Everyone Can Be a Winner!
By Norman Bodek, President, PCS Press
Imagine all your employees are self-motivated, highly skilled artisans who are self-reliant and self-directed. At conferences, when I ask the audience to try to imagine that type of workforce, some look excited, while others cringe. From the cringers, I always hear the same question, “But who would do the boring, repetitive work? We can’t have everyone educated and in charge of their work and careers.”
To the cringers I respond, “Why not?” To those who look excited, I say, “Tell me about your company. It must be very progressive and a great place to work.”
No More Mediocrity
In the global economy, the age of unskilled people doing repetitive and boring work is dying. In the last few years, American manufacturing has lost 6 million jobs to offshore labor. The future of industry depends on producing high-end products using highly skilled workers. To stay competitive and improve quality, all industries should be focusing on skill building, training, and self-reliance.
What does self-reliance mean? Takashi Harada, a management consultant and trainer in Japan, developed a new training method based on making individuals more self-reliant. He defines it as someone who is: successful, reliable, trustworthy, highly skilled, and able to make the best decisions for themselves, their family, their associates, and for the organization they work for.
It’s an impressive list of attributes, and not many people can click off everything, but with the right training and ongoing support, anyone can become self-reliant and a valued and needed member of their organization. But the question is: How do people become self-reliant and, more importantly, how can management encourage this kind of personal and professional growth for employees at every level of the company?
In the 1800s, many people were artisans. Young people had to go through an apprenticeship for many years with a master craftsperson, and they ended up with a valuable skill. Between 1880 and 1900, Frederick Taylor developed the concept of the “division of labor” and the “simplification of work.” Henry Ford used the concept of de-skilling, putting people onto an assembly line, and having them repeat simple tasks.
If you worked for Ford in those days, your job might be to tighten eight screws on an automobile, the same eight screws on each automobile, for eight to 10 hours a day, every day. The work was so boring that Ford had to hire 963 people to get 100 to stay on the job and had to double their wages. Ford’s system was effective, and his company became the richest in America. Many companies emulated his model, which was great for shareholders but not so good for workers.
Repetition with Focus and Skill
Over the years, I have visited more than 250 plants, both in the U.S. and Japan. On one of my recent visits to Japan, I visited Kokusan Denki, a Hitachi group plant, and watched a middle-aged man in the factory doing simple, repetitive work. To me, it was deadly. He put a small metal part into a machine and hit a button. The machine then worked on the part. The man then took the part out and replaced it with another one. While I watched him, suddenly, he slammed his hands against the machine, shouted loudly and looked as if he was crazy. He looked just the way I would have felt if I had to do that job over and over again, every day of the week. After screaming, he calmly went back to work doing the same repetitive task.
A few minutes later, I walked down the line and watched a woman holding a small motor in one hand, carefully soldering wires to the motor. It took her a few minutes to solder each motor. She then picked up another motor and did the same thing again. She looked different from the previous man. Her job required great focus and concentration, and she was skilled at what she was doing.
Like the first worker, the woman also was doing repetitive work. Unlike the first worker, she seemed to be at peace with her work. It was obvious to me the difference between the two jobs. I even asked the woman, “How do you like your job?” She answered that she was happy with what she was doing. I knew it was true. The man’s job was boring, but the women’s job required great concentration and dexterity.
This was a great lesson for me—to see both people in the factory doing repetitive work. The woman’s job required a high degree of skill and, thus, had meaning and gave dignity to her, while the man’s job was not designed for a human being. This illustrates how giving employees the tools to be self-reliant makes the difference.
Build Great People to Build Great Products
One of the main focal points in Japan today is for workers to become masters in some discipline. Since Japan cannot compete against the low labor rate in China, India, and elsewhere in Asia, Japanese companies must produce high value-added products with highly skilled workers. In a number of companies, you hear the words, “monozukuri” (build great products) and “hitozukuri” (build great people to build those great products).
With the method Takashi Harada developed (called the Harada Method), he created a specific step-by-step process employees and management can follow, eventually leading to not only more self-reliant employees, but higher-quality products and greater overall success for the organization. It’s based on the idea of everyone individually setting a clear goal they want to achieve and then designing and developing what they need to do to reach their goal, with the guidance and help of a mentor. Their mentor could be their boss, but it also could be someone else within the organization or even from outside. It just needs to be someone who will take the time and has the experience to help guide the employee toward reaching his or her goal.
