Akio Toyoda Articulates Toyota Way Principle #15

By Jon Miller Updated on May 19th, 2020

Toyota Way Principles #15 Be SmartImagine the head of your organization admitting, in the middle of a global crisis, that it’s become necessary to loosen strict adherence to some of your fundamental business practices. These practices are ones rooted in deeply held beliefs. They have served you well for more than half a century. They have been praised, studied, emulated the world over.

Don’t Go See for Yourself

As reported in the Japan Times this past week, with vehicle sales dropping, factories and showrooms closing, Toyota Motors CEO Akio Toyoda is starting to question some of his company’s long-ingrained practices, including Toyota Way principle #12 a.k.a. genchi genbutsu

Go and see for yourself to thoroughly understand the situation.

Cutting travel by 80 percent due to the coronavirus, there must be compromise on the principle that problems are best solved by going to the scene of the problem. The article quotes Toyoda saying, in a massive understatement, “It’s also becoming clearer that people shouldn’t be traveling all the time just to attend meetings.”

Toyoda himself now spends 30 percent less time in meetings. He has cut related paperwork in half. Bravo. But why did it take a once-in-a-century global crisis for him to see that he could do this? Perhaps genchi genbutsu had become dogma, an absolute good, a way of working not be questioned, until now.

Don’t Make Decisions with Nemawashi, Call Me

Toyota is famous for thorough preparation, consensus-building, and developing solutions to problems through a slow back-and-forth coaching process rather than rapid top-down directives. This principle #13 may also be changing with the times

Make decisions slowly by consensus, thoroughly considering all options (nemawashi); implement decisions rapidly

Traditionally, employees prepared materials, sometimes for more than a week, before meeting with the CEO. Toyoda said, “Now, I can just get on a video conference without any materials and deal with any issues then and there.” Again, why Now, I can..? Perhaps the crisis has provided a convenient excuse to throw off the shackles of tradition and catch up with the times.

A Fresh Look at Some Toyota Way 14 Principles

Akio Toyoda admitted in he is taking a fresh look at principles #12 and implicitly #13. No doubt this is part of his drumbeat to go back to the basics. Reviewing Toyota’s 14 principles, there are a few that we ought to lean into, especially in times like these.

Take principle #7

Use visual control so no problems are hidden.

Visual management becomes more important than ever as we reduce the frequency of genchi genbutsu and rely more on conversations, reports and viewing remotely for problem detection and resolution.

As we find ourselves using video conferencing, e-learning or other technologies for work, principle #8 comes into play

Use only reliable, thoroughly tested technology that serves your people and processes.

Adopting new technology for remote work and videoconferencing brings with it issues with productivity, quality of communication, security. Over time, changes in the way we work, the technologies and tools we use, and style human interaction will begin to affect us. Our repeated actions affect our thinking, assumptions, and build culture.

Toyota Way principle #9 is evergreen, but worth a fresh look in these times

Grow leaders who thoroughly understand the work, live the philosophy, and teach it to others.

Assuming this shift in work habits we are all experiencing is not temporary, we need to pay extra attention on growing leaders who don’t forget the value of getting out of their office (once it is safe to do so), going to see for themselves, getting the facts, and making better decisions together.

Toyota Way Principle #15

Revealed here for the first time, based on minutes of research, is Toyota Way Principle #15

Practice these principles, but be smart about it.

Toyoda isn’t calling for the end of genchi genbutsu, nemawashi or kaizen. Far from it. He is merely applying continuous improvement to these principles by asking how well they serve their purpose. In fact, he is calling for a return to the main ideas behind them and to being sensible in their practice.

“We need to be bold about what we should stop doing, and what we should change.” This is not a new message from Toyoda. He has been urging people in his firm to be bold for a few years. The circumstances prompting this recent appeal are new, as well as is his call for people to be smart in following their guiding principles.

