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A Section from "The Continuous Improvement Development Guide"

Volume 2: Committing >

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Show Respect for People (Principle)

Basic Section Information

Spend any time around Lean, or any other continuous improvement methodology, for that matter, and you will undoubtedly hear the term “Respect for People.” It is a simple concept that should act as a moral compass in how people do business.

The fact is that a company does not have to be respectful of its employees and customers in order to be successful. Some can treat their workers and clients with disdain and a lack of respect and still remain profitable…for a while, at least. In the end, it turns out that being respectful is not only the right thing to do, but is also good for business.

Search the internet, and you will find a plethora of studies that show that last statement to be true. Companies that are on Fortune Magazine’s “Best Places to Work” list outperform other companies. A 2008 by study Alex Edmans of Wharton showed the BPTW companies averaged a 13.9% return vs. 6.1% for the broader market from 1998 to 2006. Sears conducted a study which went even further and linked employee satisfaction to customer satisfaction, and ultimately a tangible increase in profitability.

The short of it is that if you treat people right, the bottom line rewards you. Plus, most people will sleep better at night knowing that they improved the lives of the people they work with rather than simply harvest production from them.

Unfortunately, though, the actual application of the term “respect for people” can be less than perfect. Leaders can feel pressure that makes them act in ways that put short term gains first. Or, they might simply not know a better way to do business.

But fortunately, a continuous improvement system has proven time and time again to be a great way to build a culture that values the contributions of the members of its team and strengthens the organization as a result.


NOTE: This document draws extensively from our Respect for People term.

Before diving into this principle, make sure you have begun integrating the preceding principles from this volume into your culture.

Section Details

Estimated Time for Section: Ongoing

Incorporating this principle into your culture is going to be an ongoing battle. It is hard to measure and easy to backslide. You should shoot for some immediate progress on the simpler aspects (i.e. communication, setting clear standards with daily management, etc.), but you’ll be adding more ways to show respect throughout the first 3-4 phases of your journey (through ‘Foundation Building’).

Difficulty: High

This principle is particularly hard because respect is such a vague term. It is also one that generates huge emotions. People who feel disrespected get activated quickly, as do those who are accused of being disrespectful. Early progress, though, in less controversial areas will make later advances easier.

Risk: High.

Getting respect wrong derails the teamwork that is critical for many of the later pillars of a business management system. Be careful about underestimating this principle.


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Lean Lego Flow Simulation

Detailed Section Information

There are two primary problems that drive a lack of respect for people. The first is that management views people as an expense rather than an investment. This basic mindset leads to using people up rather than building them up. Consider the way people tend to treat rental properties (expense) vs. a home that they own (investment). Obviously, there is a flaw in this analogy in that people are not property, but the key idea I want to stress is the idea of commitment to the long haul as opposed to simply using a person to meet short term gains.

The second primary problem is that management sees themselves as fundamentally different from workers. This rift may be based on a perception of skills. It might be based on an assumption that they have earned a distinction. Or it might simply be habit. Regardless, if there is an “us versus them” mentality, it is hard to show respect in either direction.

While respect for people is important in all relationships, in the context of Lean, it is most often used synonymously with ‘respect for employees’. This article deals primarily with that aspect of it, but it is also important to show similar respect to customers, investors, lenders, vendors, leaders, and anyone else who comes into contact with the business.

In those sorts of situations, though, the power structure in place tends to push for respectful behavior. Treat a customer disrespectfully, and they will take their business elsewhere. Treat a manager disrespectfully, and you may find yourself looking for a job.

So, because those groups are generally self-policing, let’s focus on employees. Keep in mind, though, that a manager wears two hats. While he is in charge of his team, he also has a boss who is in charge of him. He can suffer the symptoms of a disrespectful work environment, just as an employee can.

People are motivated by a variety of things. Some are intrinsically motivated, and act the way they do because of a deep-seated belief system. Others tend to be more extrinsically motivated, and…

The rest of this section is only available as part of a premium product.

This information is only available in our premium version of this section of our practical guide to continuous improvement.

  • Don’t try to fake respect if you are a boss. Your team will see right through you, and will feel even more disrespected than if you had not even tried.
  • Don’t apply your own interpretation to situations that affect your team members. Ask them what they are thinking so you don’t start from a faulty assumption.

The rest of this section is only available as part of a premium product. Individual and corporate licenses are available below.

Mastery of respecting people is not an event, but rather an evolution. There is no imaginary line that says whether you are respectful or not. In fact, in any relationships, there are moments where one party or the other acts in a disrespectful way. Because of competing demands, outside stressors, and a host of other factors, people sometimes have to make choices that seem disrespectful. The key is to…

The rest of this section is only available as part of a premium product. Individual and corporate licenses are available below.

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