Non-Toyota Workers Get No Respect

Robert Farago
by Robert Farago

Writing for Reliable Plant magazine (how appropriate is that?), Lean Enterprise Institute founder Jim Womack offers insight into Toyota's management style. Womack says that ToMoCo solicit workers' opinions on job-related problems– like a lot of companies. But Toyota doesn't take the kvetching at face value. "They challenge the employees and enter into a dialogue about what the real problem is. (It’s rarely the problem showing on the surface.)" The semi-confrontational style continues through the search for solutions and a measure of success. "The manager challenges the employees every step of the way, asking for more thought, more facts and more discussion, when the employees just want[s] to implement their favored solution." Apparently, this shows Toyota's "respect" for its workers. Semantics aside, a comparison between two distribution centers lies at the heart of Womack's analysis. In plant A, "management was focused on controlling the workforce through individual metrics. Employees were told to get a given amount of work done but given considerable latitude on just how to do it." In plant B, "the management had worked with employees to create standard work for every task and had introduced visual control with status boards so everyone could see how everyone else was proceeding with their work." Guess which one was run by Toyota, and how and why Womack found it superior.

Robert Farago
Robert Farago

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  • Orenwolf Orenwolf on Jan 03, 2008

    It hasn't been "work yourself to death" in Japan for quite awhile - in fact there was a big issue with "lifers" in Japanese corporations having to deal with the fact that no, they didn't actually have a job for life anymore with the current economy. What there *is*, is a hell of a lot of pride in the work that's done, and a real two-way street of respect, something that does not exist here in NA. The confrontational attitude between workers and management is virtually nonexistent in Japan, in part because management realized long ago that 1) satisfied and motivated workers make better product, and 2) retraining due to churn sucks.

  • D996 D996 on Jan 03, 2008

    I think there is more of a worker bee mentality that corporations exploit in Japan that doesn't exist in the US. I am no fan of the UAW but the Japanese worker should assert themselves more instead of giving in to the machine. Likewise the UAW could take a few lessons from the salarymen of Japan. It seems that Toyota is viewed as this monolithic legendary colossus that can do no wrong.

  • Mel23 Mel23 on Jan 03, 2008

    Interesting. From the article: *** Managers begin by asking employees what the problem is with the way their work is currently being done. Next, they challenge the employees’ answer and enter into a dialogue about what the real problem is. (It’s rarely the problem showing on the surface.) Then, they ask what is causing this problem and enter into another dialogue about its root causes. (True dialogue requires the employees to gather evidence on the gemba – the place where value is being created – for joint evaluation.) *** This is pretty much what is described in "The Toyota Way" by Liker. When diagnosing a problem, one should ask "why" five times to get at the root cause. E.G., why did the machine stop? Because the bearing seized. Why did the bearing seize? Because it ran out of oil. Etc. Another tenet is what Liker calls Principle 12: Go and see for yourself. And Principle 13 is "Make decisions slowly by consensus". Guess it really works.

  • FromBrazil FromBrazil on Jan 04, 2008

    Got to love Toyota! They did to reliability what Volvo did for safety. But as other makers play catch-up and have IMHO reached almost the same level it frees us all up to buy their cars and not Toyotas!!! I mean, really, from point A to B everybody is about the same today, so why not get any other car that, to the driver, conveys a better sense of beauty, pleasure or whatever than Toyota's boring characteristics! This is all the car maker's paradox. As they improve very much in one area they have to outrun everybody else because everybody else catches up pretty quickly.