What sets Toyota apart and makes it the model all lean practitioners look up to is its unwavering focus on people development, says Tony Dyer, Training Academy Manager at Toyota Material Handling UK, which manufactures and services forklift trucks. The article also features interviews with three TMH employees, an engineer, a department manager and a director.
In spite of its size and complexity, Toyota has managed to keep its strategy, organisation and people perfectly aligned with its main purpose, the pursuit of harmonious growth and the enhancement of profitability.
The company is driven by this corporate purpose, which is clearly understood and adopted by senior management and employees. Continuous and overall attention for product quality and cost awareness has become almost a religion for everyone in the organisation.
Efficiency alone cannot guarantee success. People development is our main focus. We see employees not just as “pairs of hands” but as knowledgeable individuals who accumulate wisdom with experience.
We therefore invest heavily in our people, and we garner ideas from everyone and everywhere: the shop floor, the office, and the field. These ideas are used to constantly adjust our goals, strategy and organisation in small but significant steps.
In order to succeed, you need to develop leaders who thoroughly understand the work, live the philosophy, and coach those skills to others. You must develop exceptional people and teams who follow your company’s philosophy, and you must respect partners and suppliers.
Values are the foundation of our business. However, understanding them is one thing, applying them is another. Their application is driven from within the organisation, by team leaders, and supported from the top, to make people accept lean as a way of life.
Customers demand companies deliver high quality products and services that are value for money.
Although price is important, if a low cost solution is unable to meet the requirements of the organisation or the customers it supplies then the negative effects can far exceed any initial savings in upfront cost.
In challenging business times organisations have to develop their people and processes to enable them to hold or reduce cost and maintain or increase quality of products or services.
For it to work effectively this idea must be accepted, understood and applied by all employees and become part of the company culture to ensure best working practice is sustained and continuous improvement becomes a way of life.
The Toyota Production System empowers employees to optimise quality by constantly improving processes and eliminating waste. When applied, it entrusts employees with well-defined responsibilities at each stage of the process.
We demonstrate these principles using the TPS Business simulation game, which is run in two parts.
The first session simulates a mass production (batch style) way of working to produce as much as you can as fast as possible. The second session simulates the TPS way of working.
On completion of both sessions, which have the same demand for supplies, the results are measured to compare the level of improvements.
The simulation allows participants to understand how, by looking at processes and making changes, we can improve output, increase quality and reduce costs.
Understanding and applying this methodology encourages employees to be part of a learning culture. That is the Toyota Way.
The following three interviews will help you understand how Toyota views its people, and vice versa.
LMJ: What does working at TMH mean to you?
GI: I am proud of working here and see it as a lifelong career development opportunity. I’ve worked in places in the past where I’ve been treated as a disposable item and despite my best efforts have not been recognised as anything more – this is not the case with TMH.
LMJ: What training did you receive when you first joined the organisation?
GI: Training was quite extensive – four weeks in total, at our Leicester Training Academy. The induction included sessions on company history, health and safety, an introduction to the safe working practices with the core products and the core products themselves.
We have many different trucks, each with a different lifting/jacking point. You need to be aware of them all, of course. Before we started working on equipment, we received extensive training in health and safety, to make sure we would follow the right procedures and that we would not run the risk of hurting ourselves.
There was concern about me as a person: I was more than just an engineer sent out to fix a truck.
LMJ: How do you approach problem solving?
GI: We are given excellent tools for diagnosing faults and solving problems. Employing the Toyota principle of Genchi Gembutsu (going to the source of an issue) ensures we are not only learning from our problems but also discussing measures to reduce future occurrences and develop alternative processes.
Here’s an example. A while ago, we were trying to reduce processing time for repairing the trucks. We realised the engineers were basically doing everything: from going to the warehouse and finding the truck, doing the assessment and repairs, to cleaning and polishing etc. They were spending 12 hours on a job that could be done in six. We researched, talked to the engineers and worked out the figures. Although we are not a production line, we adopted many TPS procedures: we split the work down in to different areas to keep engineers focused and we introduced a kanban system for trucks being processed.
LMJ: How does your supervisor deal with you?
GI: We have a very good working relationship and I feel like I’m treated more as an equal than a subordinate. This allows me to comfortably support and assist when required, including taking charge during periods of annual leave. Both my supervisor and manager’s doors are always open for assistance or advice.
LMJ: What is it like to be a team leader?
GI: It is not always easy, as the guys I work with are on average 10-15 years older than me. The relationship with one of them, in particular, was quite difficult at first. He was transferred to our workshop from another one that was closing due to re-structuring. He was a manager there. From a respect and authority perspective, the situation required a bit of getting used to. However, after we shared our thoughts and discussed, we were able to work things out. This person is now one of my best engineers and fully supports me as his leader.
