Respect for People – Kin Test:


I work in the field of medical devices. We use a thought experiment in our field that I like to call “the kin test”. It goes something like this. Would you let your kin, your mother, your child or your father, use this medical device we manufacture? Is the quality of this device good enough that it can be used on your dearest kin?

After writing the post about Respect for People last week, I pondered about this kin test and wondered if it is applicable for Respect for People as well.

How would you answer the question, “Would you let your kin, your mother, your child or your father, work at where you are working?” If there is a hesitation in answering this, maybe the Respect for People is something that your company needs to look at.

Everything depreciates with time or so we learn from our accounting counterparts. The equipment you just bought, the building you are in, all these have lost value since day 1. There is something that actually gains value with time – people. People actually gain value with time, their experience and knowledge increases their value with time. This is all the more reason why you should invest in your people.

Not a lot is out there about this subject. The following interpretations are based on my research and thinking. Respect for People is not about being nice. It is not about saying “hello”. Respect for people is about nurturing accountability and ownership. Peter Senge, in his book The Fifth Discipline, talks about creative tension.

Creative tension exists when there are two opposing realities,

1) vision – where we should be, and

2) current reality – the status quo, where we are right now.

Creative tension resides in the zone between these two opposing forces. My thinking is that Respect for People also resides in this zone. This is one that nurtures accountability and ownership.

respect - creative tension

This Creative Tension idea actually aligns really well with Toyota Production System (TPS). In TPS, one is asked to understand the current state, the ideal state and the gap. This allows creation of countermeasures to reach the ideal state.

The current reality represents the struggle from middle management and lower management to maintain the status quo. The vision represents the struggle from the upper management and some portion of the middle management to recreate the status quo. This zone is ideal for Kaizen or continuous improvement. The continuous improvement is an everlasting march towards betterment and is incremental in nature.

A key point that I want to shed light on is that, in this zone, answers are never provided. The manager provides coaching and training, and nudges in the right direction such that the employee is able to reach the goal on his own. Giving the answer takes away the accountability; instead the manager mentors the employee to find the ideal solution by giving him thinking tools. This can happen only in the Creative Tension zone. Providing suggestions or answers and not getting involved is not the answer either. The manager is required to mentor the employee and advise him of things to consider to reach the vision state.

The first step for this is to coach the employee to start noticing problems. Taiichi Ohno, the creator of TPS is said to have drawn chalk circles on the factory floor and made his subordinates stand inside it and watch the process to identify problems. They were made to stand inside the circle until their list of problems matched Ohno’s.

Once the problems are identified, the employee is coached to find causes and propose countermeasures. The final step is empowering the employees to make decisions and implement the countermeasures.

These steps are very well described in the book Kaizen Teian 1, as four levels of employee involvement in continuous improvement.

  • Level 0 – Zero energy, zero interest and zero responsibility
  • Level 1 – Noticing and pointing out problems
  • Level 2 – Finding causes of problems, raising ideas and proposing countermeasures
  • Level 3 – Making decisions, implementation and effects

Final Thoughts:

Creating a culture of Respect for People is everybody’s job. What level would you say you are in at your current job?


As indicated in the figure above, the Respect for People increases as the number of levels goes up. Level 3 clearly results in a culture of Respect for People, and a path well aligned to reach the Vision State. This does not represent a workplace where the employee is asked to leave his brains outside. Nor does it represent a workplace where the employee does not feel empowered. You are creating the most value in a level 3 workplace. This in turn will make the employees feel valued. The level 3 workplace is a workplace that will pass the kin test with flying colors.

Always keep on learning…


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