Respect for people is a cornerstone of KAIZEN™ otherwise known as Continuous Improvement philosophy. If you respect people you will earn their respect in return. This mutual respect is a key prerequisite for a business culture that will breed trust, motivation and excellence. Though this sounds simple enough, I’ve seen too many examples across various different organisations to know that true respect for people can be quite rare and elusive.
Often we hear that employees are organisations’ most valuable assets. Most of us would agree with this statement … however, our actions and decisions often contradict this especially when a business is facing tough financial challenges. If we also take the time to review the dynamics of the crucial process of managing our human resources, you will understand why many of us struggle to get it right all the time – especially when the economy is forcing us to justify every single cost item!
We need to take a good honest look at the entire human resources management process if we want to understand what it means to respect our employees. To do this we can confirm how well we’re faring in our own organisations by assessing the following basic rules of respecting our people:
First rule: Respect for people means providing meaningful and valuable jobs and career paths
As usual the starting point is with strategy. Your Human Resources and staffing strategy needs to support a clear corporate strategy to be able to drive wise and appropriate recruitment and appointment, staff development and develop a strong, positive organisation culture. A basic I know, but sadly not very often present.
What I’m referring to is a real strategy-in-action that is visible at all levels of the organisation. The strategy should be clear enough for you to develop long term skills requirements and skills matrixes, to do human resource capacity planning, training needs analysis and career planning. These tools will help you in ways that include deciding and managing the required mix between permanent and temporary staff; assisting with relevant and meaningful role descriptions and assisting with career and succession planning.
Once you get these basics right, you can have confidence that you are appointing the right people in the right positions so everyone has the opportunity to develop themselves and contribute to the organisation’s success. There won’t be the scenarios of experimenting with positions, or hoping it will work out, or retrenching or restructuring every now and then to correct unnecessary appointments or organisation structure blunders.
Second rule: Respect for people means enabling people to express themselves in their jobs
Though everyone is a unique and complex individual, there are certain common factors that determine employee motivation. We have learnt that money alone can not guarantee sustained staff motivation.
People need to know to have efforts recognised, have a sense of self worth and feel that their employer is fair and can be trusted. Only then will they be able to motivate themselves. That’s right…I said they will motivate themselves – I don’t believe one person can motivate someone else in the long term. You can influence or determine others’ behaviour with intimidation, threats, blackmail or even “sweet talk” – in the end the individual will decide for themselves whether that truly motivates them in the long term or not.
Most of us have a creative ability and need to be able to express that in some way. It always saddens me to see how many people take on a different persona when they are at work. It is almost as if they are two different people, depending upon whether they are inside or outside their work environment.
Sixth century B.C. philosopher Lao Tzu captured the essence of this second rule by his quote: “The master of the art of living makes little distinction between his work and his play, his labour and his leisure, his mind and his body, his education and his recreation, his love and his religion. He simply pursues his vision of excellence in whatever he does, leaving others to decide whether he is working or playing. To him, he is always doing both.”
To me this should be our objective; to appoint people and to create an environment at work where everyone can get fulfilment and satisfaction while they work. They should be able to have fun and enjoy being at work. We also know very well that creative and active, ongoing involvement of employees is a prerequisite for sustainable efficiency and profitability. For us the real translation of KAIZEN™ is that it’s everyday, everywhere improvement by everyone.
How is this possible then? Once you’ve applied the first rule and ensured that you have appointed the right people in meaningful positions, you have to create an environment to equip and encourage people to harness their creativity to benefit themselves, their teams and the wider organisation. If you don’t, people will be creative anyway. They will find many ways to bypass the system or to make their lives easier or more interesting at work. I call that “work-around” or “shortcuts”. They will also dislike their jobs and only come to work for the incentive of money and this means they could likely leave for another job that will pay a little bit more without thinking twice. Why? Because there is nothing else that will keep them there – no opportunity to live fulfilling lives at work – no respect.
Third rule: Respect for people means always treating them fairly – even during tough times
Treat others how you would like them to treat you. This familiar universal principle is at the core of the third rule. The first two rules confirmed that people need fair remuneration, a productive and meaningful job, recognition for their efforts and the opportunity to learn and grow at work. This third rule acknowledges that most importantly people need to be valued as human beings.
When the pressure builds however, to cut costs people are often treated as just another cost item. Managers try to de-personalise the people they make redundant. Some even believe that the ability “to make the tough calls” is a prerequisite for a good manager. Some go as far as specialising and building a reputation as “hatchet men” whose main task is to cut headcount for organisations.
The three rules can be used as a quick sanity check to confirm whether you are truly respecting our employees. This is obviously an ongoing quest, but respecting employees is only the start of a journey. Next will come respect for people who are your customers, suppliers, shareholders, partners and anyone else who we are dealing with on a day to day basis.