Posted tagged ‘Toyota’s Management Approach’

Just Ask Your Employees

January 18, 2010

James Surowiecki a financial writer for the New Yorker wrote an interesting column regarding Toyota titled The Open Secret of Success.

Surowiecki points out in his article that for 77 years GM has sold more cars annually than any other company in the world. Toyota has long been the auto industry’s most profitable and innovative firm and is now the world leader in car sales. Surowiecki points out that Toyota’s innovations have primarily focused on the process used to produce vehicles rather than the product itself, on the factory floor rather than the showroom.

So how has Toyota stayed ahead of the pack?  According to Surowiecki:

“The answer has a lot to do with another distinctive element of Toyota’s approach: defining innovation as an incremental process, in which the goal is not to make huge, sudden leaps but, rather, to make things better on a daily basis. (The principle is often known by its Japanese name, kaizen—continuous improvement.) Instead of trying to throw long touchdown passes, as it were,

Toyota moves down the field by means of short and steady gains. And so it rejects the idea that innovation is the province of an elect few; instead, it’s taken to be an everyday task for which everyone is responsible. According to Matthew E. May, the author of a book about the company called “The Elegant Solution,”

Toyota implements a million new ideas a year, and most of them come from ordinary workers. (Japanese companies get a hundred times as many suggestions from their workers as U.S. companies do.) Most of these ideas are small—making parts on a shelf easier to reach, say—and not all of them work. But cumulatively, every day, Toyota knows a little more, and does things a little better, than it did the day before.”

Suggestions from employees are the key ingredient in the success of Toyota. In many organizations including in government, front line employees have a wealth of knowledge and experience as to what works and what needs to be changed. The problem is that people in positions of authority such as elected officials, commissioners etc. don’t take the time to stop talking and seek advice and input from front line employees. It is the front line employees who have to live with the many dumb rules of the bureaucracy imposed from above. Jack Welch at GE implemented a process called Work Out, which forced department heads and managers to meet with and listen to employee suggestions to eliminate the needless bureaucracy that was growing throughout GE.

Great managers and leaders involve, develop and empower their employees, which has a positive impact throughout an entire organization. Government employees for the most part are over managed by poor leaders and a bureaucracy that sucks the life out of people. There is a lot that most organizations including our government officials can learn from Toyota’s management approach.

If you want ideas to improve how your local government works, just ask your employees. An elected official who is willing to listen rather than talk is rare, but by asking and listening you get get some great ideas. Why do you think government leaders rarely ask employees for their thoughts and ideas about how to improve government operations?