What, then, is respect for people – that phrase that the Lean movement uses? I think that it may be a moral requirement, built on the foundation that Kant laid down.
In the Groundwork of the Metaphysic of Morals, Kant argues:
For all rational beings come under the law that each of them must treat itself and all others never merely as means, but in every case at the same time as ends in themselves. Hence results a systematic union of rational beings by common objective laws, i.e., a kingdom which may be called a kingdom of ends, since what these laws have in view is just the relation of these beings to one another as ends and means. It is certainly only an ideal.
This, it seems to me, is at the heart of respect for people. To treat others as ends in themselves, who have come together in a company to undertake some collective work.
He says elsewhere in the same book:
Now I say: man, and generally any rational being exists as an end in himself, not merely as a means to be arbitrarily used by this or that will, but in all his actions, whether they concern himself or other rational beings, must always be regarded at the same time as an end. All objects of inclinations have only a conditional worth, for if the inclinations and the wants founded on them did not exist, then their object would be without value. But the inclinations themselves being sources of want, are so far from having an absolute worth for which they should be desired, that on the contrary it must be the universal wish of every rational being to be free from them. Thus the worth of any object which is to be acquired by our action is always conditional. Beings whose existence depends not on our will but on nature’s, have nevertheless, if they are irrational beings, only a relative value as means, and are therefore called things; rational beings, on the contrary, are called persons, because their very nature points them out as ends in themselves, that is as something which must not be used merely as means, and so far therefore restricts freedom of action (and is an object of respect).
Respect for people does not mean that we must like the people we work with, or get along with them, or even think they are good people. It means that we understand that they are moral peers, not merely instruments suited for some business purpose.
Respect for people is not a list of things to do, a list of ways to interact with people. It is a moral project attempting to advance the Kingdom of Ends.