Respect for People is not Respect for Person, just ask Clint Eastwood



On my mind lately is the concept of “Respect for People” that is at the core of Lean and one of the fundamental building blocks of the Shingo Model.

I remember just about 3 years ago, as I was first introduced to Lean via the Greater Boston Manufacturing Partnership, there was a video in which Bruce Hamilton mentioned that, sometimes, leaders need to tell the late adopters to get with the program.  “Wait a minute…” I thought. “Doesn’t that contradict the need for management to show concern for each of their charges, and guide them to accepting new ways of thinking & doing?”

I’ve carried that thought with me for some time, and as I continue to evolve my understanding of what the Lean school of thought teaches, I’ve come to realize the error of my previous assumption.

What I have finally come to realize is that Respecting People is a focus on People and not necessary any one single individual within the group.  If you are bending over backwards to accommodate each individual person, you are detracting from the ability of the group to survive, as a whole.  It has taken me a long time to come to this realization.

Lean is about systems.  More importantly, it is about how individuals within systems interact.  So, that necessitates an understanding of how the individual becomes a functioning part of a greater whole.  Coupled with that, is the belief that the role of Leaders is to build teams.  In order to lead individuals to become a valued part of the whole, to the benefit of the system for the benefit of the individual (and not the other way around), it is occasionally necessary to kick a person square in the ass.

The difference between most, traditional management we see and useful foot-in-seat-of-pants action is usually one of experience.  A good leader will make you better than what you are, because he or she knows who you need to become as an individual in order to become part of the team.  The leader knows this, not through some education received in a classroom, but through hard experience.  Simply put, the leader has been there before and knows the way, and is able to get you to the same point.  This does not, automatically, necessitate being nice and pleasant and sidestepping difficult, personality issues or simply telling people how wonderful they are.  On occasion, it requires a stiff hand and a stern voice.

While I suppose I could go on describing any number of situations or personal recollections to illustrate my point, I think there’s a perfectly good example already.  In the 1986 film, HeartBreak Ridge, Clint Eastwood plays Gunnery Sergeant Tom Highway, a Congressional Medal of Honor winner and just about the toughest SOB to ever walk the planet.  His job is to take the ridiculously inept crew he’s been assigned to and turn then into a proper group of Marines.  While his men certainly don’t like the treatment he gives them, they also certainly come to appreciate it when their performance, as a group, turns around.  Most importantly they appreciate it when the long days of hard training and constant, cranky barbs from “Gunny” have prepared them for battle and helped them to stay alive.

Like the Recon Marines under Sergeant Highway’s command, I can also say that one of the toughest-on-me bosses I’ve ever had (which is very different from the “tough” bosses I’ve had) was also the one I learned the most from.  With that in mind, perhaps it’s time we take a step back and decide if we’re really thinking about respecting people when we talk continuous improvement, or just the person?

ROWE: An attempt at achieving the Lean Ideal?


Roundabout by juiCZe on

In the past few months that I’ve been blogging about ROWE, I have been poking at how the two concepts might help to reinforce each other, with the premise that ROWE-thinking could help to enable Lean-thinking by overcoming the tools-based focus that is so prevalent in Lean implementations and, instead, returning the focus to the culture where I believe it belongs.

I managed to pursue my curiosity to the point that I was able to have one-on-one discussions with one of ROWE’s creators, and I sparked the curiosity of several recognized Lean thought leaders as well.  After stirring the pot and looking for the common ground between the two, I am now wondering if my original theory – that ROWE could enable Lean – was a bit backwards.

Tuesday, when Mark Graban appeared on the Results-Only Live radio show, the conversation centered around the similarities both the Lean and ROWE community face when attempting to change the leadership styles and culture I posed this question via twitter (and, yes, I realize the irony in the fact that I wasn’t able to call in because I was busy at work!):

Is Lean enabled by ROWE, or is ROWE an attempt to achieve the Lean ideal?

