Podcast transcript 0029: Respect for people, with Fabian Jimenez

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Brian: Welcome back to Improve Something Today. I’m Brian. Each episode, I bring you an idea from the world of lean and continuous improvement, and I’m joined today by my colleague, Fabian Jimenez. We will be talking about respect for people, which is such an exciting and important topic. I feel like respect for people is the first thing that goes out the window and a great many botched lean implementations.

And Fabian is a very thoughtful and skilled and incredibly talented person. I love working with him on projects, and I love chatting with him, and I’m glad that we will all get to see what he has to say about this important topic. So with no further ado, I bring you Fabian. 

So I’m here with my friend, Fabian Jimenez. He’s a colleague of mine over at Unify Consulting here in the Pacific Northwest. 

Fabian. It is great delight to speak with you today. How are you doing? 

Fabian: I’m doing great, Brian. Thank you so much for having me on. I’ve been looking forward to doing this for a while. 

Brian: Fabian, you and I have worked on a couple of smaller lean projects and we’ve tried to go after some bigger projects and I just really enjoy spending time with you. And I feel like I learn something every time I spend a few minutes with you. So thanks so much for coming on.

Do you want to say a word or two about your background or just want to get into the topic? 

Fabian: Yeah, I can a little bit about my background. So I’ve actually been practicing lean for a little over 15 years. Started in healthcare and actually started there doing some point improvements as a local healthcare and delivery system organization was trying to get ramped up through a grassroots effort, and I’ve been able to work in various parts of the healthcare industry, you know, from delivery to the payer side and human resources and pharmacies, labs, and everything in between—even construction, which was actually probably one of my most fun projects we ever did. So I’ve been really blessed to be able to have all those experiences and hoping to share some of those insights that I’ve been able to glean through those experiences with others.

Brian: Awesome. Well, the topic I wanted to talk with you about is respect for people. 

And I guess just to set it up, at least the way I talk about it, in terms of defining like what the hell is lean, I’ll state it as: this project by which we try to get as much customer value as we can, we do that through continuous improvement and we do it with respect for people.

And I know there’s different ways to kind of lay that out, but to my mind, the search for customer value is fairly easy to understand, at least in theory. And then it gets complicated when you start asking, you know, who our customers and the how do we measure value and how do we know what’s good. 

And continuous improvement, there’s a whole sort of ball of wax, but I imagine people seeing it as some sort of like facilitated discussion and like charts and plans and PDSA cycles.

And respect for people… I don’t know if you’ve ever had this experience, Fabian, but I sure have, of standing that up as an idea and seeing some blank faces. In fact, I even remember one group, this was a group of middle managers in a local government agency some years ago, who I could tell actually felt a little bit insulted by that as part of the framework—in terms of, yeah, of course we have respect for people. You know, we respect our people. Does this mean we’re being disrespectful? 

All that to say that I think respect for people is very important and sometimes a little bit hard to wrap your head around. And I’m hoping that that’s a topic we can dive in today. Does that sound good?

Fabian:  That sounds great. And I just love that introduction. The sense that there’s so much that that sort of is queued up there in the sense of really the definition of who the customer is when you talked about, you know, people getting insulted.

And so they just, there’s some assumptions behind what respect for people means to them. And you remind them about it, then they feel like, oh, are you seeing that? Maybe I don’t do that. And so, yeah, definitely. It’s something good to clarify because when you start talking, talking about what it actually means, how does it look? What does it look like? And then who does it involve? Then it becomes, it was very clear. Oh, there is so much to do there. And I bet everybody has some opportunity too, to make improvements in that regard. 

Brian: So Fabian, why don’t we start with this. If you could give me a little bit of a run through of what respect for people means to you, what would be the first couple of things you would say about respect for people?

