). Mark Graban discussed this issue in a recent podcast. I agree with Mark’s thoughts that lean is useful for manufacturing plants and elsewhere, including health care.
Based on the sum of the comments they make they basically seem to be saying lean is fine for unthinking workers, but we have more creative and innovative workers so it won’t work here (do they want something other than respect for workers? worker autonomy or something?). Well those people don’t understand the basic fundamentals of lean. Lean is a management system that respects everyone. Lean is designed to have everyone contribute. Lean is designed to have people use their brain while they are at work. I don’t see anything about lean’s respect for workers that is unworkable for knowledge workers. Today, many in manufacturing workplaces are knowledge workers and it is disrespectful to think manufacturing employees are not.
My father, and I, are more focused Deming’s ideas first, but lean is a close second in my view. Lean, done well, is essentially taking Deming’s ideas though the implementation of Toyota. I think lean misses and de-emphasizes some important things, but lean also provides some additional support structure and tools and practices that are useful.
Doing More with Less in the Public Sector A Progress Report from Madison, Wisconsin 1986 by William Hunter, Jan O’Neill and Carol Wallen. Dr. Deming included a short article by Bill Hunter on the efforts at the City of Madison in his classic book: Out of the Crisis. He wouldn’t have called those efforts “lean thinking” but the tools and thinking and philosophy is very much consistent what good lean manufacturing people today are saying (Jon Miller, Mark Graban, Kevin Meyer…[see more lean… bloggers]).