How to Stay Out of Trouble with Mr. Convis

Gary Convis is the senior vice president of manufacturing in North America for Toyota Motor Corporation. In a November 20, 2006 article in the Lexington Herald-Leader titled New Tundra Plant Just Shows that … Toyota Keeps on Trucking Mr. Convis shared how he communicated to employees what work life at Toyota was all about.
“There’s only a couple of ways you get in trouble at Toyota,” Convis told employees. “One, you don’t come to work. And two, you don’t pull the cord when there’s a problem. … Those two things get you in trouble. Anything else, we’ll train you.”
This simple statement has deep roots. I would go as far as to say that if you can say and mean the paragraph above, you will succeed at Lean manufacturing. Let’s examine the two ways you get into trouble with Mr. Convis:
One, you don’t come to work. I interpret this to mean more than showing up to work instead of calling in to take Friday off because it’s a sunny day. It means coming to work willing to put in a full day’s work rather than just punching the clock and filling space until 5 minutes before quitting time. It means having a desire to understand and follow Standard Work. It means asking “How can I help?” and then giving your time, ideas and resources to getting the job done right, and making it better.
And two, you don’t pull the cord when there’s a problem. It’s not acceptible to let things slide. Don’t see a problem and walk away. Alert your supervisor to the problem as soon as you find it. There are no exceptions. Even if it means stopping the work you are doing and possibly stopping the work others are doing, it is important to “pull the cord” that identifies the problem.
Lean manufacturing often doesn’t work for companies because Just in Time systems are implemented or inventories are reduced without the underlying process problems or human behavior problems being addressed first. This is alright only if the organization has the will and ability to respond to “pull the cord” situations right away. Without this ability to stop and fix, the response is “Lean doesn’t work for us” and the build up of inventory (or other types of) buffers again.
Anything else, we’ll train you. This is equivalent to saying “We have Standard Work. All of our processes are specified for timing, sequence, and outcome. Everything has a place. Everything is visual. We check everything. And we’ll explain all of this to you.” How many employers can say that?
Successful companies that reward brilliant people to perform heroically within broken processes and systems, or that follow a lowest-cost labor strategy may find it difficult to invest in developing people who would know how to stay out of trouble with Mr. Convis.