When many people hear I run a business consulting firm specializing in Lean Six Sigma, they will frequently indicate that they are familiar with these principles and have implemented them into their own organization. Many will then go on to highlight their accomplishments using staff reductions as evidence. This attitude is a common misconception among individuals who have simply read a book or two on Lean Six Sigma and consider themselves an expert. My reply is always the same, “Actually, it is about respecting individuals and company resources while enabling them to participate more fully in value added activities.” Lean Six Sigma is not about the elimination of jobs. It is about the reduction of waste and improving overall quality while respecting the individual. A core principle of Lean Six Sigma is respect for the individual.
So what does respect for the individual really mean? In cases of old processes no longer performing adequately because of planned or unplanned staff reductions, respect for the individual can be demonstrated by removing the non-value added activity so that the individuals do not feel overwhelmed.
Many companies today have already cut their labor costs to the bare minimum and beyond. Unfortunately, as the size of the staffs reduced, the amount of work requiring possessing may not have reduced proportionately. The goal in these organizations is not to eliminate more labor. The goal is to eliminate the non-value added activity so that the existing staff can perform the work consistently, efficiently, with quality, in a timely manner, and without being overwhelmed. In this case, respect for the individual is demonstrated by making the jobs easier to perform.
Another common misconception is that respect for the individual is synonymous with employment for life. Respect for the individual doesn’t mean employment for life. Respect for the individual refers to how you treat and respond to people. Treating people with respect basically means following the advice given by parents around the world, treat others, as you would like to be treated.
When you’re speaking with someone, you need to make eye contact and listen. When leaders conduct a Gemba Walk, don’t simply walk around observing and writing on a checklist. Engage people in conversation. Ask questions. Communicate. Don’t be afraid to ask for input. The insight provided may surprise you. Communication is not simply taking turns talking and formulating a response while the other person is still speaking. Communication involves sending and receiving information.
Another way to respect the individual is to show interest in their development. However, this doesn’t mean sending people to every training program imaginable. This could be something as simple as taking the time on a Gemba Walk to explain why certain decisions were made or why certain things are important to the organization. Educational moments present themselves all the time, a true leader has trained to take advantage of the opportunity when it presents itself.
Developing people provides the individual with additional skills that can be marketed if they need or elect to search for another opportunity. Respect is not employing people forever; respect is providing people with enhanced skills that can be used in the marketplace should the need arise. I have been fortunate enough in my career to work for several good mentors. They were good mentors, in part, because they were excellent role models who took an interest in my professional development.
Everyday a leader has the opportunity to be a role model of the Lean Six Sigma principles. Every leader can be an exceptional role model. The choice however, belongs to them which type of role model they will be for their staffs. Will they be a positive or negative role model? The choice is theirs.
The Lean Six Sigma principle of respect for the individual is simply treating others, as you would like to be treated.
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Post Author: Royce Williard
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