What’s the operational secret of the world’s largest auto manufacturer, who employs tens of thousands of people across hundreds of sites on multiple continents?
- Rigid procedures that ensure uniformity across operations and facilities.
- Processes designed by world class experts and consultants.
- Only employees with “name brands” on their resumes.
- Ruthless CEO who dictates decisions down to the shop floor.
It’s actually quite the opposite.
Of course I’m talking about Toyota, where every site is unique to its operational function and geographical location. Although there are lean principles at work at each site, the local practices vary considerably.
Thinking about diversity at that scale can cause visions of chaos and instability. My generation has lived through the height of cookie-cutter companies. For example, in almost any major city, one can visit a Starbucks and the experience will be (aspirationally) identical. Everything tastes, looks, smells, sounds, and feels the same. The moment you walk through the doors you are transported to Starbucksland. You might as well be in Stockholm, Seattle, or Cape Town; you’d never know as there’s not a hint of local culture inside or in the products sold.
Toyota has mastered diversity at scale, and it’s been the key to many of their best ideas and force behind the reach of their impact; socially, economically, and environmentally. Michael Ballé wrote an excellent article about the overreliance of bureaucratic systems a few weeks ago and how this rigid thinking is more harmful than helpful, and makes us less competitive … no matter how counterintuitive that seems. It’s a matter of nurture, and not nature – we’ve been taught (and think we’ve experienced) that bureaucratic systems are the only way to achieve efficiency. That is not true nor the “nature” of … well, nature!
Diversity at scale means adapting to each region to achieve the highest optimization in manufacturing. For instance, Toyota reduces waste by striving to utilize as many local resources as possible. They implement “pull” not only by the region’s customer demand but also from local jurisdictions that pull operations into a certain fluidity. They do not view themselves as being unconnected to the place around them, but as interdependent. The region relies on Toyota for jobs and community enrichment and Toyota needs the local community for operational support and an ongoing dynamic workforce. Local Toyota workers strive to build the best and safest cars because they know their own families, friends, and neighbors will be driving them.
Interdependence is essential, foundational, toward becoming a lean and green company as well. Toyota and employees not only think about the use of their products, but the impact of them. While making the best and safest cars, how are they improving the groundwater supply? What flora and fauna are thriving and returning around the factory? How much renewable energy is used for transportation, commuting, and manufacturing? What is the recycling rate and how waste-free are the offices?
Toyota acknowledges the impact they have on the environment and each site is devising local strategies to help the environment flourish.
There is a phrase used in culinary tradition when pairing wine and foods together that follows, “What grows together, goes together”. For instance: what things are in season at the same time, what items highlight the essence of the terrain, what combinations create a sense of place, what evokes collective memory or tradition, etc.
This idea of “partnership for enhancement” should be a driving force in production as well in relation to the environment. Sure, the duck is fantastic on its own but when you pair it with a pinot noir from the same region … pow, it’s out of this world. Both are exponentially improved. Features are brought out that you didn’t know existed or had never noticed before. The entire experience is elevated. When our aim from the start is to adapt to natural environment, everything thrives.