Tom Ehrenfeld’s Lean Post from January 26, “6 Insights on How to Show Respect for People,” inspired this roundup of articles and posts specific to modeling this lean practice in Accounting and Finance. These articles demonstrate that showing respect for people in the workplace is as much a continuous improvement process as any other lean practice.
Create Structured Opportunities
In Katie Anderson’s May 8, 2018 article “Creating a culture of engagement, respect and customer service at a Japanese accounting firm,” she outlines the work an accounting firm has done to create a “great place to work” culture. The company established structured opportunities for employees to act and interact in ways that model respect. The morning meeting, or “chorei,” incorporates several activities that encourage observable, respectful habits, such as sharing praise from customers and recognizing colleagues for their contributions. Visuals in the workplace reinforce the morning meeting’s suggestions for how to show respect, reminding everyone to demonstrate respect throughout the day and week.
The CEO led this cultural change. He “had joined the company after working at a bank where he felt like there were higher levels of customer service. In contrast, at the accounting firm, people acted like “experts” where customers looked up to them, and the “experts” could treat the customers poorly.”
Katie wrote: “In the new culture, it wasn’t just good enough to be good with numbers, but [staff] also now needed to have customer service, great smiles, and a positive attitude.”
An insightful takeaway from Katie’s piece is that modeling respect for people is not just relevant but necessary in all types of organizations and functions – accounting included. Think about the accounting teams you know who put in 16-hour days to close the books (or deliver another key output) each month and who may experience daily frustration with internal and external customers and suppliers -- and even each other. How could incorporating structure, tools, and habits modeled around respect help these teams be their best at work and have the daily experience of “a great place to work?”
Share the Gains
“If Toyota has taught us only one thing, it is that the people doing the work are the people who best understand the problems and, as a result, are best able to find solutions to those problems. Thus, Toyota’s principle of ‘Respect for People.’” That statement is just one of the valuable insights in Orry Fiume’s May 4, 2017, post “Want to Respect Your People? Share the Profits!”
“When a company chooses to follow a lean strategy that embodies the “Respect for People” principle, what better way to put teeth into it than making everyone a partner in the business?
-- Orry Fiume
Here’s another: “When a company chooses to follow a lean strategy that embodies the “Respect for People” principle, what better way to put teeth into it than making everyone a partner in the business? Profit is good when everyone has a stake in improving it and an opportunity to share in it.”
Even if your organization doesn’t have the same opportunity to share monetary profits with employees, there is much to take away from Orry’s article. He outlines how sharing the organization’s financial success with employees models respect for people. Sharing company gains demonstrates the conviction that people count, a commitment to inclusivity, and a discipline around communication -- so employees understand the financial results and what that means for the company and them.
Whether or not your organization has the opportunity to share profits, how can these elements inspire thinking about meaningful ways to recognize everyone’s contributions to successful financial and operational results?
Deliver ‘Plain English’ Reports
One of the meaningful ways we, as accounting professionals, can model respect for people is by ensuring that the information we provide -- whether in the form of reports, analyses, etc. -- is clearly understood by the recipient. Jerry Solomon asserts this truism in his July 9, 2020, article “Lean Accounting is about Respect for People.”
He adds: “One aspect of [lean accounting] is to provide information in “Plain English,” so all associates can understand it and use it for decision making.” The end-users of the information that accounting provides must understand what it means so they can make decisions and take action that helps the company improve customer value and organizational results.
Accounting models respect for people by ensuring the information is designed with the end-user in mind and delivered in a timely fashion. In my organization, we in accounting and finance learned a great deal by simply asking report recipients, “how do you use this report to improve customer value?” and then using the responses to make improvements to report content, clarity, and timing.
Go and See Your Customers’ Work
In my two-part series on “What Finance Teams Can Learn from the Lean Practice of ‘Go See, Ask Why, Show Respect’” (Part 1, Part 2), I hope to bring to life how accounting leaders and teams can model respect by going to see not just within their own function but in the organization’s customer-facing operations as well. By building this habit, we support a culture of continuous learning where we can “learn from and with the people who do the work what is actually causing [a problem] so we can address it together.” Going to see the actual work done by the people who do it is essential to modeling respect for people because we’re “acknowledging that they understand the work better than you do, and you’re consistently modeling a blame-free approach to learning the truth about the process.”
Follow Through on Intentions
I conclude with Karyn Ross’ LinkedIn post on “Go See – Then Help!” It’s not specific to accounting but resonates because it underscores concisely and clearly that the actions we take to follow through on our intention of respect inform the other person’s experience of whether we showed respect. Modeling respect for people is not a “check the box” exercise – “I went to gemba this month, so I can check the box on my leader standard work board.” Nor is it a one-way street: “I observed that process so I could draw conclusions about the current condition.”
Modeling respect for people asks us to consider the mutual payoff of the action – in this case, “going to see” whether or how the other person benefited.
In Jim Womack’s words that Tom quoted in his post, “Only by showing mutual respect – each for the other and for each other's role – is it possible to solve problems, make work more satisfying, and move organizational performance to an ever-higher level.”