The Toyota Way: Carefully Cultivate and Support Partners

In the fourteenth chapter of David Magee’s book “How Toyota Became #1:  Leadership Lessons from the World’s Greatest Car Company”, he discusses how Toyota cultivates the company culture, which is one of the most important ingredients of its success.

When people are hired at Toyota, the emphasis is more on whether the employee will fit within a company’s culture, rather than on whether the employee has this or that specific skill.   Once selected by the company, a new hire will typically spend three months working in the factory in order to learn about all aspects of the company’s manufacturing process.   Then the employee will be sent to work in Toyota dealerships to learn about the sales process and the importance of customer satisfaction.   

The two principles that are constantly reinforced during this first year of apprenticeship are:  a) continuous improvement and b) respect for people.

Another way of inculcating the company culture is to assign each new hire an experienced mentor with whom they work for three years.   The role of the mentor is to support the new hire, but also to help that person grow and make progress by pushing them out of their comfort zones.  

Nowadays, after Japan has experienced a decade of stagnant growth, many Japanese companies, including Toyota, no longer abide by the practice of giving their employees jobs for life.   One positive aspect of this, however, is that this gives Toyota the opportunity to hire more experienced professionals in mid-career.   

1.  Reinforce Culture Through Deep and Thorough Teaching

Throughout one’s career at Toyota, one is expected to help other employees and to share with them the knowledge and experience one has accumulated through the years.   That is why many senior executives end up teaching at the Toyota Institute.  A similar institute has been set up in the California for non-Japanese employees called the “University of Toyota.”  This human resources approach of Toyota’s puts them in a good position vis-a-vis their competitors such as the Big 3 or Nissan, who continually shed employees due to layoffs, losing not just the employees but their experience as well.



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