Norman Bodek, president of PCS Press and LMJ’s editorial board member, and David Fennig, a senior at Portland State University’s Business School, explain the Harada Method, a system to consistently develop people within a business in order to achieve improvement.

You don’t have to be an engineer, a contractor or an architect to know that a building supported by two pillars relies on both of them to carry the weight. No matter how strong one of the pillars is, if one is built incorrectly or begins to weaken, the building will lean over and eventually collapse. The same is true in business. Many companies have tried to implement the principles of the Toyota Production System but have not been fully successful because they have not focused on building both pillars of Toyota’s system.

Toyota defines the two pillars of its production system as just-in-time manufacturing and respect for people. Since lean came to the US in the 1980s, many companies have adopted it to cut costs, raise productivity and develop higher quality products. Lean has redefined the way the best companies in the world do business, and it has helped struggling companies come back from the brink of disaster.

Unfortunately respect for people, lean’s second pillar, has not been implemented as aggressively as other concepts. This has led to an imbalance of the “business house”, and now threatens the long-term stability of companies that are investing too heavily in developing their production processes, while neglecting to invest in developing their people.

As companies grow and produce larger amounts of products, they begin to focus more on the process than the people. Eventually, companies grow to the point where they focus entirely on the process and allow their people to become parts of the process rather than the other way around. Processes become rigid, inflexible, and each slight change must be made by a massive, company-wide redesign that is both expensive and time-consuming.

Having processes set in iron like this means that in a company of 2,000 people, only a few executives and upper management are allowed to think about and adjust the processes. By elevating the process above people, a company reduces the workers’ ability to adjust their own work. The ironic thing about this current situation is that the people who are working on the floor or with customers on a daily basis are the ones who are the most qualified to improve their work. They are the ones who see the tiny details that could be altered to make their jobs more effective and more productive, but management does not ask them for ideas. This is a waste of the brainpower that has been hired by the company, and is not treating people with respect.

How can businesses reliably harness the power of having every employee thinking about the process that they are working on? How can a business systematically bring out the skills and capabilities of their workers to strengthen the second pillar of business success? The answer may lie in a training method developed by a coach in a poverty-stricken, rundown middle school in Osaka, Japan.

Takashi Harada was the track and field coach at a school where students were barely expected to graduate, a place where few ever went on to college. It was a poor urban environment where students were unmotivated, unsupported and unsuccessful. They had inconsistent discipline given to them by their parents, and generally low expectations from their peers, their parents and their teachers. Furthermore, the school was one of the worst in Osaka in track and field. Harada did not accept this mediocrity, so he developed a plan for changing the school’s reputation forever.

Harada saw that other schools that pulled students from the same neighborhoods could still “win” consistently. He determined that success was no accident. Instead, he believed it was a repeatable phenomenon, and there was a dramatic opportunity for improving the team as well as increasing the quality of life for the students. He asked the school board for more control over his students’ lives and training.

He was determined to turn a group of unmotivated, impoverished and near delinquent pre-teens into the best team of student athletes Osaka had ever seen, and he succeeded beyond anyone’s wildest expectations. Three years after Harada started teaching his methods to the students, the school was recognised as the best school in track and field in Osaka. In fact, it remained at the top of the 380 schools in Osaka for the next 10 consecutive years. Thirteen of his students went on to win national gold medals in their disciplines, meaning that for their age group they were the best in Japan.

How did Mr Harada drive such a dramatic turnaround? How is it possible for a single coach to redefine the way that his students approached life and encourage the whole team to become genuinely great at a sport? More importantly, is it possible to achieve similar results if his training method is applied to the business world?

The Harada Method focuses on premeditation, personal excellence, goal setting, service and self-reliance. The premeditation involves choosing a skill at which a person wants to excel. This is one of the things that differentiate the Harada Method from other ways of developing individual talent.

Harada encouraged his students to learn by studying the best in the world and mimicking their technique. He taught them to use world records as benchmarks, and encouraged them to try and surpass what was currently the best. By having the students set aggressive and achievable goals he helped them lay down a roadmap to become great in their disciplines. He repeatedly told his students that by focusing on constantly improving they could beat the previous best record in the world.

In addition, Harada emphasised selfless serving, both on and off the field. He insisted that his students learn how to give of themselves. He led by example, every day going to his home and cleaning the toilets in his house. By teaching selfless life skills, Harada developed a holistic, spiritual approach to discipline. He gave students the tools that could be used in any realm they wanted to pursue.

After achieving success as a coach, Harada decided to take his method of inspiration and personal development to the business community. He encouraged companies to focus on the development of their people’s abilities, and encouraged workers to be the best in the world in their particular area. He taught companies self-reliance, which is defined as recognising that every individual can have the intelligence and ability to make the right decisions for the company without strict monitoring and regulations.

Since moving to industry, Harada has given training seminars to 55,000 people at 280 companies. One of his clients is Uniqlo, one of the most successful clothing stores in Japan and one of the fastest growing stores in the world. Harada’s methods change the way that individuals respond to their working environment, and help people learn to enjoy their work. Employees using the Harada Method become self reliant, increase their personal satisfaction and growth at work, as well as their productivity. Harada’s methods are recognised in Japan as the best techniques of day-to-day management. His technique is effective for developing people’s skills and encouraging them to pursue excellence.

Teaching the Harada Method of self-reliance and applying it on a daily basis to every aspect of work could help revitalising the western business renaissance. This method could reinforce the second pillar of lean, making businesses much stronger and able to adapt in the highly competitive global economy.