Whereas I began this comparison of ROWE and Lean believing the former, I am starting to believe it is the latter.  ROWE, as Mark indicated on the show, is a response to the same problem Lean sees – people are underutilized and non-value-added activities are everywhere.  So, what ROWE has attempted to do is eliminate that waste and utilize people to their fullest.  It also does so in an intuitive fashion, and returns the gains back to the workers in terms of control over their time and freedom to work when and where they please.  All of which is very enticing to all ranks of the organization, at a personal level.

Lean’s bad rap stemming from the terrible implementations of the practice due to a misunderstanding of Lean principles is an issue to be addressed, to be certain.  What I am currently considering, however, isn’t how much ROWE’s perspective can be used to help overcome bad implementations, but why a whole other paradigm should be layered on top of “Bad” Lean just to make it go better.  Why not just focus on making True Lean, which has a well-developed set of principles and tools, the norm?  If we’re focusing on making Bad Lean more palatable, aren’t we missing a focus on the root cause and, instead, focusing on doing expertly that which should not be done at all?

As I have mentioned on this blog and others is that the countermeasures to that problem are much more well developed in the Lean school of thought.  Which begs the question, if “Good” Lean and ROWE are seeing the same problem, with the same end goals in mind, and Lean has a much more robust and mature tool set – shouldn’t we be focusing on understanding on making the adoption of “Good” Lean the norm, and not on adopting ROWE to overcome the bad?

Raising awareness of ROWE and Lean


Introduction by BlackPandah on

Last week, I posted a question on Linked In:

Are Lean/Six Sigma and ROWE (Results Only Work Environment) complimentary, or competing, approaches to workplace transformation?

Both place a heavy emphasis on value and the elimination of any activities that don’t produce that value. Lean, however, advocates an engaged management that is able to “go to Gemba.” In gemba, leaders can observe where value is created in order to find waste and identify areas for improvement. ROWE, however, places a heavy emphasis on worker autonomy and freedom, as long as the Results are achieved. This could lead to the Gemba being anywhere and everywhere, especially for knowledge workers.

If good results come from good practices, and good practices are created, sustained and improved by observing work in Gemba, does that indicate Lean is incompatible with ROWE?


I asked my connections whose backgrounds were centered in either Lean or ROWE to weigh in on the discussion.  People from both backgrounds frequently indicated they had little knowledge of the other.  That was not much of a surprise, but I hope this discussion helped to raise some awareness. Here’s what some of them had to say:


Mark Graban (Consultant, Speaker, Blogger, Author of ‘Lean Hospitals,” Chief Improvement Officer at KaiNexus):

One question I have about ROWE (based on an admittedly superficial understanding from having read a few business magazine articles about Best Buy): When is individual performance ever truly individual? If I’m part of a team, how do you measure individual results? If I’ve done “my work” and get to go home, how does that impact a team that’s dependent partly on my work or additional effort?

Joe Dager (Creator of the Lean Marketing House program)

@Mark Is not Kaizen and Teamwork an individual process. Do you not have to take individual responsibility and ownership before you can help the team? I use the term iTeam and clearly discuss that the I (individual) comes before team. So to me ROWE is leaving the worker pull the Andon chord versus being “supervised/monitored”. Completely supports team theory since that is who responds to the Andon.

Note: Joe has asked me to share my thoughts on an upcoming edition of his podcast.

Kimberlee Bush (Digital Imaging Specialist at The Raymond Corporation)

For knowledge workers, I do not think LEAN and ROWE are incompatible. It requires a thorough understanding of the purpose and goals of both if applied together. Knowing what the priorities of the position and organization are, for both the worker and the leader, will help define the results expected, while leaving room for autonomy to makes process improvements on an individual level. Knowledge workers are not usually confined by the repetitive processes of a shop floor (gemba), but will often benefit from a true Value Stream Mapping exercise.

 Cali Ressler (Co-Creator of ROWE and co-author of “Work Sucks and how to fix it: The Results-Only Revolution“)

ROWE and Lean can, and should, co-exist. When you try to implement Lean practices without a ROWE in place, things will be good for awhile – but then, because everyone has to fill time anyway, there’s no incentive for being efficient/remaining Lean. So people start to fill up the time again with things that don’t matter. In a ROWE, Lean practices are sustained because people are rewarded for efficiency, streamlining processes, etc.

