Creating Social Value Blog / Corporate Social Relevance

Lean for Social Innovation: People Are Our Most Valuable Resource

By Wiljeana Jackson Glover, Assistant Professor of Technology, Operations and Information Management at Babson College. This post is the first in our Spring 2016 series that explores how the Toyota Production System (TPS) philosophy “people are our most valuable resource” is applied in real time at The Greater Boston Food Bank (GBFB) by students in MIS 3535 Lean for Social Innovation. Posts include the opinions of thought leaders and Babson student perspectives.

It is often said that Lean Management is focused on “minimizing waste and maximizing value.” And for some companies, this is their focus. But Toyota Motor Corporation, which developed the basis for “lean” would beg to differ with this focus. As articulated to me many times by Jamie Bonini, VP of the Toyota Production System Support Center (TSSC), “The Toyota Production System is an organizational culture made of three key elements.” Within one of those key elements, the philosophy, lies a key tenant: “People are our most valuable resource”.

“People are our most valuable resource” re-positions lean from being a solely economically-driven system to a socially-and-economically-driven system to focus on the needs not only of customers but of employees. It encourages managers to act as coaches, shifting their focus from solving immediate problems to training their direct-reports to solve problems.

This semester in the undergraduate learning by doing course, Lean for Social Innovation, we are reading “Managing to Learn” by John Shook, a book that follows a young manager, Desi Porter, on a journey where he is responsible for solving a problem in his company. His boss, Ken Sanderson, has bigger plans for Desi. Sanderson DOES NOT want to manage Desi. Instead he wants to coach and mentor Desi in such a way that Desi would learn to see problems, explain them clearly through interacting with multiple people that are involved in the problem, and that eventually Desi would train others to see problems too.

Throughout our own students’ journeys at VA Bedford-Environmental Services, VA Bedford-Logistics, and The Greater Boston Food Bank-Shipping/Agency Relations, we will focus on how “People are our most valuable resource.” As our students explore these settings and solve problems, they will be interacting with clients and employees, gaining insights from them and implementing countermeasures that place them, the people, at the heart of the organization.

As practitioners of TPS Lean, students will learn the value of developing an improvement “lean” mindset that focuses on the value of staff to the organization for these three organizations. Because students are not full time employees, they will not always be at these locations to identify problems. However, if students can inspire full-time staff to think with a continuous improvement “lean” mind to develop communities of deep thinkers and problem solvers, they can improve their chances of successful countermeasures and on-going continuous improvement, even after the class has ended.