Skip to main content

Some of us are not very good at showing respect.

It is not just events in South Africa over the past month that make me say that. ‘Show respect’ is one of the core calls we make to lean leaders. That simple phrase was presented to me at a Lean Summit in the USA around 2007. The speaker was John Shook and he was quoting from a conversation that he had recently had with his former Toyota boss and then Global Chairman of Toyota, Fujio Cho. It was the third of ‘Three keys to Lean Leadership’; John presented them thus (in these exact words):

  1. Go See – “Senior management must spend time on the shop floor.”
  2. Ask Why – “Use the ‘Why?’ technique daily.”
  3. Show Respect – Respect your people.

The cherry on the top for me was when John gave us Cho’s expansion on the last point: you respect a person when you work with them with an attitude that shows you believe in them.

I recently came across this further expansion from John Shook on what Chairman Cho said about showing respect: “We want to not only show respect to our people, the same way we want to show respect to everyone we meet in life, we also want to respect their humanity, what it is that makes us human, which is our ability to think and feel – we have to respect that humanity in the way we design the work, so that the work enables their very human characteristics to flourish.”

Designing work so that our core human capabilities of thinking and feeling can flourish:  there is something to think about! But of course not just designing work in that way, but relating to others in the workplace so that thinking and feeling flourish.

I’m not good at this ‘show respect’ thing. Not that I want to be disrespectful, but I like my thinking and feeling to flourish. And all too often I do this by telling and advising, rather than asking others for their thoughts and reflections, because I think I have the answers so why waste time in asking.

But I had a good lesson a few weeks ago. I was sitting in on a meeting between members of the Gauteng Department of Health first cohort of lean learners and an embattled departmental team at a busy public hospital. This was the fourth of four Rapid Process Improvement Workshops the learners have been involved in, where they work with areas in need of improvement. The learners had spent two days studying the process and found an imbalance in the way resources were allocated, resulting in over-work for some and long waiting times for the public.

The learners presented their analysis. The departmental staff listened patiently. Without pushing the point, the learners were suggesting a reallocation of staff, from areas of low intensity to the bottleneck process. At a certain point they asked the departmental staff, “What do you think would help to reduce waiting time for the patients?”

“We need more staff,” came the reply. And I sighed in silent exasperation, as I have too often heard this kind of reply, a reply that shows that the analysis set out has not been understood. It is also the reply you get before you even start the analysis. So my knee-jerk is to explain all over again, running the risk of sending a message of impatience and exasperation, rather than respect, to my colleagues.

Fortunately it was not my meeting. So the response was far better. “If you had more staff, where would you allocate them?” was the response from the lean learners. With that question the discussion could continue ‘with respect’ and with thinking and feeling fully engaged.

Respectfully yours,


Upcoming events

Introduction to Lean  Our Introduction to Lean Workshop will be held on 25 & 26 May in Cape Town, 3 & 4 August in Durban and 14 & 15 September in Johannesburg. For more information and to register please visit our website.

Lean Management the A3 Way  On the 29 & 30 June in Johannesburg, 6 & 7 July in Cape Town and 3 & 4 September in Durban we will host our Lean Management the A3 Way Workshop. For more information and to register please visit our website.

Toyota Kata Our new Toyota Kata Workshop is running on 23 July in Johannesburg, 7 August in Cape Town and 14 October in Durban. Click here for more information.

Lean Healthcare Summit
Lean Healthcare Summit with Dr John Toussaint on 26 October 2015 at the Forum in Johannesburg.

Best Practice Workshop with Mr Furuhashi
Best Practice Workshop with Japanese sensei Mr Furuhashi from the 2 – 6 November.