Mark Hamel (Lean Implementation Consultant, Award-Winning Author, and Blogger)

Well, your question made me try to learn a bit about ROWE (I had never heard about it before). I am definitely a proponent of a meritocracy, which ROWE appears to facilitate…in spades.

Not sure how the results only (one video I watched said ROWE was about productivity, productivity, and productivity) jives with lean principles such as standard work, respect, humility, flow and pull, etc. I presume that there is a danger with an overemphasis on productivity, especially depending upon team size/scope. For example, will it drive sub-optimization? What about the application of SDCA (standardize-do-check-adjust)? Etc.

Guess I need to learn more about ROWE. Bottom line for me though is if it is inconsistent with lean principles, it’s DOA.


Thanks to all the respondents, there were others who posted there ideas, too, and the question is still open.  Feel free to post your own thoughts.

What the responses revealed to me is that both the Lean and ROWE approaches have some similarities, especially when it comes to the Respect for People principle of Lean thinking, as well as the elimination of useless activities – both tangible and intangible.  It also revealed, however, that there needs to be more awareness and information shared so that experts on either side can determine how the two approaches can come into alignment.

So, will culture help me grow my business?

stacks and stacks

stacks and stacks by caughtupinblue on

Obviously, I’ve been investing a lot of my time in learning about ROWE and, recently, I’ve also been spending time with Simon Sinek’s Start with Why.  I think both are concepts very worth engaging in, as I think they both point to a universal problem – the lack of interest with which we all seem to go about our daily lives.  We are, most definitely, lacking a sense of purpose out there.  It’s clearly been established and is discussed, in some way or another, across nearly every management improvement article, book and interview.

So, in thinking about these things, I have to wonder what good these things do for a company?  I mean, certainly the rank and file adore them – they make sense and appeal to base, humanistic concerns that ought to be much more a part of things in the workplace – and everywhere else – as we attempt to find our own, individual work/life balance.  But what about the decision-making check-writers at the top?  What’s in it for them?

All business is, to one degree or another, a volume business.  The size of a business is determined by its revenues.  While nearly every improvement school focuses on lowering costs – do they help to increase revenue?  Most businesses will live within a certain margin that is reasonable within the company’s industry.  True growth, however, occurs by selling more and increasing the volume of dollars flowing in.

So, how can a business see the impact of adopting progressive cultural experiments on total, overall dollars at its disposal?  If you had asked me up until a week ago, my answer would have been:  It can’t.

An employee-centric culture doesn’t necessarily give you the latest, greatest innovations in either management, product or service delivery, or design.  It doesn’t make your accountants faster or cheaper.  It doesn’t make your HR department more resilient, your marketing department more creative, your sales reps more ambitious and it doesn’t make customers throw tons of money at you.  At least, not directly.  Sure, there could be some statement about how engaged employees perform better, or how they are more likely to be creative or find innovation within their area of expertise.  I believe those things to be true, but they are hard to determine and there’s no real, direct cause-and-effect relationship between culture that can be measured with a yardstick to determine performance anyway.

Or can it?

Last week, I came across a post by Torben Rick entitled, “Can corporate culture boost financial performance” that made me aware of a new book by James Heskett, an Emeritus Professor at Harvard Business School.  The book, The Culture Cycle: How to Shape the Unseen Force that Transforms Performance.  The book is discussed in some detail in an interview with Professor Heskett posted on the Harvard Business School’s website.  Check out this excerpt:

Q: Your research produces an eye-opening number, that as much as half of the difference in operating profit between organizations can be attributed to effective cultures. Why is this true-how does culture affect the bottom line?

A: The point is that organization culture is not a soft concept. Its impact on profit can be measured and quantified. And in organizations with large numbers of customer-facing employees, the sum of the effects of employee turnover, referrals of potential employees by existing ones, productivity, customer loyalty, and referrals of new customers attributable to culture can add up to half of the difference in operating income between organizations in the same business.

