Toyota’s Suggestion System: 56 Years and Still Going Strong

In 1951 Toyota launched their Creative Idea Suggestion System. It was largely a copy of suggestion systems that were in place in U.S. companies at the time, namely the Ford Motor Company. Toyota made some notable innovations to it over the years, but most importantly, they stuck with it. The suggestion system is one aspect of a Lean management system many companies struggle with, stumble around or never get to when implementing the Toyota Production System.

How successful was Toyota when they first implemented their Suggestion System? I recently came across a document that was distributed to Toyota employees in 1951, when the suggestion system was launched. It asked all workers for their ideas, and aimed to answer questions such as:

  • Why are we asking for your creative ideas?
  • What type of ideas are we looking for?
  • Who can submit ideas?
  • How do we submit our ideas?
  • How will the ideas be evaluated?
  • What happens when ideas are accepted?

In the “Why are we asking for your creative ideas?” section, the document starts out with a fairly typical statement that “progress has been made in reducing cost and improving quality but we can still remove a lot of waste and improve quality.” This is followed by the curious sentence that, “If we look carefully, even American automotive factories there is nothing remarkable about the production system. The accumulation of the joint efforts of every single person in the company is what makes them so productive.” Most of Japanese industry was driven by the mantra of “catch up and surpass the US” in the post-war years. By luck or by design, Toyota leadership concluded this was due to “the accumulation of the joint efforts of every single person” in U.S. companies, rather than simply demand outstripping supply in a resource-rich post-War U.S.

One sentence explains that the suggestion system will be different from the style of “idea festivals” held periodically in the past, but will be an ongoing and widespread effort. There is an implied admission that previous efforts were inconsistent, and in part for show. This section ends by stating several times very clearly that Toyota will pay for these ideas and act quickly to implement them.

In the section under “Who can submit ideas?” there is a very practical solution to a common conundrum of suggestion systems, namely the fact that in the early stages some people will benefit from the fact that there may be a large number of previously trapped, frozen or ignored ideas and suggestions for improvement which will now be freed. This is a good thing, except for the fact that many times these are not kaizen ideas so much as people in a dysfunctional system finally being allowed to do their normal job. The typical unenlightened reaction is either management halting the suggestion system, reluctant to make large payouts for ideas they have squelched in the past, or there a sense of unfairness that one group of people are richly rewarded for picking low-hanging fruit when they are finally just do their job “normally” and sensibly.

The Toyota document states that if the suggestion or creative idea was one that was “normally expected in the course of work” then these ideas would not be considered, unless they were exceptional. In other words, don’t ask for a reward for just doing your job.

Who can submit ideas? The Toyota document said any employee can, regardless of the type of work they do, but in the beginning managers were excluded. Perhaps this initial exclusion was to roll it out in stages, or perhaps it was to emphasize that the Creative Idea Suggestion System was meant to be a people development system where managers were responsible for coaching and implementing ideas of the front line workers in production, administration and engineering, rather than a competition for ideas between management and workers.

How do we submit our ideas? It says very clearly “put it in the box” and specifies where these suggestion boxes are. It would be interesting to know how and when this evolved away from the box to the suggestion system process of today. Three other points in this section that were noteworthy: 1) If you can’t write it yourself, it’s OK to have a shop floor engineer help you, 2) we accept verbal suggestions, and 3) there is no need to gain your manager’s permission before making a suggestion. In other words, no excuses.

Toyota’s Creative Idea Suggestion System: 56 years and still going strong. Continuity is power.

26 Comments

  1. Chris Nicholls

    December 10, 2007 - 7:11 am
    Reply

    Hi Jon
    Thank you for two very interesting blogs first about Hungary and second regarding the Toyota Suggestion Scheme. At Ricoh in the UK we have an active suggestion scheme very much modelled on the Toyota System principles. We are always striving to improve our scheme. We are active members of Ideas UK the British based organisation for companies who run suggestion schemes. We get benchmark information from networking and sharing with other members. Unfortunately neither Toyota, Honda nor Nissan are members. Can you give me benchmark information about the performance or effectiveness of Toyota’s Suggestion scheme in order for Ricoh to set new targets for employee involvement, rewards and benefits. Or give me a contact in any Toyota Organisation willing to share information with me.
    Very Best Regards
    Chris

  2. Jon Miller

    December 10, 2007 - 11:52 pm
    Reply

    Hi Chris,
    I’ve heard numbers like 99% implementation of ideas and 1+ idea per worker per month as benchmarks, but these numbers vary by country.
    What these numbers say is “TOTAL involvement” and “all ideas WILL BE DEVELOPED into actionable ones” so rather than quantify it metrically, the underlying philosophy is key I think.
    You might try Toyota’s corporate PR people either in the UK or Japan. They tend to be forthcoming with this sort of information.

