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Intentional Respect

by Mike Orzen
July 7, 2015

Intentional Respect

by Mike Orzen
July 7, 2015 | Comments (4)

Change is hard – we all know that – and ignoring the element of respect for people makes engagement and lasting change practically impossible.

Most of us are familiar with the Toyota Production System House, with its two pillars of Kaizen and Jidoka, but the model that resonates more deeply with many is The Toyota Way House as you can see below. This is certainly the case for me, and I’ve been reflecting on why this is.

Here’s a thought: the Toyota Way model suggests a relationship between the technical and social sides of a lean transformation that we intuitively know to be true.


On the left side is continuous improvement or kaizen, and here where most people invest their time, learning, and experimenting with the myriad lean tools available: value stream mapping, 5s, A3, PDCA, standard work, visual management, kanban, heijunka, hoshin kanri, etc. These tools can be very effective at making a significant impact on safety, quality, delivery time, throughput, and productivity. However, most people discover that a tools-based approach to lean transformation is impossible to sustain and does not create anything approaching a lasting change for the better of people, teams, or organizations.

It’s really not surprising then that, according to McKinsey, 70% of all organizational improvement initiatives fail. This isn't surprising considering the very few examples we have outside of Toyota of enterprise-wide lean transformations. There are many reasons why this is, but perhaps one key factor is that most organizations fail to intentionally balance the technical tools side with the social side of Lean. Most people say, “We respect our people. In fact, it is one of our core company values!” I don’t deny that most of us strongly believe in respect for people and that is great. But there is a big difference in believing in something and acting in a way that aligns with that belief.

On the right pillar is respect for people, so what does that really mean and what sort of actions can we take that shows we really practice respect for our people through the way we do our work? It comes down to this: how are we engaging our people? Is the purpose in peoples’ hearts aligned with our organization’s purpose? What specific behaviors are we taking to stand in the other person’s shoes and develop a deep awareness of their point of view? Do we try and try again to see the work from their perspective?

We spend so much effort trying to design perfect work systems and improve business processes focusing on lean tools, while simultaneously failing to connect with people on a level that awakens mutual trust, engagement, effective teamwork, and self-generating accountability (in other words accountability wherein people are intrinsically inspired – people assume accountability because they want to, now because they are being told to, measured, or threatened). A key takeaway from the illustration above is that creating a balance between the technical and social sides of Lean is not just good, it's fundamental. It is the foundation upon which everything else rests. So, what are you doing in your organization to create this balance?

The next gemba walk you take, kaizen event you participate in, or daily stand up you attend, or A3 you review, ask yourself two questions:

  1. “What are we doing to show our people how much we care and how much we respect their opinions, ideas, contributions, and potential to transform?”
  2. “Are the actions we are taking to lead with respect fostering the levels of engagement, teamwork, and accountability needed to attain our vision and purpose?”

My hope is that as a lean community we raise our collective level of awareness of what effective leadership looks like and build a bridge connecting the tools side of Lean to the results and relationships side. We desperately need both to create deep and lasting transformation. Indeed it is only when we create an environment of mutual trust that we can change work habits and sustain high levels of performance.

Editor's note: An earlier version of this article shared a statistic from McKinsey that 90% of organizational transformations fail without a holistic approach. This has been since been corrected, linking to a 2013 report.

The views expressed in this post do not necessarily represent the views or policies of The Lean Enterprise Institute.
Keywords:  coaching,  leadership,  management,  respect
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4 Comments | Post a Comment
Karen Martin July 07, 2015
3 People AGREE with this comment

Mike - Wonderful post! Thank you. Indeed respect for people is the toughest part of helping an organization transform. The most prevalent root cause I see is that transformation isn't typically led from the top and, regardless where the passion for change lies, leadership often delegates improvement. To embed respect for people in an organization's culture requires significant leadership will, humility, and practice. They must be very, very heavily involved in transformation vs. delegating improvement to an internal team. True leadership-led transformation (from the top) is rare. We have to keep trying to get their ear.

On another note, I'd love to read the full McKinsey article. Could you please provide a citation for that? Thank you so much!



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Mike Orzen July 07, 2015

Hi Karen,

I agree completely. Without active participation and ownership from leadership, the possibility of creating lasting transformation is just a dream. When I see a well-developed internal Lean team driving the training, Kaizen events, and coaching, I know they are doomed because leadership has "mailed it in." The source from McKinsey is http://www.slideshare.net/aipmm/70-26633757. The slide share is now embedded in the article.



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Katie Anderson July 09, 2015

Mike - Thank you for a thoughtful post. I couldn't agree more that the pillar of "respect for people" is fundamental if we really seek to create lasting cultural change in an organization. 

I was asked to speak about "leading daily improvements" at the Australasian Lean Conference a few months ago. Instead of foucsing on the tools, I emphasised that it is really about how we all show up as leaders - what words we use, what actions we take, and how we reflect and learn. http://kbjanderson.com/leading-daily-improvement-creating-new-habits-and-practices-to-support-continuous-improvement/

I believe the concept of "intention" to be so fundamental to creating change in ourselves and our organzaitons that I chose the kanji characters for the word "intention" to be my logo on my business cards in Japan (where I currently live). 

Thank you again for a great post! I will check out the McKinsey article too. - Katie

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Carmelo Javier October 07, 2015

I agree with you. During my plant tour at Toyota Kaikan, recently and coming back from the Toyotaland of the finest production line of cars, got to meet people from different walks of life and found these realities that that do not exist much anywhere but in Japan. People are very courteous, helpful by heart and mind, the language barrier disappears when actions turn.  I'm glad and felt this first hand. Thanks for sharing, and will share your thoughts on my timeline. Regards Karen, we've met at IIE San Diego meeting way back early 2000.

Carmelo J.

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