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Lean should NOT be based on Respect for People.

It is about responsibility. Responsibility requires a huge commitment while respect is an attribute earned by being responsible.

As Toyota emerged from the second world-war they acknowledged that they had a responsibility to look after their idle workforce. Noble, but with a slight problem … Toyota was on the brink of bankruptcy. However, in the ruins there remained an engine plant and a couple of high-risk lenders agree to provide some funding to enable the company to manufacture a small vehicle that was in high demand within Japan.

No real magic … the basis of what would become known as the Toyota Production System was all about managing cash-flow. The production methodology had to allow the company to acquire materials, assemble the materials into a product, sell the product and collect the cash from the sale all before the supplier’s invoice was due.

To this day Toyota will only implement or leverage methodologies that will increase throughput or cash-flow within the operations … it may be batch production, it could be single-piece flow or a little of both but what remains important is the Toyota respects the “Gift of Time” provided to them by their employees and Toyota acknowledges that with this gift they also assume a huge responsibility.

A gift is something that is given willingly and often with thought and as a recipient of the gift you are expected to admire the gift and hopefully cherish it forever. As the recipient you have a huge responsibility to acknowledge this gift.

The “Gift of Time” is the ultimate gift that a human can provide … since it is a non-renewable resource and once used … poof! It is gone forever, only to be reviewed through some sort of archive activity, a picture, a song or a memory.

Life is easily defined by two goal posts … 1) the day you are born and 2) the day you die. In between is your “Gift of Time” early in the game we are in developmental phase being dependent and learning before we embark on the next chapter of where to Gift our time … creating a close relationship or to a greater good through employment … but remember your “Gift of Time” is a one-time expenditure.

So as a leader when someone decides to provide you with their “Gift of Time” you are immediately assuming a huge responsibility. The responsibility to cherish this gift and enjoy and appreciate it to its fullest. Toyota acknowledges this gift by embracing “life-time” employment and a commitment to all of its team members through-out their entire game of life.

When I joined the company I was assigned a “Sensei” or mentor who was constantly checking on me both professionally and personally to make sure that I felt that my life was wholesome and rewarding. Something that I still appreciate to this day and is something we evoke as one of our guiding principals within our humble practice.

Responsibility !!! I recall a conversation with a colleague many years ago who was a master in Operations … he coached me about responsibility as a leader in the following manner … “Richard I cannot control the market and the market will decide if they wish to purchase our goods and services but what I do control is the intellectual capability of and within my team. My responsibility to them is to make sure they are most highly trained professionals on the plant … that my employees become the envy of other employers and should the market falter other organizations will line up to assume my responsibility for them.” … Very noble words and an awesome commitment something I personally committed myself too … knowledge is not power but diversifying knowledge creates a powerful force.

I tested this theory once … we were facing a devastating economic front and I needed to reduce our labour cost or in essence reduce our workforce … I calculated the saving required and requested a 30 day stay of execution. During this time I challenged our team to select 5 people to focus on methods, ideas and means to improve our overall yield to match the savings $ required to prevent a layoff … Guess what they surprised me and quickly surpassed our goal and we rapidly became more competitive, enabling us to pivot our business into a new business sector.

Responsibility !!! needs to be everywhere … you accepted the “Gift of Time” and need to treat it with respect which means you need to provide a professional environment “Culture” and professional workplace “clean, organized with the necessary tools” and then you can expect professional results and provide constant feed-back for continuous improvement (Key Performance Indicators) that are controllable by the Time Gifter not a lofty number that although important means nothing to your Team Member … ultimately they are only interested in what do you want me to do next.

My father would remind me that running business is actually pretty easy … 1) managing people is like being a parent and the more kids you have the more time will be devoted to parenting. 2) Business success is measured by either increasing sales or reducing costs. 3) The market will define if your company will be successful … but the common denominator is that business relies on people … that attribute that gifted you with their ”Gift of Time” sure you paid them … but they are emotionally attached. Typically, we shirk our responsibility as we flex our labour to the current market conditions as if these gifts are a commodity … which they are not !! They have a choice of where to donate their “Gift of Time”.

2 stories … 1) at the onset of Covid a business was not certain what the ramifications of Covid would do to their business, so they reacted immediately by laying-off all of their employees … but business volumes continued and even surged … so they brought back their employees but guess what within weeks the entire workforce decided to provide their “Gift of Time” to someone else. And then 2) when the tsunami impacted the supply chain of Toyota, the organization reacted by invoking that all Team Members absorb an additional 100 hours of training and please help by consuming your vacation and be prepared to do any assigned tasks … by the time recovery came the plant looked it best.

As a Leader are you showing responsibility?

  • Are your washrooms and break areas as comfortable as your living room at home?

  • Is your work environment professionally looking where anyone would want to work?

  • Do your communication systems allow collaboration within a “No-Blame” environment?

  • Do your Key Performance Indictors allow each person to measure success directly related to their function? And is it controllable by them?

As a child I would accompany my father to many supplier visits and here is how he measured the value and success of a company and if the leadership had assumed Responsibility to cherish the “Gift of Time”.

  • A quick pass through the parking lot … where the majority of vehicles fairly new, in good repair and clean?

  • Were the washrooms clean, orderly and in good repair?

  • Were the break areas soothing … not cluttered with company propaganda?

  • Did employees make eye contact, smile when passing without stopping their tasks.

  • What was the overall dress-code like … if people care about themselves they will most likely also care about the business.

You will notice that there are no fiscal measures … that would come later during the visit, but my father knew if the leadership accepted responsibility of acknowledging the Time Gifters then there was a good chance the financials would also be good.

My father taught me that if Leaders did not take Responsibility seriously then the lack of respect by the employees would be evident through a sloppy work environment, lack of professionalism, no engagement because the employees did not feel a need to show respect for things that had been given to them.

Ultimately, demonstrating Responsibility will gain you respect. Respect is not an enabler that can be demanded … just like Love it needs to earned and constantly nurtured.


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