Thursday, 11 September 2014

Respect For People: a driving value to build a better society

When you read the new novel from Freddy Ballé and Michael Ballé, Lead With Respect, you realize that, regardless that we consider governments, institutions, communities or companies, we still have a huge Leadership gap in our society. This gap is largely explained by the lack of a driving value: Respect For People.

However, to close this gap is possible. Respect For People is the strongest commonality that Lean organizations have. They all have learned from Toyota.  There, their leaders believe that to waste anyone’s time is to waste their LIFE, and they deeply believe no one has that right. 

In this sense, how we understand RESPECT makes a huge difference.  This isn’t like just being a servant: taking orders, trying to make people comfortable, etc. but more like being a doctor: asking questions, diagnosing and proscribing for each person what they need to grow and be successful in life.  

From the benchmark of Procter&Gamble with Toyota, I remember a quick story from one of Toyota’s former leaders. He had lots of stories of how he learned the philosophy of Toyota leadership, but I was illustrated by one instance. He explained how early at his journey there, after a discussion about the follow-up of a problem at Gemba, his immediate manager held him back, and said: 

“You are mistaken.  People are not working for you. People work for your customers and YOU work for your people.  Don’t ever forget that.”


Respect for People, by working for them, means to fulfill individual’s self-actualization needs:  unleashing people's potential by continuously enabling their self-development, creativity, autonomy in the broadest sense: goodness, aliveness, self-sufficiency!



Can you imagine a society where leaders lead with respect? I can. Lean will help us.

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Listening Means Doing (by the Transitive Property of Respect)

Listening to the podcast interview with Michael Ballé there were many things to like. The interviewer asked the question of what respect, in the context of lean and the notion of respect for people, meant to Mike personally. He answered that it meant really listening to people. Listening in order to understand. No necessarily to agree, but to understand their position at the least.

I think this is an important point. Leaders are tasked with making decisions and taking the organization in a direction. Successful leaders would likely agree that listening to customers, reviewing the data and weighing options are all necessary steps to developing a sound strategy. We may call it grasping the situation. But how well do we listen to understand?

In regards to leading with respect, specifically demonstrating respect in human interactions, leaders need to listen to their followers. This is far more than a morale-boosting exercise, or developing soft skills of leaders. It is as muchabout harvesting hard facts. The facts on the gemba. By definition there are far more followers than leaders within an organization. These followers are on the gemba face to face with facts that make up the performance of the organization, daily. Enlightened leaders listen to understand.

The not-very-smart leader may need to spend more time listening and being educated about the daily operations. This requires humility. I have heard too many executives say, "I can't get into the day-to-day," proudly delegating the go see and listen. In this definition listening is necessary but not sufficient. To show respect, not only for people but for the operation, one must listen to understand. This is good practice both for the growth of the leader as an individual, good practice for collecting useful management information, and respectful of people who do the work.

The important females in my life have taught me that I don't really understand. I have become better at listening, but probably still am bad at it. I am too quick to say, "I understand" when in fact I really don't. Or so they tell me. If I really understood, I would keep listening, or do something else. Other than claiming to understand. It is a mystery, and I suspect, a lifelong challenge.

Taiichi Ohno said "Understanding means doing." By this he meant that the only way he knew his students really understood what he was teaching them was through their actions and behaviors. If he taught them about kaizen, or a key element of the Toyota Production but heard them saying, "I understand" but not urgently doing something to improve the situation, they didn't really understand.

Ohno was not teaching theory, but practice. Likewise when respecting people, if we listen and truly understand, we should be moved to somehow act, to do something, even if we do not fully agree with the other person. That shows a deeper level of caring and respect for the other person. That is the more Ohno-esque and lean definition of "understanding".

In another time, in another universe, in another podcast...

Ohno: What does respect mean to you?

Ballé: Respect means listening.

Ohno: Why do you listen?

Ballé: In order to understand.

Ohno: Why do you wish to understand?

I wonder where the conversation would have gone from there.

Wednesday, 30 July 2014

The Trust Maker's Secret


20 years ago, the plant was a wreck, forgotten witness of the soviet era. Now, the local employees produce state of the art bio-technological products and the nearby research center, established 10 years later in connection with the University, has become the spearhead of its parent company, a North American family business, world leader in its industry. The local manager  - she started back then as a purchasing clerk- is  welcoming the guests coming from all parts of the world to Tallinn, Estonia where we are celebrating this joyful anniversary.
“Looking back”, says the CEO addressing the audience, “and trying to explain our incredible journey since we bought this plant two decades ago, I think that your success, our common success, comes mainly from this network of Trust patiently built over the years. After all, business is just about building a trust network: our customers trust us, we trust each other to do the job, we trust our suppliers to deliver their part, we trust our research partners, the universities, and they trust us. We are all trust makers, trust weavers. Over the years you have built this fantastic network of trust...that’s the real and full value of our company."

As I was listening to the CEO's speech, I could not help thinking that if he was brilliantly explaining the effect of Trust making, he was not unveiling the Trust making process itself and its obvious but overlooked secret, which may take a lifetime of trials and errors to figure out.

