Respect and Trust: The Key Drivers of Effective Management

By on June 20, 2013
The Key Drivers of Effective Management

About six months ago I was walking through a manufacturing facility where I’m doing Lean consulting. I stopped by one of the plant’s work cells, observed work for a bit, and asked the employees working in the area if they had any ideas about things that could be done that would improve work flow. One of them gave me a look that expressed surprise at the question and said, “If you want to know how to improve this area, you need to talk with our supervisor. He knows how to improve it better than we do.”

For a moment I was taken aback by her comment and thought about how to reply. I decided that being direct was the best route to take. I replied, “No, he doesn’t. You know better than he does how to improve this work area because you work in it.” She smiled, not being certain about what to say. I added, “What I’m saying is not in any way showing disrespect for the knowledge of your supervisor. He knows a lot. But what he doesn’t have that you do have is the direct experience of actually doing the work.” I ended by asking them to think about “things that bug you” and posting their ideas for improvement…or the waste they spot…on their Idea Board, that absolutely marvelous Lean tool for driving employee engagement that David Mann developed. Several weeks later they had taken my advice. They had spotted some waste in their area and had posted their observations on the Idea Board.

In my years of working as a consultant, I’ve experienced hundreds of repetitions of this incident. Over and over again I’ve seen intelligent, knowledgeable line workers who could make very significant contributions to their company’s productivity and profitability but who had been rendered passive and detached by their work experiences. Why does this happen? What are the drivers of this waste of human potential?

While worker passivity and detachment could be attributed to a number of factors, I believe that the very heart of the matter is the degree to which respect and trust have been missing from their work experiences. Taiichi Ohno, one of the chief architects of the Toyota Production System, taught that Toyota’s success was directly related to the fact that respect and trust are at the heart of their management culture.

I’ve seen first-hand what consistently demonstrated respect and trust can do. In 1986, I was part of group doing team-building training at New United Motors Corporation (known commonly as NUMMI), a joint venture of General Motors and Toyota in Fremont, CA. When I entered the plant I was astounded at its appearance. It was absolutely immaculate. Even more impressive was the spirit of the employees. Obviously they enjoyed working there. They were an engaged, energetic group of individuals. And what was happening that made this place so unique? It was management that practiced the Toyota Production System, later tagged “Lean manufacturing.” It was management that showed workers high degrees of respect and trust.

And much earlier in my life I experienced directly the impact of being shown respect and trust. I was a student in USAF flight training, having a hard time soloing and getting close to being dropped from the program. Fortunately, my flight commander decided to give me another chance and switched me to another flight instructor, a veteran pilot who had flown fighters in WWII. Under Art’s tutelage, I soloed within a week. What made the difference? My first instructor kept his students under very tight reins and the first time we’d do something that wasn’t quite right he’d take the stick. And his preflight briefings always focused on mistakes that we’d made during the previous day’s flight. He showed very little respect for the things we did right and, in flight, very little trust in our ability to recover from mistakes. Not so with Art. After I’d flown twice with him in the back seat of our T-34, he had me taxi to the end of the runway for what I thought would be another routine flight. Not so this time. Art got out of the plane, yelled at me to close the cockpit and take off and I did. A couple of seconds later it came home to me that I was alone in the plane. I circled the field, lined up on final approach and landed. What a great feeling it was. And Art had done it. Well, more specifically, respect and trust did it. His great management style had given me the confidence to do the job.

In my next blog, I’ll be discussing the issue of respect and trust in more detail. I’ll also be describing a program the College has developed that is specifically targeted at making first line supervisors and managers highly effective coaches who know how to show respect and trust like Art did. As a result, their ability to lead high-performing work teams will be markedly increased. If you’d like to talk with me about how to transform your supervisors and managers into guys like my flight instructor, Art, you can reach me anytime at 314-303-0612. I’d value the opportunity to talk with you.

About George Friesen

George Friesen serves as Business Practice Leader - Lean Manufacturing for the Workforce Solutions Group of St. Louis Community College. He has led the College's Lean business practice area since 2000. Prior to joining the College, George worked for Maritz Performance Improvement Company. Over the past 35 years, he has served a wide variety of Fortune 500 companies, specializing during the past eleven years in Lean Manufacturing, focusing especially on the 5S System, Lean leadership and thinking processes, Value Stream Mapping, and Lean team building. George is a graduate of Washington University (AB), Webster University (MA), and United States Air Force Flight Training.