Sunday, August 31, 2014

The Uncommon Sense in Toyota Way

In the previous blog, I talked about the key values in Toyota Way, which in my opinion, are nothing more than common sense. I have been instinctively practicing these values in my small team, which consists of a dozen of people. I can talk to each member of the team, making sure I respect each of them by listening to them, observing them and giving them concrete help in their jobs. however, I would have no idea how to practice these values if the team was a little bigger (say containing more than 20 people). 

This truly shows how uncommon Toyota Way is. Most companies have some sort of Way that was developed by their founders, but over the time, their Way got watered down or changed. The fact that Toyota is able to ingrain Toyota Way in its DNA when it evolves into an international company when it has to assimilate different cultures is amazing!

Why Toyota is able to do so? I think one reason lies in its TPS system. Just-In-Time approach was created out of necessity: Japan is a small country with limited resources. However, as Toyota grows into an international country, Toyota continues this approach to intentionally force problems out of surface and challenges its employees to become better problem solvers and to do continuous improvement. It takes great courage and strong will for a company (or a person) to intentionally and constantly challenge itself and force self-growth.

Another reason must lie in Toyota’s way of choosing and developing leaders. Toyota believes in genchi genbutsu (go and see the actual situation): it believes true good solutions can only come from people who have intimate knowledge of the work. Because TPS creates challenges constantly, potential leaders can stand out from the crowd by proving themselves by solving challenges. Various mentors are assigned to leaders as they move up to make sure they live Toyota Way. The book said a US leader has mentors continuously throughout his 20 more years’ career in Toyota.  In a sense, it is like the apprenticeship system: core values are passed down from masters to apprentices.

It is extraordinary that Toyota is able to keep true to Toyota Way. I can’t image how in practical terms it is able to do so. 

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