Toyota strongly believes that the capacity to learn is the main source of competitive advantage and that continuous improvement is about learning. Toyota has two major cultural biases with regard to learning:
- Learning is tacit. This is the most important one. By definition, you can only transfer tacit knowledge when there are dense ties under the guidance of a skilled mentor. At Toyota, every leader is a teacher – personally training anc coaching junior people in the Toyota Way.
- Learn by doing which means trying. You cannot learn by theoretically determining the best way and then executing only the best way. There are many possible solutions, and you can only learn by trying them, enjoying your success, and reflecting on your failures. If you are always trying to figure out the best theoretical solution, you will be in a constant state of waiting, missing many opportunities to learn.
Toyota leaders often refer to this learning-by-doing way of thinking as part of the Toyota DNA. Leaders are guides, encouraging and watching for the right opportunities to impart significant lessons.
Accountability and Responsibility
Teams, teams and more teams are almost an obsession at Toyota. Credit goes to the team. Teamwork is the key to success. Paradoxically, however, there is a saying at Toyota that “whenever everyone is responsible, no one is responsible.” Every engineer must be accountable – everyone must deliver. The willingness to accept responsibility is the spirit of hansei at work. Hansei is about reflecting, identifying things that did not go well, and then taking responsibility. “You cannot have kaizen without hansei”.
Managing Upward, Downward, and Sideways: Hourensou Management
Unfortunately, many modern-day engineering managers believe their role in an organization is to attend meetings, keep abreast of the latest organizational politics, make the tough decisions about the big problems in the company, and generally look upward and outward. The philosophy seems to be that a good manager is good at delegating, and good engineers should work autonomously.
The principle of hourensou suggests a different image of the Toyota manager. This Japanese management concept can be interpreted as Hou (houkoku – to report), Ren (renroku – to give updates periodically), and Sou (Soudan – to consult or advice). In other words, Toyota leaders have the responsibility of staying informed about the activities of subordinates so they can report on key activities, give updates to their leaders, and advise subordinates.