Respect for People

Maybe the whole Toyota notion of “respect for people” and developing employees is the real “secret” sauce that companies can’t copy (or refuse to).

While not mentioning Toyota, this WSJ article caught my eye this morning. It starts:

Rather than worry so much about the war for talent in today’s tight job market, executives ought to focus on the waste of talent in their ranks. Many don’t spend nearly enough time making sure the people under them learn and grow on the job.

Companies are filled with alienated employees who feel underutilized and ignored, and are either coasting or searching for new jobs elsewhere. A whopping 70% of U.S. employees say they feel either “not engaged” or “actively disengaged” at work, according to a recent survey by the Gallup Organization.

This is sad. The columnist, Carol Hymowitz, is right to call this “waste” (some lean terminology, eh?). How does this happen? Employees aren’t disengaged on their first day of work… this happens to them over time, the result of poor leadership in companies.

This isn’t just a “feel bad” story, there is a direct relationship to productivity in companies where employees are ignored or not engaged by the leadership.

Business units with such a large number of dissatisfied employees “have more absenteeism and lower productivity — as well as 51% higher turnover rates than those with engaged employees,” says James Harter, chief scientist for Gallup’s international management practice.

Blame is pointed at the system, companies that don’t reward the right kind of leadership and people management behaviors:

“The role of people-managers — who develop talent and create sustained profits for companies — isn’t as valued as it should be,” says Mr. Harter, co-author with Rodd Wagner, also of Gallup, of “12: The Elements of Great Managing.” If it were, he adds, companies wouldn’t promote to management those who succeeded at a prior job but don’t have the foggiest idea about how to motivate people.

Blame the top executives who simply grade their managers on their financial results rather than on how well they groom and retain good employees.

Toyota executives are always talking about developing people (including Gary Convis). I haven’t worked at Toyota, but people say it isn’t just lip service. Toyota (and good lean companies) realize that people are an asset. Norman Bodek talks about this all the time. TPS as the “Thinking Production System” seems less copied than TPS as the “Toyota Production System.”

I’ve seen lean and TPS methods really engage and inspire employees. If you’re just implementing some lean tools, some 5S here, a kanban system there, you really aren’t tapping into the full potential of your employees, or the full potential of lean.

The WSJ column has an example of one leader who is held up as an exemplar:

Mr. Wamsteeker, 41, asks employees scores of questions to figure out how “to serve them,” he says. Five years ago, he was assigned to turn around Cargill’s West Branch pork-business consultancy. The first thing he did was figure out which employees would excel at which jobs. He moved one very quiet, deliberate employee to a job analyzing how pork producers world-wide can improve productivity.

“He had technical expertise and had worked in Taiwan, so understood different cultures — and he has flourished in this job,” says Mr. Wamsteeker, who offers advice to employees and listens to their concerns as he joins them on customer calls and business trips.

“In some corporate cultures, there’s a lot of impatience, so if someone doesn’t exactly fit one job, he’s pushed aside for someone else,” he adds. “I look at people as half full, not half empty, and try to find out what’s happening to them at work and in their personal lives to find learning gaps that I can help fill.”

I like the sound of that, finding the right fit between employees and jobs (reminds me of Deming) and being a “servant leader” (something that Toyota’s Jim Press talks about quite a bit as well). Being this kind of leader, a coach rather than a controller, a true leader instead of a manager, is something we should encourage. It doesn’t mean micromanaging or meddling or interfering with your people, but being supportive of the team effort.

What do you think? A free article about Gallup survey is here. In the survey article, they also talk about how employees aren’t “challenged”:

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