Want Respect for People? Grow the “Us” – Part 2

Want Respect for People? Grow the “Us” – Part 2

Boss vs. Leader

In Part 1, I described my own personal discovery of the “us” versus “them” dichotomy that was very prevalent in the Western business community until fairly recent times. I also quoted excerpts of a 1979 speech by the then President of Panasonic that more or less (I go for “more”) threw this dichotomy into the faces of visiting Western businessmen. There was at that time a very robust difference between the Japanese and Western business cultures with respect to the trust factor and mutual respect between “management” and “workers”. I will cover this in a little more depth below.

I also tried to introduce a very simple concept for tackling this Western “problem”. We can minimize this dichotomy by simply increasing the size of the “us” subcategory of the “who” and decreasing the size of the “them” group. And you do this by tapping into the “thinking” part of the human beings in the “them” group and de-emphasizing the “physical” side of their contributions. I will once again quote Taiichi Ohno:

“The Toyota style is not to create results by working hard. It is a system that says there is no limit to people’s creativity.  People don’t go to Toyota to ‘work’ they go there to ‘think.”

Ask them what they think – and listen. When that happens, we magically all become “us”. (Most of the time, anyway).

I would now like to spend some time digesting a 1977 paper written by the Production Control Department at Toyota Motor Co.:

Toyota Production System and Kanban System Materialization of Just-in-time and Respect-for-human System” (1977) – Y. Sugimori a; K. Kusunoki a; F. Cho a; S. Uchikawa

The F. Cho listed as co-author later became Toyota’s President, CEO and Chairman. These guys were not slouches. In fact, if you want to understand the Toyota Production System, read this paper. All the basics are right there. Not that much has changed since this was written way back in 1977. That was almost 40 years ago! In my opinion, the current Lean community still has a lot to learn from them.

(Note: based on my research I believe this paper represents the first time that the TPS terms “Just-in-time” and “Kanban” appeared in the English language).

Another interesting aspect of this paper is that it was probably written with the Japanese industrial community in mind. Toyota’s accomplishments were well known within Japan at this time but almost unheard of in the West. Here are some excerpts from an interview with Taiichi Ohno near the end of his life. The interview can be found in the book “Profitability with No Boundaries : Optimizing TOC and Lean-Six Sigma” by Robert E. Fox, Reza (Russ) M. Pirasteh (2011)

“In 1973 when the first oil crisis occurred, many Japanese companies were badly hurt. At Toyota it only caused a small pause in our continued improvement. Other Japanese companies, in particular our competitors, asked how we accomplished this miracle. We invited them to visit our company and showed them what we had done. …. I’m proud to be Japanese and I wanted my country to succeed. I believed my system was a way that could help us become a modern industrial nation. That is why I had no problem with sharing it with other Japanese companies, even my biggest competitors. But I was very, very concerned that you Americans and the Europeans would understand what we were doing, copy it, and defeat us in the marketplace.”

On trying to confuse the Americans and Europeans during their visits in the 1980’s:

“I explained it by talking about techniques, like quicker machine setups, reduction of the seven wastes (muda) and other techniques with Japanese names like Kanban and kaizen. I did my best to prevent the visitors from fully grasping our overall approach. Today I am ready to be open and explain fully what we did. We are now strong enough to deal with any competition.”

So I think we can get a better perspective of what Toyota was really doing from the 1977 paper than from subsequent Toyota writings sourced from the 1980’s when the uniqueness of Toyota was beginning to be recognized in the West. One convincing piece of evidence, for me at least, is the fact that at the end of the 1977 paper the authors state that the goal was to create a:

total conveyor line production system connecting all the external and internal processes with invisible conveyor lines. Toyota Production System is a scheme seeking realization of such an ideal conveyor line system…

This is basically the same as Ohno’s “river system” which was the “overall approach” that Ohno was trying to hide from those Western visitors (see above quote). (For my discussion on Ohno’s “river system”, see The Lean River System – Part 1).

But for now, I want to focus on the “Respect for human system” part of the paper. They really took this part very seriously. And this was written 24 years before Toyota launched “The Toyota Way” in 2001 where “Continuous Improvement” and “Respect for People” were the two pillars of that company wide Vision Statement. (I am told that “respect for human” or “respect for humanity” are better translations from the Japanese than “respect for people”).

