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Do you follow your values in difficult times?

It is easy to proclaim our values either as individuals or as organizations, but it is an entirely different thing to actually LIVE them! It is especially challenging when the proverbial stuff hits the fan- when times get tough.

Later in my life I finally learned the wisdom of not “casting the first stone” and how it is to live in a glass house. I know all human beings struggle with doing the “right thing” from time to time. One of the challenges is that we have different opinions on what the “right thing” is. A philosophical side note here regarding Toyota- I

That is why it is important to identify the values, clarify what they mean to us (and the organization), and most important HOW we know are actually following the values. We have to clarify what actions and indicators tell us we are doing what we say matters.

With Values things are not always as clear as they may be with other types of items we measure like productivity, or quality. It can be a bit fuzzy sometimes whether we did the “right” thing. With organizations there are hundreds or thousands of people each doing what they believe is the “right” thing and sometimes things don’t work out as intended.

One philosophy (or value) of Toyota is to have a non-blaming culture. If we think about the desire to adhere to a value as the desired state, and the failure to adhere as the current state we can see that is the definition of a problem. At Toyota when there was a deviation from a desired condition or ANY kind (even personal breakdowns of our value system) it was simply treated as another problem to be solved.

There was no musing over whether the individual was “good” or “bad” or “right” or “wrong,” it was simply a gap to the desired state (a standard). By the way we didn’t talk much about “accountability” or “responsibility” of individuals. I think this was because the system (TPS) made the expectations for people clear and deviations naturally rose to the surface. It was hard to hide from our responsibilities (not impossible).

That being said it is hard to take our own personal feelings and opinions out of the conversation. We had to learn not to cast stones, but to face the situation with openness and a desire to reach a successful solution. Was this easy? NO! Were we perfect? NO! It was instilled in me to keep trying and to keep learning.

Let’s take a look at the challenges that Toyota faced and how they behaved as an organization (not some individuals here and there who may have acted contrary to the values).

It is not whether any organization will have problems (based on the definition of a problem they will) but how they handle the situation in difficult times. When I read the stories about Toyota in the news and talked to insiders I looked for deviations from the core values and philosophies. On an organizational level I did not see any. (I am not talking about people’s perceptions of Toyota or news stories; I am talking about statements directly from Toyota leaders and facts I gathered.)

Philosophy or value- stated various ways but essentially have a no fault/no blame environment. I need to add that this does not mean that people are not responsible for their actions. At the root cause level of  ALL problems there is a person (or people). This refers more to finger pointing, and it means stepping forward when we make a mistake and being involved in the countermeasure development.

I have not seen anywhere in the news that Toyota blamed suppliers (as happened with Ford and Firestone). In fact in one article a Toyota leader said they had responsibility even though all the accelerator pedals came from a single supplier in Indiana. The leader said that Toyota owned responsibility because they had accepted the process (design and manufacture) as provided by the supplier. In other words what the supplier had done was to Toyota’s standard.

I never saw any Toyota person (leader or otherwise) state that perhaps some of the problems may be caused by the driver (operator error). (There was the fellow in California who made the evening news when his Prius would not stop and the State Police had to use their vehicle to stop him. He should have done more research- the Prius did not have the “sticky accelerator” issue. He was also not aware (how many of us are?) that the computer on the car monitors the depression of the brakes and accelerator and the data showed that he had not pressed the brakes- busted. But Toyota did not say “See the driver is at fault.”)

There are countless other possibilities- did a mechanic, either a Toyota mechanic or shade tree mechanic modify the accelerator? Were there aftermarket (not made by Toyota) modifications or parts? Some of the recalled vehicles were 8 years old and it is likely that many things could have happened to the vehicles during that time (not to mention the changes to the manufacturing process).

There was some claim that Toyota did not take action quickly enough and tried to cover up the problem. The not taking action quickly enough could be debated, but I am pretty sure there was no cover up. I think the more likely reason is that there were not many verifiable facts. In order to test a hypothesis (there may a problem with the accelerator) it is necessary to remove all possible variables to get a reliable outcome. The variables mentioned above need to be removed in order to confirm what the actual situation is.

Consider this- when Toyota discovers a possible problem (it is not actual until confirmed) here is what would happen. First off all products in the process would be contained and evaluated for the condition. There were 5 assembly plants producing vehicles with the accelerator pedal in question and each was producing around 1000 vehicles each. The person installing the accelerator pedal would have been asked to perform some basic examination of each pedal to attempt to find the condition (5,000 chances to find a “defect” each day).

In addition similar efforts would be deployed at the supplier (10,000 chances). The people who drive the finished vehicles off the line would also be instructed on what to check for and how to check it (15,000 chances). Some vehicles are randomly selected for a more extensive evaluation on the test track (driving in various conditions). I would bet that the percentage of vehicles tested at this level was also increased to help find the possible condition.

I can assure you that there were plenty of people evaluating to see if there was a real problem. By real problem I mean something that was not a random event because random events don’t have common cause, which can be corrected. (This does not mean that Toyota does not care about the random events, it simply means that the first step is to see if there is a consistent situation with a repeating cause. If so that is what is addressed first.)

This situation had major implications and I am sure that Toyota was spending enormous effort to try to find out if there was an ongoing failure in the process, and it is likely that 15,000 or more opportunities to detect the condition occurred every day. As far as I know the condition (actual pedal sticks and does not return) has not been replicated in a controlled environment (without the other variables).

Does this mean that it NEVER happened? NO! It is possible that some pedals stuck down and did not decelerate properly. It only means that the condition could not be replicated.  You can see that this type of problem is difficult to evaluate and get to root cause.

In the next segment I will discuss the next value that came into question in this situation.

Also did Toyota “stop and fix” when they found the problem? Some would argue that they “hid” the problem, but I think it is more that there was no conclusive evidence of the accelerator problem (in fact to date there has not been any evidence of a problem in a CONTROLLED environment (removing other factors such as driver error or perhaps a pedal that was repaired improperly). But again Toyota is not blaming drivers even though it is possible that the problem was driver related. When the problem was declared the plants were shut down.

Also I spoke to some dealers who told me how Toyota handled the situation with them. Toyota instructed them to stop selling cars and to focus on repairing vehicles in the field first (customer first). (Funny story is that the dealers got all set up for a flood of people and set up to make repairs virtually 24 hours a day for convenience, and hardly anyone came in! They had to call customers to come in for the repair and many customers said they were not concerned about the issue.) Then they fixed cars on the lots. The 5 plants involved were shut down for about 5 days as I understand it trying to make sure there were no more defects in the system.

And to top it off Toyota sent the dealers a check to cover lost wages for salesman, lost sales for dealers and compensation for interest etc. This was totally unexpected and one dealer who sells 5 car brands (Ford, Honda/Accura, Toyota/Lexus, Hundai and Kia) told me that is unheard of in the industry.

Did they handle everything perfectly? Probably not. But did they follow their philosophies in tough times? Yes, I think they did and that says a lot more about the company than whether they are “lean” or not!
After I share these facts with people I never hear a comment about the situation again!

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