  3. Ethan H.

    December 11, 2007 - 10:36 am
    Reply

    Jon:
    I am interested in knowing more about the Toyota Suggestion System and how it can be implemented in healthcare. Do you know of any healthcare institutes using this model? Also, is there anyone you know of at Toyota (US) that I could contact for more information? I appreciate your help.
    Thanks,
    Ethan

  4. Jon Miller

    December 12, 2007 - 9:52 pm
    Reply

    Hi Ethan,
    I’m glad you are interested in learning more about Toyota’s suggestion system, or healthcare in particular.
    No, I don’t know of any healthcare institutes that are doing it. I’ll be happy to let you know as soon as I hear of one.
    I’ll be happy to give you more information, or have one of our team members from Toyota do so. However, Toyota doesn’t like consultants referring people in to specific people. Try their PR department, or general affairs.

  5. Troy

    July 3, 2008 - 5:39 pm
    Reply

    Hi Chris
    I was an employee of Toyota for a good number of years and am now a Lean manufacturing specialist. In the years I worked at Toyota there was an expectation from shopfloor members of 2 ideas per month, with regards to rewards and benefits if you managed 2 per month you rated as effective at your annual review if you didn’t achieve your two, you rated as less than effective and this was reflected in your salary review.
    As far as involvement with the implementation of ideas, if a member raised an idea he was expected to take as large a part in its implementation as was possible, if this meant overtime, time away from process etc. then so be it.
    I have also seen written but am not sure of the source that in 1993 Toyota generated 1.5m ideas in Japan alone. 98% implemented by the teams at an average cost of $3.00.
    I hope this snippet of information is beneficial.

  6. Jan

    August 11, 2008 - 12:01 pm
    Reply

    Troy,
    your reply is very sursprising to me, because I thought that in TOYOTA ideas are not obligatory. 2 ideas/month is quite a lot espacially if you consider big plant.
    But I have a question regarding Jon’s statement that TOYOTA doesn’t reward for ideas “normally expected in the course of work”. Can you refer to this? It is hard to imagine how you can divide idea from being in or outside normal scope, especially that KAIZEN aims to focus on your normal scope. I am confused…

  7. Gary

    October 19, 2009 - 10:41 am
    Reply

    We looked at the Toyota approach to employee engagement, and worked to figure out how it could fit into American companies. Not surprisingly it turns out it has to be Good, Fast and Cheap. We then developed the web based IdeasCount approach. We’d rather call it and Idea System, both to get away from just “suggestions” and to leave the baggage of those systems behind. We are implementing in manufacturing, education, telecommunications and health care is to come soon. I know this is kind of a pitch, but this could be big for American organizations, and I need to get the word out.

  8. Blanca Serrano

    October 21, 2009 - 3:28 pm
    Reply

    Mi compañía está interesada en iniciar con el sitema de sugerencias, basandose en el modelo de Toyota. Por favor me pueden decir si en algún lugar Toyota publico como dio inicio con el modelo, cuál es la logistica y como da seguimiento. Agradezco la información.

    • Ned Love Jr

      July 23, 2020 - 3:52 pm
      Reply

      I think you should come back with the Toyota solar I have one and it runs great. I have a design for one,and think it would sale great.

  9. bill wright

    March 9, 2010 - 2:20 pm
    Reply

    Is it possible the Toyota CPU’s can be accessed by a G3 or G4 enabled cell phone? A hacker can raise some really rotten stuff.

  10. jenny

    July 18, 2010 - 5:48 pm
    Reply

    Hola, yo trabaje en toyota manejando el sistema de ideas y sugerencias, tengo mucha información al respecto pero mi inglés realmente es muy malo para poder explicarlo por escrito. puedo responder la mayoria de las preguntas que tengan sobre el sistema y asçí presatrles la ayuda para su implematación
    Saludos

  11. Peter Ong

    June 21, 2011 - 1:11 am
    Reply

    I suggest Toyota produce All-Terrain-Vehicle(6 wheeler amphibian car)name it Toyota Savannah to take a major role in this uncertain natural environment change and can meet massive task in order to protect more human lives (car user)especially during earthquake,floods,landslide or for rescuer because conventional 4W-drive are not effective and efficient anymore for today’s environmental-challenge.

  12. Exo

    August 30, 2011 - 5:36 am
    Reply

    I suggest Toyota standardize the size and shape of the battery for their electric vehicles (EVs)? Kind of like a massive AA battery. That way, in stead of finding a place to charge our NiMh car batteries for 11 hours, we pull into a servo, they pull a pre-charged ‘AA’ battery out of a warehouse, swap it with our depleted one, we pay them for the power it cost them to charge it and a nominal surcharge for their service, and away we go.
    We can always plug-in and recharge at home, but being able to quickly swap out a depleted battery could be an easy way to solve the current range (i.e., mileage) problems we face with current EVs.

