Lean Recalls – Compromising Safety?

Is there ever a time when risk outweighs the real fix?   As we are quickly learning from the latest news regarding Toyota’s proclaimed “savings” through limited safety recalls, the answer is “NO”.  The details of the story surrounding Toyota’s knowledge of the mounting safety concerns and the Toyota’s defense is very disturbing.  Toyota has responded by stating “Our first priority is the safety of our customers, and to conclude otherwise on the basis of one internal presentation is wrong.”

Are Toyota’s actions aligned with this statement? According to the news we’ve been reading, the answer again is “NO”.  We would suggest that Toyota’s attempt to downplay “one” internal presentation is extremely weak.  Why?  Simply because that one internal document happened to be presented by Yoshimi Inaba, Toyota’s top North American executive, and as such the content becomes much more significant and relevant.  An executive presentation is expected to be factual and with purpose.  To suggest otherwise and relegate this to the category of ‘discussion topics” and one person’s opinion is a real stretch.  If this is indeed the case, then there are real concerns within the leadership ranks of Toyota.  When the president speaks, people listen for a reason.  What they say affects in some way – good or bad.

Akio Toyoda, president of Toyota, and other executives are on the firing line as they present their case in the US congressional hearings.  In Akio Toyoda’s own words, “We pursued growth over the speed at which we were able to develop our people and our organization.”  As we have mentioned in previous posts, Toyota’s communication strategy has been lacking as this crisis continues to unfold.  We would suggest that this is indicative of the underlying problems that Toyota is experiencing.  Effective communication was once at the core of Toyota’s culture and to this end, we would agree that Toyota’s culture has been compromised.  What is debatable is whether this is strictly due to growth.  Is this a factor that is attributable to the sheer size of the company?  Is this the result of an evolution in culture that lost it’s roots?

As size increases, so do layers of management and the number of “gatekeepers” that attempt to filter out the critical information.  Whether or not the original message remains intact is one the faults of bureaucracy.  While Toyota traditionally has managed to “keep it real” and encouraged forward thinking and free dialogue, layers of management may have eroded this once highly characteristic trait of the Toyota culture.

Is Toyota solely to blame?  It appears that the government Safety Regulators have some explaining to do as well.  Surprisingly, the scope and extent of recalls can actually be negotiated.  The short lesson learned is that we cannot knowingly compromise human safety in our products and services.  In simpler terms, when human lives are at risk, there is no such thing as a LEAN Recall.

As we have emphasized through our many pages and posts, the culture is the company.  In our post, “Lean Execution:  Competing with Giants – It’s all about speed“, we featured two video clips of Domenic Orr, CEO of Aruba Networks, who discusses the rapid growth of his company.  “Thoughtful Speed of Execution” and learning to recognize Boulders, Rocks, and Pebbles, and teaching our gate keepers to do the same are two steps more than may have been taken already.

Related links:  Toyota vows shake-up, lawmakers seek more reform (Reuters), Toyota’s latest apology, Toyota apologizes for handling of safety issues,

Until Next Time – STAY lean!

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