Fabian: Well, Brian, I, I love simplicity and so I’m going to keep it super simple. As I’ve been reflecting on, on, on that sort of definition, what really comes to mind is setting people up for success. And it is really about bringing the best for people through a process or circumstances of the work, whatever that is, and considering all of the parties involved in that delivery of that particular product or service. And so that’s kind of what I think about just simply, it’s just sending people up to. Be the best version of themselves and also of the products and services that are delivered. 

Brian: Yeah.

That makes a lot of sense to me. And that seems like a powerful message to come in with, maybe at the outset of a continuous improvement engagement, or if you’re trying to introduce these lean principles to somebody so that they can figure out how to build them into the work they do, And you know, how do I deploy this inside my organization?

So I’m wondering, Fabian, what would you tell somebody if they were to ask you, how do I get started doing that? What are some of the things that I can go and do to start building in respect for people, especially in a context where with you know, a lean transformation or continuous improvement, we know we’re going to be changing a lot of things. We know that people might see things changing around them. We don’t want them to feel left out of the change and know that they could participate in it. What are some things that you advise your clients or other people you work with to do as a way of enabling or enacting respect for people?

Fabian: That’s a really great question. I think the way I’m going to sort of break this down is to talk about, well, what is, what does it look like? You know, what would, what would the experience of somebody who is being respected in a particular process or organization? What would they feel? What would it look like?

What could you tangibly see? And for me, it’s an engagement of three things. 

It’s first of all, engagement of their heads, their intellect, their skills, the best they can bring their experiences to a particular area. 

Secondly, it’s engagement their heart, you know, somebody who is engaged in the purpose and the delivery and believes in what they’re doing.That maybe there’s some good that they’re bringing not, not just to themselves or to the organization, but maybe it’s the world at large. 

And then finally, once you have those two. I think you really do get to start to engage people’s hands, right? The work that they bring. And so that brings the best version of, of the work.

And I’ll put of the work that they do when they believe in what they’re doing. And when they’re in a position or a role that engages the skills that they’re maybe strongest in, or have an interest in developing. And so, again, engagement of head, heart, and hands. You’ll see the results, you see the outcomes, that’s what it looks like.

And so when you walk into an organization, you see people who are just like fired up and they just love what they do. And you just see great, get a great experience from whatever product you get, whatever service you get people who are working with purpose. That’s what it feels like as opposed to somebody who was there, just delivering because you know, they’re being told what to do.

That’s a very different experience. I think each of us, you know, as we go through our daily lives can think probably of some places where you can see where engagement has happened and places where it hasn’t for sure. So as I think about like, well, how do you get there? And so I guess one of the things that I would think about is maybe some stepping stones, right on the path towards, towards that level of engagement, it is really about, you know, skills.

There is there’s some level of skill either. Or there’s some, a skill that somebody brings that there weren’t very strong at and we give people opportunities to develop skills, to further build out their tool belts. And they’re going to take that with them for the rest of their lives. That’s respectful.

And you know, when we talk about continuous improvement, there’s ways of doing that through standard work and steady flow, removing waste. And there’s all of that. Right. So when you do that, right, then you give people an opportunity to be able to, to learn, right. And to be able to grow as individuals and people start to then, you know, believe in themselves and begin to do things that maybe they couldn’t before. You say clear expectations, people know exactly what’s expected of them, and they don’t have to worry whether they’re doing a great job. They know exactly how they’re performing and where they’re succeeding, where their areas to, to grow and develop some more you assume good will and good intent, right.

You hire somebody and have them be a part of your team. And then you’re just a little bit wondering, like, you know, what are they up to. I’ll be up to no good, you know, kind of a thing, you know, you just assume good one good intent. And when something doesn’t go right, you assume that they tried their best and then we have to sort of help them, you know, to the next level.

You gave people a purpose. And then as we mentioned earlier, so people believe in what it is they’re doing and why they’re doing it. And then probably there’s some level of, of benefit, right? You have to show the benefits for themselves. You know, in somehow it will just benefit. Them in their lives, you know, from the work that they’re doing.

