My Toyota Career
Akinori Hyodo, former Factory Manager, Toyota HiAce Factory | #AskSensei Event 10 Summary
Akinori Hyodo joined the Toyota group at the age of 19 and through his Toyota career he worked his way up to become factory manager and director at the Toyota factory in Japan responsible for manufacturing the HiAce vehicle. His path on a lean journey wasn’t always smooth but his unswerving attitude to rise to challenges made him the lean leader he became. Hyodo Sensei shares experience from his Toyota career and gives us advice based on his personal journey.
The first years of Hyodo Sensei’s Toyota Career
Today, I am going to talk about some of my experience working for Toyota. In 1973, I joined one of the companies within the Toyota group. Thinking back of the time when I first joined, everything was absolutely new to me. I remember myself working really hard in trying to learn every aspect of my work very quickly. Being a 19-year-old young man at that time, the only thing I was feeling absolutely confident about was my physical energy.
What I went through back then was quite different from what new employees of the Toyota group would go through nowadays.
With regard to the Toyota Production System (TPS), the commencement of my career with Toyota was at a time when TPS hadn’t really made its way right through the Toyota group. When new employees join Toyota these days, their team leaders will take them through the teaching of TPS and cover TPS concepts such as Standard Work when introducing them to their new job. But, back when I started, new employees were taught how to do their job only in a few words at the beginning and the rest was up to us to figure out. So, I tried to figure out the right way of doing the job by observing those around me in earnest. When I came across something I didn’t quite understand, I had to actively seek answers by asking my co-workers. Otherwise, I wasn’t able to learn the job properly.
Taking responsibility to teach young operators
But, after a few years, new people started to join the company and started to work underneath me, from which point I had to take the role of teaching others how to do their job properly. I recall myself thinking at that time how important it was to get back to the basics and ensure that we get the fundamentals right. This is something that stayed with me throughout my career at Toyota.
Things were quite different back then and many operators were relying on their own experiences and hunches when performing their work. Everyone seemed to have their “own version of standards” back then. For example, when new operators produced a defect, operators above them with more experience would try to teach them what was the issue and the correct way of doing things etc. based on their own experience. However, young operators would struggle to take it all in and to understand things quickly as they had much less experience themselves.
Differences in skill levels and knowledge would always exist between those who are experienced and those who are not. So, when a new operator is spoken to by a person above him/her, the operator may not understand everything fully if the experience they are relying on is different.
Having said that, what is common between them is the basics and fundamentals. I believe any type of work can be divided into two categories – one is the work that consists of basics and fundamentals, and the other is the work based on the applications and variations of the basics. So, if we have an incident, a quality issue or whatever a problem maybe, for example, the first thing we must do is to go back to the basics. We must check if our foundations are right. Once we are satisfied with that, we can look into other things in depth. But, if we were to just go straight to check on the applications and variations, it can be difficult to pin down the actual issue amongst all the different variations.
To give you some more specific examples, whenever I talk about operators doing their work, I always refer to the fact that their work is based upon standard work. And, standard work forms the basis of their work. In terms of where their work is performed such as within a factory or a workplace, one of the fundamental points we must pay attention to is the level of 5S. In trying to implement the concept of TPS, for instance, unless you have a good level of 5S and the environment where problems and issues can be easily identified, applying any TPS concepts would be a nightmare.
That was why, when I was put in the position of teaching young operators the job they had to learn, I focused on them getting the basics and foundations absolutely right. To be honest with you, all that I focused on teaching them was the basics and foundations.
I believe this is important thinking. When approaching personnel development within an organization with many different types of people with different experiences, skill levels and personalities, it is important for us to be asking ourselves if we have really covered and taught the basics and fundamentals to those people uniformly well. We must firstly ensure that we have a solid foundation in place to build ourselves upon before getting into applications and variations. This was something that I identified early on in my career.
