Fundamental to lean is the concept of ‘Respect for people’. The phrase rolls off the tongue easily, it sounds ‘nice’: after all, who doesn’t think that people should be respected in the workplace, and which organisation doesn’t include some words in its strategy about the central importance of people to its mission? But beyond the commonplace and anodyne, what does it really mean?
For us it’s certainly not about being nice to people (although we are anyway!). Our role as facilitators means we often have to ask difficult questions. Why do you do that? how long have you been doing it that way? Why do you need to sign that form? What’s the point of this activity? It’s challenging to be asked these questions, and it can be very uncomfortable for participants. People don’t like the implication that they’re doing things ‘wrong’, or that they’re doing work that doesn’t need to be done. But the point of the questions is to find a better way to work that makes better use of people’s skills and abilities, and at the same time improves the way the work gets done. And that’s where the real respect is - not expecting people to carry on with broken processes and unclear objectives or assuming that everything’s ok because the work gets done somehow, but allowing and encouraging them to use their brains and knowledge to improve the process, and in doing so improve their job.
Spreading that way of thinking across the organisation is an enormous undertaking, and success is always uncertain. We need to make sure that, as far as we can, we send people away from our projects with the skills and confidence to carry on improving.