In spite of all the emphasis on processes, techniques and tools, the most critical aspect of lean management is making it all work, which necessitates a strong focus on the people doing the work. Without their input, we will not get the buy-in necessary to make and sustain needed changes. If the new and improved methods are not used, or if we keep falling back on old, more familiar ways, we can hardly say we have “continuous improvement.”

It is commonly believed that this philosophy of engaging people in how to do the work came to us from Japan, when interest in Japanese management took off in the early 1980s. At that time, the notion of asking operators their ideas and opinions was quite revolutionary – though I suspect that good American supervisors had surreptitiously been doing it all along. The funny thing is that when I got to Japan in late 1980, the Japanese managers I met were dumbfounded at all the attention being given to their management practices. “Why is that?” they asked. “You taught us everything we know.”

In his groundbreaking research reintroducing Training Within Industry (TWI) into the American arena, Alan Robinson reports that, in an interview from August 1951, the “concept of humanism in industry” was “one of the most appreciated ideas transmitted into Japan by TWI.” (Training, Continuous Improvement, and Human Relations, California Management Review, Winter 1993.)

The notion that good management included a respect for individuals was not, at that time, a part of the Japanese style. Robinson claims that, in addition to developing an appreciation for a more rational approach to management, TWI was able to teach the Japanese that “good human relations are good business practice, a message that is given credit for helping break up the tradition of autocratic management prevalent in Japan before and during the war.”

Whenever I teach the first session of the Job Methods module of TWI, in the demonstration example of Assembly of the Microwave Shield, I point out how the supervisor worked with the operator to include his ideas for improvement as well as her own. I also mention that this is exactly (minus the gender changes) how the demonstration was presented in the 1940s when the program was first taught. We Americans have always known this technique works well, but we lost this insight somewhere along the way. “It’s the American Way,” I tell them with as much bravado as I can muster, “born out of good ol’ Yankee ingenuity.”

It doesn’t really matter whether it was Made in the U.S.A. or not. I just say that to encourage them to use the method. When I’ve taught the TWI courses in other countries, from India to Singapore to Mexico to Germany, everyone understands and embraces these concepts because the focus on humanity is universal and transcends cultures.

But it is important to note this history because for the most part today, front-line supervisors and managers resist or reject anything they consider “touchy-feely” as something that may sound good but, in the end, will not produce results. They do not have faith in the sincerity and work ethic of their people and, more significantly, they do not have the skills to lead their people in a way that would be truly motivating. The underlying values of all the TWI programs – what the Japanese found so appealing when they were first introduced to TWI – encompass these leadership qualities.

What are the human elements of TWI and why, if applied, do they lead to the ultimate success of the methods? Oftentimes in a Job Instruction (JI) session, when I introduce the core concept of “If the worker hasn’t learned, the instructor hasn’t taught,” a skeptical participant will speak up and say, “Now wait just a minute! You can’t put that on me. If you only knew the kind of people I have to supervise …” When I challenge them on this, they almost always fall back to the position: “Even if I had a good instruction method, they still wouldn’t listen to me.” 

That is correct. But this isn’t a problem of instruction. It is a problem of leadership. A leader is a person who has followers. If people are not following your instructions, then you are not leading them. Today, we are finding with companies large and small that a JI implementation is almost always combined with Job Relations (JR), where the stated goal is to gain the dedication and cooperation of people in getting the work done. When we apply the JR method of developing and maintaining good relations with people, only then, when people want to do their jobs correctly, can we expect good results from our instruction effort.

Step 1 of JI, then, is dedicated completely to putting the learner in the proper frame of mind to learn. By calming their anxiety over doing something new and letting them know why the job is important, supervisors can get the learner to be attentive and to care about learning to do it right. It takes some practice to use this skill properly because supervisors are not accustomed to paying attention to the human element of learning, in addition to all the technical aspects to the work. People are not machines, and TWI teaches supervisors how to engage their hearts and minds for each job – no matter how simple or small – that we ask them to do.

The TWI skills are aimed at helping supervisors get quality work done on time and at a competitive cost. Even in the JR module, the caution point to the final step of checking the results of your problem resolution is, “Did your action help production?” However, all three methods recognize and engage the vital element of people in this equation. “As proof of that,” the JR manual preaches, “try sending all of your people home. How much work will you be able to accomplish then?”

About the author:
Patrick Graupp worked for 20 years for Sanyo Electric Company, where he taught TWI around the globe. Since 2002, working in conjunction with the TWI Institute, he has been reintroducing TWI into the U.S. in its original format as maintained by the Japanese over five decades. He is the Shingo Prize-winning author of “The TWI Workbook: Essential Skills for Supervisors published in 2006 by Productivity Press.”

This article was previously published in TWI News (