LMJ: How would you describe the culture at Toyota Material Handling?
GI: Supporting, progressive and friendly – things are always developing and changing within the business and people embrace this with the advice and support of their leaders.
LMJ: What did your training entail when you first joined TMH?
AN: We developed the training programme over the past five years, so it was still very basic when I started. Now it’s a very structured programme. It’s very much on the job and always gives you the opportunity to review what you have learned. It gives you confidence, which was reflected in my career progression. I started as a coordinator, and after a couple of years I was promoted to senior coordinator. But I was hungry for knowledge and I showed I was responsible of my own development. I was never held back. If I asked about a particular subject I wanted to learn more about, I was always given the opportunity. When my current position became available, I was sure I had the ability to do the job. It’s not about the department you are already working in; it’s about whatever it is that you want to learn.
Toyota strives to give you the tools to better yourself. That is why the company has a very high level of employee retention: I recently attended a sales conference, and it was amazing – and encouraging to young employees – to see the amount of people who had been with the company for 25-30 years. People here enjoy their job, and always have the freedom to learn new things and move to different areas of the organisation if they wish to do so.
LMJ: How do you coach the people you manage?
AN: It’s about recognising the different personalities I have within the team and giving them power to deal with any situation they may face. My department is very reactive and fast paced. Different people deal with this in a different way.
I help develop my people’s strengths, but also tackle their weaknesses by delegating jobs to them. I give them direction and not just a task to complete. One time you may have to give them very direct instructions, but the next time they may need less. It’s also important to give them feedback as that tells them what they can improve. My role is to help them become more autonomous. I encourage them to be the next best version of themselves.
LMJ: How do you interact with those who manage you?
AN: My leader and I communicate daily to keep each other in the loop. It’s important to have a relationship in which you are not shying away from talking to your leader. She will give me guidance if needed, but also encourage me to answer my own questions. I am developing myself as well, as I am new to leadership roles.
LMJ: What challenges do you face most commonly?
AN: Because the department is so busy, things can get quite stressful. I must ensure the team’s well-being and keep people motivated. Every Monday morning we have a meeting to discuss the previous week. Sometimes you need to take the pressure off and all it takes to do that is a bit of a giggle. Getting together outside the office and moving people around the workplace also helps to keep relationships healthy.
LMJ: What does it take to change a company’s culture?
TW: Your company’s values and vision must be defined, and you need to recruit people who respect those values. Everybody who manages, leads and coaches must understand, accept and apply them in their work. As custodians of the Toyota brand, we feel the responsibility to deliver in line with the company’s principles.
LMJ: What is TMH’s vision and how do you ensure this is clearly understood by everyone?
TW: We aim to be the first choice partner for all customers looking for materials handling solutions and to be widely recognised for our innovative products and services as well as our respect for society; to build trust and confidence with customers by delivering outstanding quality products and services which add value to their businesses; to respect the expectations and ambitions of employees, stakeholders and suppliers through a never-ending search for improvement.
We don’t need our people to recite the mission statement, but to understand the key message behind it. Statements change, but our core values don’t. They will always be there. Customer first and an emphasis on quality are our main principles, but it is our people that set us apart. We spend more time on the values than we spend on the vision, because we want a “Thinking People System”, another form of TPS if you will.
LMJ: How do you recognise and reward achievement?
TW: We used rewards quite a bit when we first started, in 2007, as Toyota Material Handling and BT were brought together and we were trying to identify the best way to kick-start our plans for improvement. Now ideas come without us incentivising people. We normally don’t pay a lot out: we tend to favour other forms of recognition, like vouchers or acknowledgement of one’s contribution. After all, continuous improvement is simply how we do things here.
LMJ: What is your typical day like, as a senior manager?
TW: It is a combination of tasks, appointments and meetings with individuals or teams. Managing and prioritising time is key, however using the five values (Challenge, Genchi Gembutsu, Kaizen, Respect and Teamwork) does help us to make the most of your day. If you really believe customers come first, you need to be flexible and adaptable. Personally, I haven’t remembered what a “typical day” looks like for me for seven years, since I joined TMH.
LMJ: How do you get people to really “think”?
TW: I ask them to come to me with solutions, not just problems. I ask them, “What would you like me to do to solve this?” when they present me with a problem. We avoid blaming others, always analyse the process (5 whys) that led to a particular issue, and always look for ways to prevent the same issue from reoccurring.
LMJ: What is the role of a senior manager at TMH?
TW: To achieve the ambitions of the company through the resource available based on the company’s values, vision and best practices.