We all know that Trust is the bond which secures the conditions for co-creating great value: Trust triggers cooperation which in turn will combine competences and goodwill inside and outside the company to deliver unique customer value.
We also know that Trust will improve the probability of getting the expected result as it works as a risk reducer: while check and controls reduce uncertainty within complex processes, Trust reduces uncertainty between People: uncertainty spurred by continuous and unexpected change, by multiple internal and  external interactions, by the mix of functions and cultures.
By reducing uncertainty, Trust is reducing fear and opens the joy of creating distinctive value.

But we often skip the "secret" source of Trust: mutual Respect.
Respect starts with acknowledging, sharing, including and nourishing each others' intentions and actions in a common project: there is no respect without full inclusion of all partners.
Inclusion. I feel that I am included when my drive for personal achievement is considered in the collective project, when I am not just a pawn being used by a dominating power. I feel that I have been included when, looking back, I can see what this network of Trust has helped me accomplish: dreams, ambitions, hopes.

But these dynamics are fragile.
Lacking respect means that you deny inclusion. Lacking respect develops mistrust, defiance, contempt; fear takes over the joy of creation, opening the vacuum of  destructive production.

Respect is the real secret,
Trust its great by-product.

If you want to be a Trust Maker...
....as the CEO of this story.....start by leading with Respect!*




* a great book just published on this issue: Lead with Respect by Michael Ballé


Tuesday, 22 July 2014

How can you have any pudding if you don't eat your meat?

A friend once asked if I thought it necessary to suffer in order to succeed - it seemed like a trick question. After hemming and hawing a bit, I had to confess that although I wished to think otherwise, I sadly believed that suffering leads to success.

And it should be no surprise. Judeo-Christian enshrines suffering as a test of faith and valor, one from which the sufferer somehow emerges greater than he entered (Book of Job, for example), closer to salvation. Take a look around at the countless variations on the "no-pain no-gain" mantra, particularly as regards athletic training and performance. Nietzsche's famous quote "what does not kill me makes me stronger", taken out of context, figures prominently in this Western mindset according to which success stems from hard work, which in turn requires effort and therefore suffering.  

Indeed, it can seem like sweet justice that those who succeed should have to sweat for it. Under this system, the lazy have only themselves to blame for their mediocrity while the mediocre are made to feel guilty that they are not working hard enough. Meanwhile, the industrious can forever hope to be rewarded for their pain - except that it doesn’t always work out. Why is that? 

Continuing with the sports analogy, it's quite clear that it's possible to train too much, to inflict so much suffering on one's body that it cannot benefit from the training. It's also possible to do wasteful work that yields limited or negative returns. Identifying useful work and finding the sweet point between effort and rest is the task of the coach. Looking further, the notion of pleasure is paramount: one can only excel at a task that provides enjoyment, even if effort is necessary. Indeed, that is Nietzsche's overarching point in Ecce Homo: 

"Now by what signs are a well-made human being recognized? They are recognized by the fact that such a person is pleasant to our senses; he is carved from one whole block of wood which is hard, delicate and fragrant at once. He enjoys only that which is good for him; his pleasure, his desire ceases when the limits of that which is good for him are overstepped. He divines cures for injuries; he knows how to turn misfortune to his own advantage; that which does not kill him makes him stronger. " 

Let's leave the athletic pitch to enter the shop floor. Workers, who extend themselves physically and psychologically, are much like athletes. Days are long, repetitive tasks cause injuries, and bodies age and whither at ill-conceived work stations - with well-known impacts on productivity. In the corporation at large, busyness is rewarded through so many indicators, most of which are essentially proxy measures of suffering. And yet, powering through pain, the ethos of bygone eras, has shown its limits. Unsurprisingly, concepts like lean come from outside the Judeo-Christian cultural sphere.  

Workers, we can all agree, should seek to maximize production while minimizing their suffering (which we can expand to include all waste). Nietzsche provides perspective and a few hints: seek pleasure and 'that which is good' when looking for optimization. A "well-made" person will know when his/her limit has been reached, will learn from mistakes, and find solutions to recurring problems. But there is more; Nietzsche's "well-made" person  
"… instinctively gathers his material from all he sees, hears and experiences. He is a selective principle; he rejects much. He is always in his own company whether his intercourse be with books, with men or with landscapes; he honors the things he chooses, the things he acknowledges, the things he trusts. " 

In these few lines we find some key ingredients to an innovative optimization process. We have left the realm of suffering for gain and entered the domain of progress through thoughtful observation, self-awareness, personal commitment, education, intuition, and (ultimately) pleasure.  

Today, I am changing my vision and trying to reject suffering as a basis for success. Effort is necessary to improve, but pleasure is a key driver. This is easier said than done. Abandoning suffering for pleasure requires trust and confidence  
  1. Self-confidence because(a) if underlings suffer, the boss gets stature fromimposing the suffering, and (b)each individual must believe in his/her sustained desire to strive in a positive-reward environment that markedly departs from western cultural norms  
  2. Trust because, under a pleasure-based management model, management must trust its underlings to continue to work efficiently and innovate without fear of punishment - this despite the pernicious notion that underlings are somehow "lazy" (otherwise, they'd have worked hard and become part of management!) 
The benefits are potentially significant: workers will use their innate wisdom to improve their performance, as long as that they operate in an environment that gives them choices, and even more so if they can use the services of a well-meaning 'coach'. In short, management must trust that workers are "well-made" and engaged employees. This can be a difficult step to make for those raised in the worship of pain as a pathway to success, but it is a step on the long path to  kinder and wiser management.