  1. Kalpit Shishodia

    May 18, 2020 - 11:10 am

    This crisis has given an opportunity to identify scope & enhance value in acts your organization perform. It has also indicated the need to accelerate transformation. It has given an opportunity to drastically change at a rate better than you would have usually done. If you were observing problems in past and wanted to take some measure but were hesitating to do so as it could cause big disruption, this is the time to re look at some of those things. Akio Toyota has certainly made good use of this crisis. He has followed the old saying of “Never let a good crisis go to waste”. I have written an article on this topic. You may check, if interested.

    • Jon Miller

      May 25, 2020 - 10:40 am

      Thanks Kalpit

  2. Jonathan Wiederecht

    May 19, 2020 - 8:06 am

    Jon – as always, a pleasure to read your blog. Can you add some clarity to the phrase “….based minutes of research, is Toyota Way Principle #15”. I’m having trouble grasping the notion of minutes of research.
    Jon Wiederecht

    • Jon Miller

      May 19, 2020 - 9:40 am

      Hello Jonathan
      You have found a proofreading error. It should have been “based on minutes”. An attempt to be clever since it was within 100 minutes of reading the article that I wrote this one, rather than months or years of research often claimed when coining such principles.

  3. Kai Laamanen

    May 19, 2020 - 10:44 am

    Thank you Jon for the inspiring blog… I fully agree…it is not the strongest or biggest organizations that survive but those who are the most agile to adapt themselves in the changing business ecosystem. No principle works forever…. it all depends on the situation and context.

    br. Kai

    • Jon Miller

      May 25, 2020 - 10:40 am

      Thanks for your comment Kai

  4. Dan

    May 22, 2020 - 1:16 pm

    We sometimes joked that six sigma needed a six sigma project. To continually improve your processes, even your continuous improvement process is a good sign. Ability to look at ones own work and see opportunity is a sign of humility. You cannot learn if you do not have humility.

    • Jon Miller

      May 25, 2020 - 10:40 am


  5. Robert S

    May 24, 2020 - 6:04 pm

    Traveling to attend meetings has never been the nature of Genchi Genbutsu, and it should not have taken a crisis to figure that out. The spirit is to get as close to the problem as possible and do not manage by report (or meeting). We may not be able to go and see the problem with our own eyes, perhaps we now video conference with the operator who while viewing the process, or we call and talk to the customer to understand the effect, because that is as close as we can get. Replacing meetings with virtual meetings is less costly, but not the spirit of Genchi Genbutsu.

  6. Robert S

    May 24, 2020 - 6:11 pm

    The spirit of nemawashi is to understand the problem deeply. Consider the problem and the proposed solution to ensure that it truly solves the problem and does not create a new one. Ensure that the solution will be accepted by all stakeholders and that they can prepare for implementation. In a crisis, decisions need to be made quickly, but departing from the spirit of nemawashi sows the seeds for the next disaster

    • Jon Miller

      May 25, 2020 - 10:41 am

      Well put Robert

  7. Jacob Stoller

    May 25, 2020 - 9:59 am

    Nice post, Jon. It’s interesting how some pandemic workarounds give reason to question the “normal” way. You have to be vigilant though. For example, a large contractor I spoke with has banned architects from doing in-person job site inspections. Instead, this is done remotely, with the architect telling an on site person where to point the camera. I told this to my father, a retired architect. “That’s bad,” he said, and explained that some of the problems he found on site visits were discovered by accident in areas where he wasn’t specifically looking. In this case, the workaround could be dangerous. #9 says it all.

    • Jon Miller

      May 25, 2020 - 10:41 am

      That’s a great anecdote Jacob

  8. Al Silar

    May 28, 2020 - 1:26 pm

    When I think about going to see, I look at it as something other than a meeting. It is about being present in the workplace. It is about conversing with the associates doing the work to question AND encourage the culture and mentality involved with implementing a sustainable way of thinking. Certainly our organization has not even come close to the decades of unconscious competence that Toyota has. As a result, Mr. Toyoda is most likely in a better place to be making these types of decisions, at least as short term countermeasure, to the existing environment.

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