Working for the TPS Promotion Team
Another point I wish to mention is how I got myself involved in the promotion of the Toyota Production System. In 1987, I moved from my role on the shop floor to the TPS Promotion section of our company. Frankly speaking, until that point in my Toyota career, I wasn’t keen on the idea of TPS. But, moving into the section where every aspect of my job involved the promotion of TPS, I was put into the position where I had to adopt TPS if I wanted to keep working for the company. So, I had no choice but to change my heart to believe that TPS was a good thing. This was an important moment for my career. A big message I have for you and your organization is that if you want to make changes, you should want to put yourself and your people into positions and an environment where they have no choice but are compelled to do the work, complete the tasks and follow the rules. This is my experience of that happening in my career.
From joining the TPS Promotion section through to about the year 2000, I received a lot of guidance from senior members of the Toyota group not only from my direct organization but also from other Toyota organizations and our headquarters. Some of what I experienced was very challenging. Of course, you can leave an organization whenever you want to and this is the same with Toyota. But, if you wish to continue to work for the organization, you must rise to the challenge. This is how Toyota developed us by continuously putting us into an environment where we had no choice but to think through and resolve problems in order to complete our work.
Over the years, we had people from outside of Toyota come in and observed what we were doing. Some critical comments were made regarding some aspects of our way of doing things. For example, they would see our people performing standard work and say “gee, they just look like they are performing the role of robots”. But, many companies are now recognizing the benefit of standard work and trying to incorporate this concept into their operations.
In fact, there has been more interest around TPS and lean from outside of our group and sector around the globe particularly over the last 10 to 20 years, and the evaluation of our approach is getting very high.
Now, I am aware that my story here is stretching out a little bit. So, I would like to finish off by mentioning the two important things I learned from my Toyota career that you could perhaps take away as advice. The first one is the importance of observing and confirming the work being performed with your own eyes at the actual site. The second one is the importance of getting hands on and taking swift action when you find something that is not quite right.
I know the word “perfection” exists in our languages but the ultimate state of something being perfect doesn’t exist from my experience. There is always something that can be better and improved even when you think something is perfect. But, we use the word perfection as our target in order to be better and reach higher.
Because this concept of perfection doesn’t really exist, don’t be afraid not to get in and try out something to see how it works. Don’t try to over plan something at the beginning in order to achieve perfection. Don’t be afraid to get in and try to do things quickly. Don’t be afraid to translate your thoughts into action quickly because there are always some problems remaining anyway but you can address them as you go along. Another important point is that you must do all that by using your own hands and by confirming things with your own eyes as this will allow you to quickly understand where the issues are. If you rely on what you hear from others, you won’t always be able to grasp an accurate picture of the matter in question.
With the direct confirmation of things with your own eyes, you can directly obtain correct and accurate information. As a person who makes decisions, you can then use the correct information to form your decision and give accurate instructions to others.
What I have said and covered now was not something that I had always done in my career. But, reflecting back on what I had experienced within Toyota, I feel these were the key pieces of experience that I can provide to you as advice.
What are the qualities that the Toyota group is looking for in the people they employ to work at the genba?
Regarding the qualities, the company isn’t necessarily expecting the new employees on the shop floor to be doing a lot of difficult things. However, what we do want is for them to be able to work towards the target we set. We also want them to have the quality of being able to cooperate with others as they are not going to be able to do all of the work in the factory by themselves.
As I talk a lot about the roles of the different levels within an organization, as far as the role of an operator is concerned, they need to be able to take instructions from their team leader and follow those instructions regarding their work. They need to follow the rules that the company has asked them to follow and if the operator has a problem, they need to seek assistance.
My big take away from my Toyota career has been developing an understanding that lots of problems within a company are not sitting at the operator level. Obviously, there are some problems down there but most of the problems actually originate from the management level of the company.
With regard to the qualities people should have, it is important that those at the management level also have the same qualities within themselves. Those at the management level cannot expect those at the bottom of the organization to do something that they wouldn’t do themselves. Therefore, management must observe the directions and rules they set out for the organization to follow themselves as well. In this sense, I don’t think there is a great differentiation between the qualities at the bottom of the organization and at the management level.
