Toyota managers know the road to Lean is by way of motivation.

Author:Bodek, Norman

This past September, I led a study mission to Japan, something I used to do on a regular basis. From study missions, miraculously, I found Dr. Shigeo Shingo, Taiichi Ohno, Dr. Ryuji Fukuda, Dr. Yoji Akao, and many more management geniuses. I could hardly absorb what they had to offer. But somehow I was able to recognize their genius and to produce their books in English.

From this latest trip, I came back with tons of new information, I am overwhelmed and trying to find a way to disseminate all the things I found. I am grateful that Kevin Meyer at asked me to write about my learning and experiences from the study mission. I found probably the best Toyota training course available in English, and I think I also found some of the real secrets that Toyota uses to motivate its employees--something definitely lacking with companies in the West.

Virtually every company that I know of is attempting to implement Lean in its organization, but hardly any company outside of Toyota can profess to be Lean. Why? Why aren't other companies able to implement Lean?

Toyota managers know how to motivate and inspire people. In the West, most managers install Lean tools such as Kaizen Blitz or 5S, et cetera, but they rarely inspire and motivate all workers to participate fully in the improvement process. From this past trip, I found over 100 small but very powerful methods that Toyota uses to motivate and inspire its people.

Let us take a few examples. One is called 3 Gen; Gen equals actual--actual site, actual item, and actual situation. Kiichiro Toyoda, former chairman of Toyota, was told by his plant manager of a problem that occurred on the plant floor. Instead of just relying on what the plant manager told him, Toyoda immediately went to the plant floor to see for himself. It is not that he lacked trust in the plant manager. No, Toyoda knew that "seeing is believing" and that the only way a person really learns is from experience. So Toyoda went to the actual site where the problem occurred, and looked at the exact item that caused the problem, and asked the worker to explain exactly how the situation occurred.

Toyoda learned from his own observation. How would similar situations like this be handled by a senior executive at your company?

On the same trip, while visiting a Toyota training center, I used the restroom. I flushed the bowl, but I needed to flush the bowl a second time. It did not work. I left the bathroom and told one of the...

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