I am not going to spend a ton of time writing about “The Toyota Way.” It is an older book that a few colleagues of mine decided to read together. It has been an interesting book to be reading right in the middle of Toyota’s biggest crisis to date. It is unfortunate for them. Based on what we’ve been reading, they definitely have moved away from the values the company once passionately believed in.
The book deals mainly with the production system and company culture that Toyota built as it clawed its way to the #1 position in America. If you are in the product production side of a business, this is a great read. But be warned – don’t copy what Toyota came up with and try to drop it into your company. The bests lesson to learn from this book included what they did to better understand what their consumers wanted, how they streamlined their business while maintaining peak efficiency and quality, and what the company did to engage their workforce while building a “lean” production system that was still innovative.
#1 Cultures are not built, they grow organically. It would be nice if business leaders could, on a whim, dream up a new company culture and then drop it into the business. Unfortunately, it just doesn’t work this way. Remember, you are dealing with people. It is a process that includes the leadership embracing key values and modeling them; building the right mechanisms to included their teams; and then stepping back to watch what happens. It’s an experiment.
For example, if you want to be an innovative company, you, as the leader, must first embrace the values of innovation. Read about them. Learn how to use them. Use them as a part of your everyday business practice. Let you team know that you are interested in their ideas as well and reinforce this by celebrating every time someone shares an idea or comes up with a new way of thinking about an issue. Set up a way for your team and customers to provide you with feedback and ideas. Do something with the ideas you get.
#2 Don’t copy; find your own “way.” My father shared a story with me not long ago. He used to work for the Air Force as an aircraft electrician. The base would bring in new commanders every couple of years and every single one of them came in with new ideas about how to improve the efficiency of the crews that work on the planes. One of the last ones he dealt with had been trained as a Toyota lean production expert. He made the rules and set the guidelines – many of the straight out of “The Toyota Way.” No matter how good his ideas were, he missed several critical things that all of his predecessors had also failed to do. None of these leaders took the time to understand the current culture among the workforce. None of them bothered to engage with them or collaborated in any way to find out what had been done in the past. They never asked the crews for their ideas.
The “Toyota Way” is a great book if you want to learn about what Toyota did to become one of the most successful automakers ever. But in the end, if you are looking to improve your business and create something dynamic, you must be willing to write your own story.