So why is “Respect for human system” given equal weight to “Just-in-time” and “Kanban” in the title of the paper? Why is the word “system” applied to “respect for human”? Why is Genchi Gembutsu stressed so much in the TPS philosophy? Why do you have to “go to the gemba”?

I covered this to some extent in the introduction to Part 1 of this thread. I covered it in much greater detail in “Who Does the Thinking Around Here Anyway?“. The answer is pretty simple, but not well understood. Without the “Respect for human system” the Toyota Production System will not work! It will not work in the manner for which the system was designed.

If we dive into the 1977 Toyota paper, we see that there is an entire section of the paper devoted to “Full utilization of workers’ capabilities”. And under this section is a sub-section entitled “Self-display of workers’ ability” where they say:

“Toyota firmly believes that making up a system where the capable Japanese workers can actively participate in running and improving their workshops and be able to fully display their capabilities would be foundation of human respect environment of the highest order.”

They then elaborate further:

“As the first step in this method, all workers at Toyota have a right to stop the line on which they are working. …It is not a conveyer that operates men, while it is men that operate a conveyer, which is the first step to respect for human independence.

As the second step, at all shops in Toyota, the workers are informed of the priority order of the parts to be processed and the state of production advancement. Therefore, the actual authority for decisions of job dispatching and overtime is delegated to the foreman, and this allows each shop to conduct production activities without orders from the control department.

As the third step, Toyota has a system whereby workers can take part in making improvements. Any employee at Toyota has a right to make an improvement on the waste he has found.”

Thus, the people at the gemba are a key part in the system’s “interacting or interdependent component parts”. Their brains must be allowed to think or the whole system freezes. If they are not allowed to “interact”, the “system” Toyota designed cannot function properly.

Remember that TPS is built on two pillars: JIT and Jidoka. JIT requires continuous flow. Jidoka requires action to be taken if that flow is interrupted. But the only people that can see the flow and flow interruptions in real-time, are the people at the gemba. The people at the gemba must act, both to create the flow and to repair any interruptions in flow. Without them, TPS as designed, just does not work.

In Part 3, I will dive even deeper into the “respect for human system” content of the 1977 paper and have a few thoughts as to why this sub-system is so important to the overall functioning of the “Toyota Production System”.


2 thoughts on “Want Respect for People? Grow the “Us” – Part 2

  1. As a rule U.S. corporations are valuing its people less and less. Sure, they ask them for more input and productivity — but at the same time they are reducing pay and benefits. Advocates of current U.S. business practices say corporations need to do this to compete in a global environment, and in some cases this is true, but those cases are the exception rather than the rule (as a S & P over 20,000 shows). I’ll share a personal experience in this regard.
    I retired from Deere in 2006 with thirty years of service, wanting to experience business from some other perspectives. Deere had just recorded six straight years of record profits. The year I retired I (and all Deere retirees below age 60) received a letter telling us that our health insurance was being significantly cut. The out-of-packet impact on me was such that my health care expenses went from about $100 per month to over $500 per month. I was one of the lucky retirees because I could afford this. That same year the Chairman Bob Lane took a $53M bonus. I figured out that with the limited number of early retirees (less than 5,000) Lane’s bonus that year could have paid for continuation of the “early” retiree existing health care long enough for most of us to get on Medicare. Deere really didn’t need the money but decided anyway to step on its retirees to maximize bonuses. By doing this that corporation not only lost a lot of trust with those retirees, but also with their current employees. Maybe this happens with Japanese firms, too, and I just don’t know about it. But I doubt it.

    1. During the modern era, there seems to have been a “Respect for People” gap between the Western and Far Eastern cultures. But rather than improving that gap, I also think that the Western culture is getting worse rather than better. I have attributed it to a change in culture within the larger corporations. In the old days, top management had worked their way up through the ranks. They knew the business and they knew the people. Over the last couple of decades or so, MBA’s increasingly predominate top management. These management types tend to come from the outside and they don’t know the business from the ground up and they don’t know the people. People used to be considered an asset, now they are considered an expense. So much for Toyota’s “Respect for People” within the U.S. at least. I think Europe is similar (or always has been). I don’t know about today’s Japan either – no recent experience there for me.

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