The Toyota Way is Total Company Discipline, Partial Study is GM’s Failure

Kan Higashi was President of the NUMMI company, the joint venture between Toyota and GM, when it was started two decades ago. In the October 16, 2006 issue of Nikkei Business (a Japanese magazine) Mr. Higashi shares his insights in a short article titled The Toyota Way is Total Company Discipline, Partial Learning is GM’s Failure.
Mr. Higashi says that in the beginning Toyota feared that GM would learn the Toyota way and catch up quickly. But clearly this is not the case if you see the performance of these two companies in the market today. Mr. Higashi gives a lot of credit to the workers and the GM management who worked to make NUMMI a success, but also says that ultimately the philosophy that “the gemba is important” never spread across GM.
Mr. Higashi credits the efforts of Jack Smith the former Chairman of GM but also criticizes the elitism at GM, including the resistance by executives to such behaviors as wearing work clothes (uniforms) in the factory, rarely going to see the production lines, indulging in luxurious executive lunch rooms, company cars and private offices.
Mr. Higashi explains:
The Toyota way is not only the productivity improvement activity in the factory. What is important is that everyone from the factory to the corporate headquarters all work towards improving quality and efficiency with the same thought process. I think of it as “discipline”. Unless discipline is taught from the top people at corporate headquarters, it will not take root as a company culture.
He says it is the constant searching for further areas where kaizen can be done by everyone from the gemba to the executives that creates an “awareness”. There is a great quote by Mr. Higashi at the end of this article:
In my six years of working at NUMMI, I was made aware of many things by honestly listening to the voices of the American workers. When they gave me their frank opinions, first I had to humbly accept them. Strength grows from such a position of humility.
Stop the line. Gemba kaizen. Standard Work. Those are some of the things Toyota taught GM at NUMMI. Strength grows from humility. That’s what the Americans at NUMMI taught Mr. Higashi from Toyota. Who got the better deal on that exchange?

1 Comment

  1. Michael Schaffner

    November 29, 2006 - 6:58 pm

    For Lean implementations to be successful I believe that it has to be become the normal course of doing business, a lifestyle if you will. This posting is a great example of how a failure to do this results in corresponding lesser results.