These are not short-term, easy-to-reach goals. The goals people are setting are large, life-changing goals: “I want to become an engineer.” “I want to have the highest sales for the company this year.” “I want to go from being a factory worker to plant supervisor within the next five years.” These goals are not just big dreams, they are backed up by the exact steps needed to reach each and every goal.
When someone has a work or life goal, it’s amazing what happens. They become focused on what they need to do to achieve their goal. It is sad how many people have no idea what they really want to do. I teach a class at Portland State University in Portland, OR. I always ask my students to tell me what they want to do when they finish their degrees (some are graduating that semester). Nine times out of 10, I hear that they want to get a good job and make a lot of money. Most can’t tell me what kind of a job they want, the type of work they would like to be doing, or even the field. They figure they just need to get a job, which hopefully they’ll like.
They might find a job, and they may even like it, but the odds are against them. Without a clear goal and a defined set of steps to reach that goal, most people flounder and end up doing things they don’t enjoy. My students have told me that they can figure out what they want to do at their new job, and the company will teach them what they need to know. I tell them that clear, specific goals and a spirit of self-reliance will get them not just a job but a career they can be passionate about.
When I met Takashi Harada a few years back and learned about his method for developing self-reliance, he told me that his method is based on sports and coaching. That’s not surprising considering he started out as a track and field coach many years ago. If you think about it, developing great athletics is the same as developing great employees. Athletes have specific personal goals they set for themselves; they want to jump the highest, run the fastest, throw the longest. Once they have their goals, they develop the steps they need to take to eventually reach their goals. And they rely on the help and guidance of a strong, supportive coach.
Takashi Harada did come by his method in a very unique way—by trying to help disadvantaged children in an inner city middle school in Osaka, Japan, become better athletes and stay in school. These children came from the worst possible backgrounds, and for many years, Harada struggled to find a way to get the children to care about anything. Over time, he developed his method based on the idea that each person needs to focus on four things.
As Harada explains in his first book in English, “The Harada Method - the Spirit of Self-Reliance” (PCS Press), “From years of trial and error, the truth finally came to me. By harmonizing spirit, skill, physical condition, and daily life (the four aspects), you are enabled to manage your life by yourself. This is what being self-reliant is all about.” Fortunately, Takashi Harada did not just come up with motivational slogans and new exercise routines to turn his students around. He developed specific steps, complete with specially designed forms the students needed to complete, to move them closer and closer to achieving their goals. Eventually, Harada’s school became the best in track and field out of 380 schools, and his students won 13 gold medals. Many also went on to graduate high school and go on to universities and good careers—something they had never thought possible.
Yes, some employees prefer to be told exactly what to do and will balk at the idea of working toward self-reliance, but they will be in the minority. From my experience, most people are thrilled at the chance of taking charge of their life and having the opportunity to improve and grow. As professionals working in the training field, it’s our responsibility to encourage this type of growth and to be mentors and coaches to as many employees as possible.
No one wants to go every day to a job they don’t enjoy or where they feel unappreciated, and they definitely do not want to do work that is repetitive, boring, and easily done by a machine. I’ve dedicated the last 20 years to helping businesses discover the creative talents within each and every employee—because it really is there. By focusing on making employees self-reliant, that talent will flow out. Employees will be more self-motivated, self-directed, better trained, and skilled, and, more importantly, happier—leading to greater overall success for all.
A recently retired CEO traveled with me on one of my study missions to Japan. After touring a plant, he said something powerful that has always stayed with me: “I had a major opportunity to help make my employees’ lives better. I could have invested in building my people’s skills. I used to think, ‘Why should I invest in people when they will one day get up and leave the company?’ I messed up. Their success would have been our success. I am truly sorry now.”
If you can help to give your employees the tools they need to become self-reliant and the opportunity to reach their goals, you will never have to look back and feel the same sense of regret that the CEO felt that day in Japan.
Norman Bodek is president of PCS Press, a consulting, training, and publishing company located in Vancouver, WA. He is also an adjunct professor at Portland State University in Portland, OR. In 1979, Bodek started Productivity Inc. and Productivity Press, which published hundreds of manufacturing books and held conferences, seminars, and plant tours across the country. Bodek—who has been called “Mr. Productivity” by Industry WeekMagazine and in 2010 inducted into its Manufacturing Hall of Fame, “Mr. Lean” by Quality ProgressMagazine, and has been awarded the Shingo Prize—says his most powerful discovery was the way Toyota and other Japanese companies opened the infinite creative potential often lying dormant inside every single worker. During the last 10 years, he has written seven books, the most recent co-authored with Takashi Harada called “The Harada Method: The Spirit of Self-Reliance.”