During these unprecedented times, one group stood out for their contributions to society. Those at the frontlines! Nurses, doctors, grocery store clerks, and manufacturing associates. “Production” associates, as this recent article points out, deserve our appreciation for providing us with the goods and services we need. Arguably risking themselves in the process!
Haven’t we experienced shortages lately – face masks, bread flour, baker’s yeast, tomatoes, meat, etc.? This is more because of a shortage of human “hands” rather than availability of technology.
How about during “normal” times? Honestly, don’t we take the contribution of the frontline workers for granted? Do we respect their contribution always? Unfortunately, this is not the norm at all.
In lean, there are the famous 8 wastes. Defects-Overproduction-Waiting-Not utilizing people-Transportation-Inventory-Motion-Excess Processing (DOWNTIME). Of these, the waste of not allowing human beings to use their full potential is probably the single biggest waste. Companies where the culture does not fully respect the human potential, especially of those at the frontlines are not ready for any meaningful, sustained journey to excellence. It is simply not going to happen. In fact, lack of respect is likely to doom the journey. It has. Countless companies who start on their lean/excellence journey don’t finish because the culture of respect for the frontline associate is missing.
Those that have sustained it, notably Toyota, have made human development the core of their culture. Idea generation / promotion, designing one’s own work process, empowerment to solve problems etc. are the hallmarks of lean systems such as the Toyota Production System (TPS). TPS has been wildly successful for over 50 years and across the globe in distinctly different local cultures. Why? Respect for people, especially towards those at the frontline, is an integral part of such systems. This respect is not just about being superficially nice (bring doughnuts!) or saying kind words. It is a deep-rooted culture of humility, recognizing that:
- Frontline work is indeed what customers are willing to pay for. Value-added work.
- Frontline associates’ knowledge about the process(es) they run is superior to all else.
There really should be no difference between how society respects a Surgeon from a frontline operator in manufacturing. They are the value adders. But do the rest of us provide the assistance to the frontline operator just like the hospital does for the Surgeon? Can we assist the value adders in adding even more value? This is a winning attitude. When it is the pervasive attitude in an organization, it is a winning culture.