The best aspect of learning, embracing and pursuing lean principles was that I no longer had to check my personal, moral code at the door when I got to work. The fundamental cornerstone of the Toyota Production System of 'Respect For People', upon which the management processes and operational practices are built, provides the solution for the conflict I was taught was a necessary element of 'business'.
Laying people off after directing them through a policy and rules driven command and control structure flies right in the face of the Golden Rule – Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. None of us want to be directed and controlled. We do not want to be 'headcount'. And we especially don't want to lose the means of support for our families. No matter what our religious faith, some variation on the Rule is part of the fundamental ethic built into our way of life, yet doing all of those things we would dread having done to us was a fundamental part of being a business success.
The Buddhists preach, "Putting oneself in the place of another". Confucius said, "Never impose on others what you would not choose for yourself". Muhammad said in his farewell sermon, "Hurt no one so that no one may hurt you." The Jews might have said it best: "That which is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow. That is the whole Torah; the rest is the explanation; go and learn." And as a Christian I learned early on the Gospel of Luke, "as ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise".
We rationalized treating people as 'headcount' to be minimized and controlled with a 'good of the whole' justification. We told ourselves the hard, but necessary and right thing to do was to throw 10% of the workforce out on the streets, even though they were good, had working people, in order to protect the security and the future of the 90% we kept. Kind of like, we needed to throw the fat guy overboard to make sure the lifeboat didn't capsize and jeopardize the rest of the people in it.
And we even built a culture around it. Macho men everywhere could relate to Michael Corleone in the Godfather when he said, "It's not personal, Sonny. It's strictly business." Real men – tough business men - have to check their compassion for people at the door and make hard decisions and do hard things to people. The alternative, we were taught, is to give away the company's money which is not ours to give, erode profits, put the whole business at risk.
I found it increasingly difficult to convince myself that the Michael Corleone philosophy was right. When the judgement day comes, I wasn't so sure the explanation that my business life was an allowable exception to my morals and ethics was going to fly. I recall being struck by Meg Ryan's line in You've Got Mail (as much as it pains me to admit that I watch the occasional chick flick). When confronted with the Michael Corleone line, she said " "What is that supposed to mean? I am so sick of that. All that means is that it wasn't personal to you. But it was personal to me. It's *personal* to a lot of people. And what's so wrong with being personal, anyway? … Whatever else anything is, it ought to begin by being personal." It was a little unsettling to hear that line uttered because she was so right.
The best part of lean is that it proves the rationalizations are wrong. We don't have to separate 'business' from 'personal'. Treating people with respect and by the Golden Rule not only allows us to keep our moral code intact when we get to work, it proves that a strong moral code is the most important tool we have. The company will make more money and everyone's job security is greater because we can – in fact we must - treat people with the respect with which we want to be treated.
That, for me, is the very best aspect of being a lean manufacturer.