Sometimes, when you get a chance to see a company's play book, you don't find what you expect. That was my take after reading a recent Fast Company article about the inner workings of Toyota. While Ford and GM continue to lay-off workers and close plants, Toyota flourishes. In fact just this week Ford announced that 38,000 hourly employees have accepted buy-outs or early retirement (read the article). Yes, Toyota makes better cars. But, it's deeper than that. And, it's not related to the big three's burden of higher union wages and health benefits. Toyota pays well...without unions. Rather, it's about process and care. Unlike their U.S. counterparts, who are busy setting growth goals (or reduction for that matter) and meeting analyst expectations, Toyota concerns itself with the process of making better cars. Notice, that they aren't focused on making the best cars...rather, how to make them...continuous improvement. They figure if they focus on perfecting the "how", the "what" will come. Seems logical. So, why doesn't everyone do it? My guess is that it's not as fun to talk about saving paint and reducing waste as it is to talk about how good you think you are, or how big you're going to get. In other words, it's an ego thing.
Toyota has figured out that the best way to make the biggest and best wood pile is to keep your head down, and focus on chopping wood. The better they can make each piece, and the less resources they can use to make it, the better the pile will be.
Now, here's where the care part comes in. Sometimes, the result of the improvement process leads to job elimination...machines or related efficiencies replacing humans. Most companies call this a lay-off. However, Toyota seems to call it an opportunity...no, an edge. In Toyota's system of "everyone focuses on how to make the process better", it's very likely that the reduced workforce was the idea of the very workers being eliminated. So, instead of giving these people their walking papers, they reward them...and redeploy them so they can think of more ways to make things better...and so on. This replaces those nasty fear and job security worries with feelings of my employer cares about me, wants me to be a part of the improvement process and I might even get a promotion if I think of something new.
If all this sounds odd, it is...because most companies don't practice either of these things very well. I hope you're not one of them.
Now, I need to go chop some wood...no, really, I live where it's cold and propane costs too darn much. Then, I think I may trade in my Landrover...for a Toyota.