Current and former CEOs such as Lou Gerstner (HBS MBA ’65) and Sam Palmisano (IBM), Ken Iverson (Nucor), Tony Hsieh (, and Scott Cook (HBS MBA ’76) (Intuit) who believe strongly in the importance of culture have been hinting at this, so I went out into the field and collected data that demonstrate it.

Once in a while, I love it when I am wrong.

Professor Hackett’s research would seem to indicate that the benefits of culture are not just idealistic arguments.  With data to support those arguments,  there’s growing evidence that the world of work could be a better place if only the decision makers made humanistic concerns as much a cornerstone of the business as the balance sheet.  The business benefits of culture, it would seem, are no longer a just a set of intangible theories, but a quantifiable phenomenon that can be demonstrated with objective evidence.

Since the benefits are real, observable, demonstrable and can be measured then we have to conclude that culture can, indeed, help decision makers to to grow the business.  The only thing left to do, then, is wonder why more business leaders aren’t investing in culture already?

Scholtes: The workplace visionary no one’s heard of

As you can see from recent posts, I’ve got some issues on my mind concerning the nature of the workplace and how we can change it.  It’s no secret that work is broken – it’s demeaning, controlling and the normal mode of doing things seems increasingly out of touch with the development of technology, societal trends, and – at worst – basic human nature.

In recent years, we’ve seen some thought leaders offer up best selling books, visionary programs and torrents of articles and other works describing what is wrong, how to fix it, and attempting to explain the science behind their approaches.  In particular, Dan Pink gave us Drive, Best Buy gave us the ROWE experiment, and Lean thinkers continue to encourage us to think of front-line emplyees first, as in Jim Womack’s Gemba Walk.

What I find interesting is that all of these approaches to improving the workplace, at least in part, have some basis in Peter Scholtes 1998 Book, The Leader’s Handbook.  In the book, Scholtes pulls together theories on motivation and change management, describes new leadership styles that will be required in the 21st century, and discusses the need for managers to understand and facilitate work, rather than control and direct it.

 Scholtes even quotes social scientist Mikhail Czikszentmihalyi directly, discussing the need for flow in the workplace and describing the conditions affecting it.  Czikszentmihalyi’s work is central to the discussion of intrinsic motivation in Drive, and here it is in Scholtes’ book – more than a decade before Drive’s publication.  Scholtes also dedicates a chapter to “Meaning, Purpose, Direction, and Focus” – which is similar to Pink’s Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose.

There are many parts of Scholtes’ book that discuss workplace culture, and many of these discussions remind me of the changes that the ROWE movement is attempting to create.  Scholtes describes aspects of culture from the employees’ point of view, particularly the interaction of social needs and the sense of accomplishment (or, as I like to call it, work/life synthesis):

  • I can like my coworkers and the company but dislike my job
  • I can like my job and coworkers but dislike the company
  • I can like my job and the company but dislike my coworkers
  • When I like all three, I am more likely to be energetic, committed, and motivated to do good work

These four points, in my mind, are pivotal to ROWE.  People may like the work, and their coworkers, but not the environment – or any combination thereof – and by allowing people to determine for themselves the nature of those interactions, everyone moves from some combination of the first three bullets to an outcome that looks more like the fourth.

Last year, I sent an email to Dan Pink, asking if his own book was the next step from Scholtes’ work.  I received a response, presumably from Mr. Pink himself, who declared he was not familiar with Scholtes.  When I discussed ROWE with Jody Thompson, she was also unfamilar with Scholtes.  I believe both authors are genuine, and rather than discount my admiration for what they have accomplished, it only enhances my appreciation for Scholtes’ vision of the 21st century workplace.  It seems that, at long last, we are starting to realize what he determined we would need to do in order to move forward.  It has been a long time coming and these movements are still in their early stages, however, I think the trend is clear.

Scholtes also discusses the Gemba and the need for managers to be more present in it – and goes into a discussion of why it is important.  Clearly, there is a need to reconcile all of these varying approaches to improving what we know is a broken mindset regarding the nature of work and how people perform it best.  It seems plausible, however, that the foundation for that reconciliation was laid quite some time ago. 

Scholtes passed away in 2009.  Hopefully, he was aware of the work being done that moved us closer to his vision, even if the movers were unaware of him.