  13. Mustafa ashrafi

    July 28, 2020 - 8:13 am
    Reply

    Hello. I, Mustafa Ashrafi, have invented technology for the safety of all cars, especially racing cars. This technology gives these capabilities to the car. It prevents the car from turning over or overturning in any situation, both on road turns and in accidents. There is no longer a need for high tire adhesion to prevent the car from turning. Formula One racing cars, which are very expensive, will not be seriously damaged in accidents and will not leave the racetrack. This technology is applicable to all cars and public cars. It will be and will save the lives of millions of people. This project is a great goal of Kaizen that achieves a car-based community with high security. If you want to cooperate, contact [email protected]

  14. Gerald Lizardo

    August 14, 2020 - 3:38 pm
    Reply

    Hi,
    Having owned a 2020 Highlander Hybrid Platinum some suggestions.
    1. A $52,000 Car with no remote Folding mirrors for car washes and parking lots?
    2. The cooled seats are ineffective. Fan is too small, or too slow. How about air conditioning routed through that like my Ford F-150 King Ranch
    3. Lethargic acceleration. I know the focus is on mpg hence the anemic throttle response. Maybe a Prime model.
    4. Toe operated lift gate is iffy on foot placement. It’s not very sensitive.
    FIX THESE THINGS YOU WOULD HIT IT OUT OF THE PARK.
    I would pay more for it to have these things fixed.

  15. Ron Bartholomew

    September 6, 2020 - 3:59 pm
    Reply

    Replace side view mirrors with mini cameras with view screens inside. They will accommodate any size driver and give a better field of view.

  16. William C. Conroy

    October 23, 2020 - 9:21 pm
    Reply

    Suggestion for improvement:

    CURRENTLY: When air pressure in a tire is low, the tire pressure warning light comes on.

    PROBLEM: Light is on, but which tire? Four to choose from. One must put air in each tire until the right one is filled.

    SOLUTION: Light comes on, accompanied by either LF, RF, LR, RR (Left Front, Right Front, Left Rear, Right Rear), thereby eliminating guesswork and saving time and energy.

  17. EMMANUEL HAGIN

    November 19, 2020 - 7:40 am
    Reply

    Thank you for the time given me to suggest :
    I suggest that the passengers seat at the back should be able to adjust front and back so that if a driver want”s to adjust his seat ,it will never disturb any passenger at all .
    NOTE : Not all drivers has tall legs or short legs.THANK YOU

  18. Chora Mast

    January 17, 2021 - 4:49 am
    Reply

    Hello
    Respected /Sir/Madam
    I belong to India and also customer of Toyota. Now I am using Toyota etios cross 1.4 GD . As indian Government policy desiel vehicle life in India is only 10 . Toyota Suzuki -GLANZA and Urban Cruiser car did not liked by Indian consumer due to Suzuki billed quality. So Indian Toyota consumers are waiting new BSVI Petrol and CNG SEDAN CAR in market like etios . So think about this and hold market

  19. paul benson

    January 23, 2021 - 2:04 pm
    Reply

    As roof lines drop for aerodynamic gains, senior drivers have more problem entering your vehicles. An example being your plug in S U V which I would buy if I could enter with any dignity. Designing a partial gull wing but side hinged door would allow easier entry and expand the market for tight entry vehicles.

  20. Brenda Wilson

    February 3, 2021 - 10:21 pm
    Reply

    I would live to see a Toyota Avalon on an SUV rack with no changes to the body of the car. Plenty space in the back. As we get older we can’t bend low or jump high as we use to. We need the room but we also need a little height to slide in.

  21. Jeanne Caldwell

    March 7, 2021 - 10:08 am
    Reply

    I would use the window shade for the front window more than the ones in my 2021 Highlander Limited second row windows. So when I park on a summer day I could pull the shade down on the front window to keep the interior cooler. You could nake it where you
    Couldn’t activate it unless the car was in park and off.

  22. Peter Gold

    May 25, 2021 - 9:43 am
    Reply

    I have invented a basic Vehicle Door Accident Avoidance System (US Patent Number 9,308.859 ) that is a highly reflective retro reflective tape meeting FMVSS 108 that is applied to the entire interior lower edge of a vehicle door to allow another vehicle driver the right to see my opened vehicle door on my leased 2021 Lexus ES 350 automatically illuminated even with me outside my vehicle door at night. The application takes about 10 seconds to apply, is totally out of sight with the vehicle door closed inside or outside the vehicle and honestly looks great when the vehicle door is opened. The total cost of a typical application to a 4 door vehicle such as my leased 2021 Lexus is eight dollars total for all 4 doors. It is now available to your company from my company for “immediate applications”.

  23. Elto D

    July 14, 2021 - 7:10 am
    Reply

    where is this Creative Idea Suggestion System?
    I have a suggestion to make

  24. Bhalchandra maharastra

    September 16, 2021 - 10:56 pm
    Reply

    Toyota please Indian market need old innova cng petrol .. no need 2.5 u try 1.6 /1.8 …

  25. STANLEY ALCALA

    November 16, 2021 - 3:42 pm
    Reply

    I drive a 2021 toyota RAV-4 XLE. I love my toyota. But i must say there is one thing that is bothersome about the vehicle. The gas lever is in a bad spot, it is located next to the hood lever and you cannot see them. So when u go to open the gas lever i have opened the hood by mistake on several occasions. The gas lever is not positioned in a good spot . thank you for your time

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