I recently listened to the audiobook, The Toyota Way To Lean Leadership, by Jeffrey Liker and Gary Convis.
The book pertains to provide the final step in “lean methodology” by reviewing how company leadership contributes to the process.
I’m listening to the book via the Audible app on my iPhone at three times the normal speed. Given it’s a ten-hour book I still have quite a while to go.
One key lesson has already stood out to me, which I want to share with you now…
The System As A Whole
The key aspect that makes Toyota different is how they view every employee as a point of continuous improvement for the whole company.
It’s a very symbiotic culture, with everyone expected to identify problems and work to solve them.
Toyota’s focus is long term. They are willing to make sacrifices in the short term knowing that in the future they will benefit.
Toyota had an incredible run of profitability right up to 2008, where a recession, peak oil prices and the high cost of resources combined for the first ever negative result for the company.
They rebounded quickly and were back in profit the following year.
If you think back to all the bad news about the auto-industry around the global financial crisis time and what the USA had to do to bail out their big car manufacturers, Toyota’s performance looks even more impressive.
The Big Picture
What I love about Toyota’s philosophy is their focus on the “big picture”.
The entire company is geared towards continuous improvement, right down to the assembly line workers.
The culture requires that everyone have the impetus to identify faults and propose and implement solutions. You don’t just do your job you actively seek ways to make the company better.
In a sense you might say Toyota has culturally embedded in their DNA a recruitment and training philosophy designed to source and retain A-Player employees at all levels of the company.
When you combine this core principle with long term, big picture planning, you create the space for everyone to perform at their best.
If your mindset is on the big picture, you are willing to make decisions that might be costly in the short term, but place you in a position to sustain and grow the entire company long term.
It’s a philosophy that many governments would do well to adopt, although election cycles tend to force short term thinking and action.
Kaizen For Employees
I’ve written about the concept of Kaizen several times before in my blog posts and in my training products.
Simply put, Kaizen is the Japanese philosophy of continuous improvement, something that Toyota applies to everything they do.
I was especially impressed by a story from the Toyota book about one of the manufacturer plants in the USA that had to be shut down for three months due to an over supply of stock after a dramatic downturn in demand because of high oil prices.
Instead of firing staff, Toyota invested in them.
They put workers through training programs to help their people grow and in some cases, even gave back to the community, with Toyota employees spending their time volunteering to help the local area recover from severe storms.
How is that for big picture thinking.
Toyota might lose money paying workers to do things that don’t directly return profits at that time. However, once things pick back up again and it’s time to get back to work, the company is in an even better position, with skilled-up, motivated and highly loyal employees ready to help Toyota do an even better job.
Kaizen For You
As an entrepreneur, there is an important lesson to take from Toyota.
The fact is market conditions, timing, access to resources, even your own health and well being, impact what you can and cannot do.
These things will change, usually slowly, sometimes unexpectedly and not always in beneficial ways.
The one thing you can always do is focus on your own Kaizen – continuous improvement towards your big picture.
I personally believe one of the best ways to do this is through education.
By learning how to do things better, to prepare for the future, identify problems and come up with solutions, or simply just to stay up to date, you will always progress forward, even if you feel like sometimes you are not.
As I wrote about in my previous post about opening doors, until you create the awareness of what is possible, you can’t even make the decision to work towards something.
That’s why education is key. You can’t fix what you don’t know is broken, hence people often suffer in ignorance wondering why things never go their way.
Toyota is exceptionally good at finding their own faults. They make this a habit, because how can you focus on continuous improvement, if you don’t have a way to keep identifying weaknesses and problems to improve upon.
By adopting the attitude of continuous improvement through education as a way of life, you can leverage the one thing you always control – how you use your mind to develop yourself.
Choose to spend your time on what keeps you moving forward and you will reach your goal. It’s only a matter of time.