So I, I would say again, those are the stepping stones to getting that level of engagement of hell, head, heart, and hands. And I, and I hope that you can see that when you’ve taken that pathway, you know, you’re taking your teams through that pathway, then you do what you set people up for success.

Brian: You’ve laid out a couple of the stepping stones towards respect for people. And that’s a really great way of thinking about it. One thing I’ve really felt, and frankly struggled with in some of my client work around lean and continuous improvement, is that acting on respect for people or, you know, implementing some of what you laid out as the stepping stones can end up feeling like a real loss of control for, supervisors or managers or leadership.

Because if they go down that path, things will be changing the relationship they have to the work that they’re responsible for. That’s going to change a little bit, right? Because they’re going to have people using their hands to solve some of those problems and to drive continuous improvement. And that can feel like a loss of control or at maybe a not entirely pleasant change for management and leadership.

That’s something I’ve seen many times, right. Where people want to support this, but it can feel hard to do. 

Fabian: For a typical, you know, top down manager, it is going to be difficult and maybe even impossible, right. To make the leap from just telling people what to do and expecting them to just get it done by any means necessary.

As opposed to a leader, somebody who is there to pave the way and guide their staff and sacrifice for their teams and by doing the work necessary to help them succeed. I think it depends on the leader in the sense of how, what their personal philosophy is in terms of what leadership looks like. And so I would say for a, a good leader, right?

One that one that is invested and as a servant to their staff, then I think this is a very natural way. For them to, to be able to do that. And as simply a matter of implementing maybe a few different tools or tactics but I think a lot of it would just sort of fit naturally into how they lead anyway.

And you can really see the difference when you are working with a team who has a leader that they believe really cares for them. And works hard for them and supports them. And who is somebody who has their back then, then that there’s this a harmonious sort of rhythm that occurs there that this type of, I think, respect for people like implementation. If we were to talk about it that way we just sort of fit in. It wouldn’t even be sort of a stretch. And then I’ve, I’ve also been on the other side where I’ve seen other managers, advisors who are used to just, you know for lack of a better term noon, or just, just cracking the whip. Or laying the law down and saying, this is somebody needs to get done. Just get it done. I don’t care. You know, how it gets done. Then those types of managers. Will not succeed in this way, it will be much of a stretch and oftentimes do not continue in that process. You know, and then choose to find maybe a different place to, to, to do the work.

I’ve seen, I’ve seen it both ways. Right. And so, yeah, that’s, that’s part of, you know, as a consultant we come in and so to just sort of meet people and just meet them where they are and trying to help them grow in something. Yeah. But we’ll choose to take on the challenge and others will choose not to.

And they’ll, they’ll step out of that role and, and make way for somebody else who can do that. But at the end of the day you know, if an organization chooses to practice true lean then that’s the line that it will hold with this with its leaders. Cause it happened, needs to happen at every level.

Right. It can’t just be window dressing. Can’t just be talk, it’s actually gotta be put into practice because that actually shows what you believe in, you know, what do you, how do you work? What do you do? How do you measure it? That really shows who you are as opposed to what you might see in a PowerPoint or in a meeting room.

Brian: That makes me think of one part of respect for people that is really important to me, which is that idea of assuming good faith or assuming sort of right intention. You mentioned how in order for this to work, it has to work—it has to operate across every level of the organization. What that means to me is that a lot of people are going to have to adjust their thinking, not necessarily in lockstep.

And that’s just not how people operate as part of this program. A big part of what that assume good faith phrase really means is that even if there is an employee or a manager or whoever out there who does feel really stuck in terms of they’re feeling stretched or pulled or pushed by some of what’s going on to just give it a, give it a shot to try it out and see what it’s like to work in this slightly new way and think about problems and opportunities in the work in a slightly new way and see how it works for them. Because it is the sort of thing where it’s very easy for one person, especially if it is kind of a chain of command kind of thing, for one person to kind of sit back and cross their arms and decide that something is not going to work or they’re not going to support it.

