Tips for Lean Managers

Yaruki: The Will to Win Even in Tough Times

By Jon Miller Published on December 28th, 2008

RC Bhargava, the Chairman, Maruti Suzuki India recounts the story of Maruti Suzuki and how the company overcame several challenges over the past decades by building a team-based management culture. In an India Times article titled Think positive to overcome global economic crisis he shares his wisdom.

Maruti has been a debt free company for a long time. All expansion has been financed from internal resources. A substantial amount of cash is held by the company. As a result, we are in a good position to face the challenge of a downturn. Maruti expects to emerge even stronger when the upswing comes.

To summarize, RC Bhargava credits three culture factor for the enduring success at Maruti Suzuki and challenges the reader to embrace these principles in order to succeed in tough economic times.
The first and most important point is for leaders to have a positive mental attitude. The Chairman writes:

The ability of a company to deal with difficult situations is to a large extent dependant on the mental strength of the top management, as well as the organisational culture. The most important requirement is to remain positive and not develop a negative, fatalistic approach. It should be remembered that competitors would also be facing similar problems and it is up to you to find the better solution.

Certain athletes or competitive sports teams have a reputation for winning or losing a higher percentage of the time when trailing late in the game. Comparing evenly matched competitors, the mental toughness to think only of opportunities and positive ways to bring about good outcomes has a significant impact on the winner.
Second, employees must be a motivated team looking for cost reductions and innovative ways to create profit every day. RC Bhargava observes:

It is very hard for a company to make significant reductions in costs, if the employees in that company, including the workers, are not used to working as a motivated team furthering the prosperity of the company, and looking for cost reductions as a normal way of life.

Taiichi Ohno said, “Do kaizen when times are good,” reasoning that process innovations in tough times tend to focus on cost rather than on investment, limiting our ability to think creatively, make good decisions and invest in the right places. Those companies that have already built the practice of looking daily for improvements in safety, quality, delivery and cost by encouraging innovative thinking are far ahead of those who have been too successful or too busy in a strong economy.
Third, the Chairman points out that the Maruti Suzuki culture tied the long-term prosperity of each individual to cooperative effort for the prosperity of the enterprise. At Maruti:
The workers realised that their long term interests lay in ensuring the prosperity of the company, and this could be best achieving by a positive, cooperative and interactive relationship with the management.

It is the job of the leader to set a positive vision, enable daily improvement and motivate these efforts toward long-term mutual prosperity. RC Bhargava introduces a Japanese word, yaruki. It is not a lean term, simply a word that means “the will to do” something. In a word it is motivation, or “to be motivated”. As a child growing up in the playground of Japan, if you challenged another with “yaruki?” with a certain tone of voice, you had better be ready for a fight. The English colloquial equivalent may be, “You wanna go?” or “We gonna do this?” So if you say you have yaruki, you had best be prepared to take action.
In short, what we can take away from the Chairman’s advice is “be ready.” One could argue that we are never ready for once-in-lifetime events such as the meltdown of Wall Street, but these things happen more or less every twenty years, give or take a few years and a few thousand miles in this global economy. The words of Toyota CEO Katsuaki Watanabe at a recent press conference were 「すべての『構え』が大きすぎた」 which translates roughly to “We were overextended” or “Our stance was too big” or “Our positioning was too broad” or more interestingly “Our preparations were all too large” depending on how once chooses to interpret 『構え』 (kamae = stance, position, preparation). The point is that Toyota was almost totally unprepared for market downturn, having positioned themselves for growth and international expansion for years.
Toyota may not have made overly large preparation for growth but the true test for them is whether the leadership can remain positive, the employees can remain focused on innovating and improving cost every day, and whether the short-term survival strategy respects the need for long prosperity of both the firm and the individuals within. The same is true for any organization determined to exit this recession a winner

  1. Luke

    December 29, 2008 - 11:39 am

    Hey Jon, what’s the status of The Illustrated Toyota Production System book? It sounds like a great addition to my library!

  2. kubi alex

    December 29, 2008 - 11:38 pm

    Jon…again I have learn in a nutshell how to ‘Yaruki’ my CEO. I have forward your comments and the ‘Yaruki: The Will to Win Even in Tough Times’ article to my CEO…this way, I believe, am working from bottom, and pressure for middle managers to change will come from both bottom and top.
    Certainly reading most of your writing has revolutionized our thinking here at Bombolulu, and a KIAZEN Coordinator… I am on my toes every day, there are many areas to be KAIZEN…

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