!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD XHTML 1.0 Strict//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/xhtml1/DTD/xhtml1-strict.dtd"> Streamline Training & Documentation: The Toyota Way III: Leadership Development

Thursday, August 17, 2006

The Toyota Way III: Leadership Development

Recent reports of quality issues at Toyota momentarily made me wonder whether there should be a moratorium on laudatory references to the Toyota Way and the Toyota Production System. As you can guess from the fact that I'm now writing my third post on the subject (the two previous posts are here and here), I'm confident that Toyota is giving high priority to course corrections, and that their approach to operations will remain pretty much as Steven Spear and Kent Bowen document it in "Decoding the DNA of the Toyota Production System".

Accordingly, to round out this discussion of Toyota's practices, I'd like to take a look at what Steve Spear has to say in his follow-up article, published in the May 2004 issue of the Harvard Business Review under the title, "Learning to Lead at Toyota."

Spear's central point is that a company seeking to emulate Toyota's approach to operations cannot hope to succeed by adopting Toyota's techniques in piecemeal fashion. On the contrary, since the Toyota Production System is just what its name says — a system — its payoff can only be realized by having company leaders think in system terms about how to operationalize its principles.

Spear distills four lessons a company seeking to apply Toyota's system must learn and embrace:
  • There is no substitute for direct observation. — Toyota employees are encouraged to observe failures as they occur — for example, by sitting next to a machine on the assembly line and waiting and watching for any problems.

  • Proposed changes should always be structured as experiments. — Employees embed explicit and testable assumptions in the analysis of their work. That allows them to examine the gaps between predicted and actual results.

  • Workers and managers should experiment as frequently as possible. — The company teaches employees at all levels to achieve continuous improvement through quick, simple experiments rather than through lengthy, complex ones.

  • Managers should coach, not fix. — Toyota managers act as enablers, directing employees but not telling them where to find opportunities for improvements. [This enables workers at all levels to develop sophisticated problem-solving skills. Emphasis added.]
Toyota does not orient new executives in the hyperactive style seen all too often in the US, in which the new person is parachuted into company operating facilities for brief field exposures.

Instead, Toyota's practice is to have a new leader learn the Toyota Production System through actual practice over an extended period of time. In the case of the American executive Spear describes in his article, the field experience lasted for three months. During that time, a major goal was for the executive to learn "how to construct work as experiments, which would yield continuous learning and improvements, and to teach others to do the same."

Steve Spear is now following his own advice, which is to say, he's working to bring the Toyota principles to healthcare providers. He is currently based at the Institute for Healthcare Improvement (which featured in an earlier post), where he is a senior fellow.


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