And a big part of what we can try to do as people who are facilitating these kinds of transformations is. Try to help those people along too. It’s not just people out there doing, you know, delivery or the quote unquote doers of the work. That need our support in order to make these transformations. 

Fabian: I mean, that, that, that touches on a very good point about respect for people. It does look like that. Sometimes you do have to sort of recognize when somebody is not a good fit for the role, you know, despite. That’s attempts or even a desire to do so. Not everybody is, is a perfect fit for every role. And so part of respect for people does include providing people opportunities to be able to get into a role where they will shine more, and not forcing people to, to be in a role that they just don’t love or they’re just not a good fit for. And that’s okay too. That’s all respectful. 

And so then, you know, I’ve also seen that, that scene, that experience, I had the experience of seeing people who were not good fits for a certain role, and then they moved on to a different role and they shined and their lives were changed. And so that’s what, at the end of the day, that was respectful. You set them up for success. It wasn’t here. It was over there and now Customers are getting the benefits of somebody who is in that in inner role, that’s better fit for them and is getting better on products and services. And the team is working better. I think it all, it all works great. And to your point it is not just for the workers, but it also is for, for leaders. Right? So leaders who do not want to adapt to a particular way of living that looks different than what they’ve been doing, they may move out of that role too, and may choose to work differently and others will, will choose to take on the challenge and the shift. And I’ve also seen them sort of success be more successful and be happy because now they feel like they have some permission to be able to lead in a way that, and then they’re also growing and developing themselves.

We’ve sort of been talking a little bit about, you know, the roles, right? Like who who’s, when we talked about respect for people, what, what people, right. And a lot of times I think people just assume it’s the frontline workers, right. That are delivering the value. But I think it also, I think it needs to encompass thinking about it a little bit in a broader scope of.

So the manager, the leadership, you know, the owner of the business, customers, and the frontline workers, people delivering the value. I think it involves all of those people because you know, when you’re doing some level of improvements if you’re focused just on one role, it’s going to be really easy to “respect” somebody and move waste over to somebody else. And now even though one group of people maybe feels more respected. You’ve shifted the burden over to one of those other roles. You know, some, a lot of times ends up being the manager that kind of has to pick up extra burden to do something and that’s not respectful either. 

I think we have to take, take all into account it’s in the same way that we say, you know, if, if, if one of us is not being respected, then none of us are being respected because then you’re simply at the whim of where is the respect going to shift to today or tomorrow? We need to make sure that we’re thinking about all those roles when we think about respect for people. 

And I guess the final point I would make is that when you don’t have respect for people then what you will see in an organization is organization applying lean tools and methodologies like a hammer. You’ll get some good results for a little while, for as long as people will tolerate that sort of practice. But without them, they won’t right after a while. They’ll just like, say, you know what? I can, I can do this work somewhere else. With more respect or just completely different role. And so again lean, as we’ve mentioned is comprised of two pillars, continuous improvement and respect for people. And they both have to go hand in hand and having a good understanding of what, of what respect for people includes what it looks like and how do we practice that? How do we measure it? Really is going to be pivotal to whether or not its organization will continue on their lean journey or limp or fade out with, you know, a bunch of collateral damage along the way.

So thanks for bringing me on today to talk about this topic. It’s something that I believe in strongly and some that I, that I hope to continue to learn more about and be able to apply in my daily work. 

Brian: Thank you for coming on and chatting with me about this, Fabian. 

This was really fascinating, and I can tell you that the head, heart and hands approach that you shared is something that will stick with me after we leave this. That’s a really great way of, of approaching this. And yeah, this is really good peek under the hood of respect for people. Like why, what is this actually about and what is it for?

So thanks again, Fabian. This is awesome. And I look forward to our next conversation or opportunity to collaborate on something. It can’t come soon enough. 

Fabian: Thanks for having me on Brian. I appreciate the time.