Wednesday March 7, 2007

Never Settle

Real Life/Work Lessons from Toyota

I would love to work for a company that operated like this.

From Fast Company magazine.

What drives Toyota? The presumption of imperfection — and a distinctly American refusal to accept it.


Toyota's competitiveness is quiet, internal, self-critical. It is rooted in an institutional obsession with improvement that Toyota manages to instill in each one of its workers, a pervasive lack of complacency with whatever was accomplished yesterday.
Toyota doesn't have corporate convulsions, and it never has. It restructures a little bit every work shift.
Cars now spend 8 hours in paint, instead of 10. The paint shop at any moment holds 25% fewer cars than it used to. Wasted paint? Practically zero. What used to require 100 gallons now takes 70.
Not only ... less paint, it also buys less cleaning solvent and has dramatically reduced disposal costs for both. Together with new programming to make the robots paint more quickly, [the] group has increased the efficiency of its car-wash-sized paint booths from 33 cars an hour to 50.
"We're all incredibly proud of what we've accomplished," says [Chad] Buckner [of the paint shop] , a little puzzled that his attitude might be considered unusual. "But you don't stop. You don't stop. There's no reason to be satisfied."
Continuous improvement is tectonic. By constantly questioning how you do things, by constantly tweaking, you don't outflank your competition next quarter. You outflank them next decade.
James Wiseman remembers the moment he realized that Toyota wasn't just another workplace but a different way of thinking about work. ... He joined Toyota's still-new Georgetown plant in October 1989 as manager of community relations. ... He was steeped in the American business culture of not admitting, or even discussing, problems in settings like meetings.

In Wiseman's early days, Georgetown was run by Fujio Cho, now the chairman of Toyota worldwide. Every Friday, there was a senior staff meeting. "I started out going in there and reporting some of my little successes," says Wiseman. "One Friday, I gave a report of an activity we'd been doing" — planning the announcement of a plant expansion — "and I spoke very positively about it, I bragged a little. After two or three minutes, I sat down.

"And Mr. Cho kind of looked at me. I could see he was puzzled. He said, 'Jim-san. We all know you are a good manager, otherwise we would not have hired you. But please talk to us about your problems so we can all work on them together.'"

Wiseman says it was like a lightning bolt. "Even with projects that had been a general success, we would ask, 'What didn't go well so we can make it better?'" At Toyota, Wiseman says, "I have come to understand what they mean when I hear the phrase, 'Problems first.'"

It's another cliché that is powerful if you take it seriously: You can't solve problems unless you admit them. At Toyota, there is a presumption of imperfection. Perfection is a fine goal, but improvement is much more realistic, much more human. Not a 15% improvement by the end of the quarter, a 1% improvement by the end of the month.
it's not a set of goals, because goals mean there's a finish line, and there is no finish line. It's not something you can implement, because it's not a checklist of improvements. It's a way of looking at the world. You simply can't lose interest in it, shrug, and give up — any more than you can lose interest in your own future.
"People who join Toyota from other companies, it's a big shift for them," says John Shook, a faculty member at the University of Michigan, a former Toyota manufacturing employee and a widely regarded consultant on how to use Toyota's ideas at other companies. "They kind of don't get it for a while." They do what all American managers do — they keep trying to make their management objectives. "They're moving forward, they're improving, and they're looking for a plateau. As long as you're looking for that plateau, it seems like a constant struggle. It's difficult. If you're looking for a plateau, you're going to be frustrated. There is no 'solution.'"

Even working at Toyota, you need that moment of Zen.

"Once you realize that it's the process itself — that you're not seeking a plateau — you can relax. Doing the task and doing the task better become one and the same thing," Shook says. "This is what it means to come to work."

Read the Article in Fast Company.

Never Settle ( in category Noteworthy , Special Interests ) - posted at Wed, 07 Mar, 12:57 Pacific | «e»