There are various qualities that you wish to have within your employees such as working well in a team, having a willingness to try new things, etc. But, I always go back to the example of a parent and child relationship. As a parent, you raise your children with the hope and expectation that they have certain qualities as an individual. You are very interested and vested in making sure that they develop those particular qualities in them. The same can be said when you are trying to develop people within your company. So, make the comparison of what you want out of your own family and what you want out of the people within your company.
I always say that we are already doing a lot of things discussed in lean within our own homes. I think we are often overthinking things when we work. In terms of personnel development, don’t think this is a difficult topic as we are already doing things within own family. There are some good comparisons already sitting there within your own homes and families that you are already practicing and can reflect on.
Within Japanese organizations, what approaches are used to address management resistance to adopting lean?
To put it simply, when there is not much interest in lean at the management level within a company in Japan, that company is not doing lean. This is because lean is not a bottom-up system. Since lean is an overall organization concept, it needs to start at the top and make its way down through the organization. I am not going to say it is impossible, but since a company is structured hierarchically with different levels, if someone higher up is not interested in the idea of lean, it is extremely hard to get traction in establishing a lean organization from the bottom.
If you have a company with top management lacking the knowledge and know-how of lean but nonetheless is willing to consider adopting lean, then there is scope for a lean transformation within the organization. In this case, for example, you can take those in top management to another organization that has had success with lean and let them see and hear the story of success with their own eyes and ears. They can also invite some external consultants to their factories to help guide them through the lean transformation process. These are good steps for them to take. However, if there is no will and desire at the top of the organization to do those things, it is not going to achieve much traction within the company.
Frankly speaking, in summary, there are companies in Japan with top management with no interest in lean and TPS. When this is the case, the result is that those companies are either not implementing lean at all, or if they are, they are not doing it very well.
How important is it for a young engineer joining a company to start working as a “blue collar” worker? Should this be a standard for young engineers commencing their career?
I strongly think that new employees should be exposed to the shop floor whether they are a process engineer or a production engineer. If the person doesn’t have a direct understanding of how their factory is producing its products and what the situation is within the factory, it would make his/her job difficult as an engineer. At many of the companies that I have visited and seen around the world, there exists a big gap or line between the shop floor and engineering. I am leaving product development to the side for this discussion, but when it comes to day-to-day production, there is so much change happening on the shop floor in terms of how production is approached and dealing with issues. Therefore, unless there is direct understanding from engineering as to what is really occurring and how operators are working on the shop floor on a regular basis, it would be difficult for them to work effectively.
I discussed the importance of having clear roles throughout the organization in answering the previous question. So, what do you think is the role of an engineer? Surely, the role of an engineer is to provide support for production to occur without any issues. Given this, how can they support production if they don’t know what’s really happening on the shop floor?
Across the Toyota group, one of the things we do when employees commence their Toyota career is to give them experience on the shop floor although how much time they spend on the shop floor may be different depending on their position and the company. Personally, I believe this is a necessary thing to do and companies should make it part of their onboarding system for their new employees.
It is going to be an important experience for those new employees to have – to see things with their own eyes and experience things with their own bodies – to connect with the work that they are going to be doing in other areas of their business. If you were to compare the two examples of two employees entering the same company as engineers at the same time – with one of them spending six months on the shop floor and the other one going directly into the engineering department, the latter would be initially ahead as an engineer straight after the six-month period but the former who experienced the genba on the shop floor will overtake the latter very quickly as an engineer.
In closing, I wish to reiterate the importance of reflecting on the role of an engineer. If their role is to support production, they won’t be able to support the production well unless they have the direct understanding of the work on the shop floor.
#AskSensei is a regularly-scheduled webinar held together with Shinka Management Senior Consultant and former Toyota HiAce Factory Manager and Director Akinori Hyodo. Each event we cover a different topic related to lean, with participants invited to put their questions to Hyodo Sensei.
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