The Toyota Way: Work for the Right Reasons

In the conclusion to his book “How Toyota Became #1:  Leadership Lessons from the World’s Greatest Car Company”, David Magee sums up what lies behind Toyota’s success.   It can really be summed up by the title of this concluding chapter, in that you have to work for the right reasons.   Don’t just ask yourself “what do I want to accomplish in my job?”, but ask yourself “why do I want to accomplish it?”   What need does it fulfill in society?   What need does it fulfill in yourself?   If you have a job that fulfills your passions and also contributes to society, then that is the job for you, no matter what anybody else tells you.   

Yes, other jobs may pay more, but they are not for you if they don’t fulfill those two why questions.

For Toyota, they have held the same principles for more than eight decades since Sakichi Toyoda passed his business on to his son Kiichiro in the 1920s.   The principle of humility, for example, allows company executives to listen to their customers and not presume what their customers want without finding out from them first.   Also, the company has always striven to make a positive contribution to its community and the world at large–this has not changed from the beginning of the company either.

For example, its commitment to improving the global environment, which automotive emissions due a great deal in harming, led it to an investment of more than $1 billion in the early 1990s in hybrid technology in order to build a car for the future.   

Now the specific methods and processes they have used, however, have constantly been changing and are continuously upgraded.   The company’s financials are never the means, they are the result of doing all the things that have gotten them this far.   So profit becomes the pleasing end result of having done the right things, rather than an end in and of itself, as it is with most companies in the West.   

It’s not that profit is not important, because Toyota is a publicly traded company, and it therefore has obligations to its shareholders and its employees.   

The ultimate objective is build cars that improve consumers’ lives in every conceivable way.   It is possible with fuel-cell cars 10 years down the line that cars, rather than creating a reduced amount of automotive emissions, may actually be so clean as to be able to make the exhaust cleaner than the ambient air.   

This is a formidable technological challenge, but Toyota is definitely up to the task.   Toyota has achieved one success after the other, but only because they don’t rest at the top of the mountain.   When you get to the top of the mountain, then the next day, the air clears, and you see that you actually are at base camp, with the next mountain beckoning for you to climb it next.   Jim Press, President of Toyota North America says, “as long as Toyota continues to focus on the heart of the customer, remaining true to the mission of working to improve society, it can keep this going.”   

That is an ambition not just worth admiring, but worth imitating as well…


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