Subject: interested in your opinion
Something’s been on my mind the last day or so – You’ve no doubt seen people commenting that Toyota doesn’t practice what they preach when it comes to respect for people – I don’t know offhand all the anecdotal evidence, but it seems to be like someone is addressed rudely, or Japanese employees are respected more than American ones.
Seems to me that “respect” might have a semantic effect here, especially because it’s something translated from a Japanese idea – even deeper, a feeling that is largely culturally determined.
A couple of possibilities – it might be true that respect for people actually means respect for some people. Or do Americans take respect to mean positive responses to ideas, softness of approach, patience in the face of disagreements, while Japanese mean it’s OK to snap back and reject your idea because you aren’t going to take it personally, or you will feel humbled and in need of learning, but not humiliated, or something like that? If it’s a pillar, do we understand the nuances meant in each culture?
I know that you’ve written about this in great volume and I could probably find the answer if I re-read a lot, but thought I’d take a shortcut and ask you directly.
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A wonderful perspective on your part.
First, what is amazing is that "Respect for People," is the second pillar of Toyota's success. Ohno was absolutely ruthless, employees and suppliers lived in fear of him. However, an employee was never laid off and a supplier never went bankrupt. Employees grew strong and suppliers became very profitable, almost all suppliers are world class leaders. Ohno might have been ruthless in one sense but he focused on developing people and suppliers. They might have resented him while he was alive, for he was very hard, but in retrospect they treasure what he did for them.
Toyota became the leader in the world from Shingo's and Ohno's teachings.
What do we mean by "Respect for People?" Do I really respect you when I let you work every day without growing? Do I respect you when I can lay you off at any time?
Toyota empowers people: To stop the line - to stop every other worker from working - that is real respect and trust. To implement creative improvement ideas around their work area. They trust you to come up with the best idea to make your work easier and more interesting. You don't have to wait for management to tell you what to do. By asking people to solve problems and become problem solvers. Managers in the West normally tell people what to do and rarely ever ask them and listen to their ideas. Listening and empowering people to implement their own ideas are the key to real respect. And develops and educates them - they continually train you on the job and will pay for your college education.
Does the system work as well in the West as it does in Japan? I don't think so.
Toyota is very cautious in working with us.
Yes, you are right, management in the West is very careful not to criticize or offend the workers. Remember the workers in Japan had lifetime employment. Like a father with a child, sometimes you are tough with them to help them grow and succeed in life and you might not be as tactful as you should be. Of course, there are people at Toyota in both America and Japan that are not totally happy with their work. Work in a factory is not easy and is often not joyous but Toyota probably better than others is moving in a very positive direction to develop their employees, make great products and to help the world all at the same time.
When we meet this week we will have a chance to dialog more on this subject. We will address what I believe is the real meaning of "Respect for People."