by Ken Snyder
A Look at “Respect Every Individual”
A few weeks ago, I announced our intention in the Shingo Institute to look at all of the principles espoused in the Shingo Model currently to see if there might be a better way to name the principle in order to make the principle easier to understand. This blog looks at the first principle to undergo such scrutiny: “Respect Every Individual.” In the Shingo Model, this principle is classified in the “Cultural Enablers” dimension, the foundational dimension upon which all sustainable operational excellence must be built.
This principle became a prominent part of the kaizen movement in Japan. Many organizations that adopted kaizen as a way of doing business simultaneously adopted the foundational value (kihon rinen, or 基本理念) of “respect people” (ningen sonchō, or人間尊重). This wording of “respect people” was considered when the Model was developed. Some people still suggest we should accept this more standard terminology. Ultimately, this option was rejected in favor of the current wording of “respect every individual.” The problem with the wording “respect people” is that it can be justified in general, while making exceptions in the specific – i.e., we, as humans, may respect people of our same race, nationality, gender, or social class, but not respect people who are not of our same race, nationality, gender, or social class.
These issues have come to light in Japan regarding social problems such as the Burakumin (部落民), or the Zainichi Kankokujin (在日韓国人) – both large groups of people who have been denied equal opportunities in Japanese society. In other words, too many Japanese organizations practice “respect people” in so far as they respect Japanese people of a certain social standing, but do not respect every individual. My own country, the United States, has similarly struggled with respecting Black Americans, Native Americans, women, and just about any group of recent immigrants. Similar problems can be identified in almost every other society.
The problem of respecting some but not every individual is that it is conditional respect. People can never be certain that they are meeting the conditions of that respect. People can only trust that they will be respected when every individual is respected.
Some people have suggested that we adopt the wording used by Toyota. Not surprisingly, in the Japanese version of what has become known in English as the “Toyota Way,” the phrase used is not the standard ningen sonchō used elsewhere in Japan, but the phrase ningensei sonchō (or 人間性尊重). Professor Jeff Liker, in his book, The Toyota Way (p. 198), translates this phrase as “respect for humanity,” although I would translate it “respect humanness,” or, more specifically, “respect the unique characteristics (the 性) that make us human.” This wording has the merit of emphasizing that respect includes not asking people to do something machines can do. But it retains the problem described above of addressing the general but not the specific areas of respect.
“Develop Exceptional People and Teams Who Follow Your Company’s Philosophy”?
Speaking of Professor Liker, this is the closest principle described in The Toyota Way to “Respect Every Individual.” Some people have asked why we didn’t adopt this wording. The reason is straightforward. We didn’t adopt this wording because it addresses the specific without addressing the general. We believe that “Respect Every Individual” includes this meaning – and more. In our workshops, we teach that “respect for every individual” includes the health, safety, onboarding, ongoing training, career development planning, etc. of every individual – and that respect extends beyond the people and teams in the organization.
“Respect for Every Individual”?
Should the principle be worded as “Respect Every Individual” or “Respect for Every Individual?” I should note that, to my knowledge, no one has asked to make this change. We just hear people use this wording as they talk about the Model. We believe that including the word “for” in the wording implies a feeling, while omitting the word “for” in the wording implies an action, or a behavior. That is to say, we show we “respect every individual” by our actions and not by how we feel.
”Treat Every Individual With Respect”?
A final option to consider is an option to emphasize the action, or the behavior. While this option has all the benefits of the current wording – it covers the specific AND the general, it implies the behavior and not the feeling, etc. – it takes five words to do so. If the same meaning can be stated in three words, it enjoys the benefit of being more concise. Concise is Lean.
Our opinion is that we got this principle right when we chose the wording of “Respect Every Individual.” Even though we do not plan to adopt any of the suggestions regarding this principle, we still welcome your feedback on principles that we might change to help you understand better.
 I should note that I have not seen the Japanese version of the Toyota Way document personally. The wording of 人間性尊重has been reported to me by a few Toyota executives, and by non-Toyota people familiar with the document. I should also note that when I have asked some Toyota executives about this document and the wording of this principle, they report that they have no idea of what I am talking about.