When Toyota Material Handling joined forces with European corporation BT Industries, they faced the challenge of creating a seamless merger, laying strong and cohesive foundations for the largest material handling company in Europe to flourish. From Japan to Europe, Toyota introduced their universally lauded set of practices and set out to embed them into their new teams. The Toyota Production System (TPS) is an original management philosophy that aims to eliminate waste to achieve the best possible efficiency by creating seamless processes through human capital development. This lean system was introduced to the European workforce by Japanese Senseis who shared their discipline in a truly organic way, inspiring leaders to absorb Toyota's teachings and to pass them onto colleagues throughout the business.
The Leadership Network explores the marriage of two working cultures with a series of articles about Toyota's introduction of lean to Europe. In this second piece we take a closer look at the practices involved in creating harmony and success at plants around the world, uniting diverse cultures and mindsets with a universal set of lean values and processes.
Stefano Cortiglioni is Head of Transformation at Toyota's Lean Academy in Bologna, Italy, responsible for ensuring that the lean methodology is thoroughly embedded into European thinking and working.
He describes Toyota's 4-pronged approach to internationalising the Toyota Production System, which launched with Senseis from Japan visiting every European plant, forming a clear idea of how things work, suggesting improvements and transferring know-how. Secondly, Toyota employed Jishuken – a form of problem solving - where people from across the business work on projects together, engaging diverse opinions and harnessing external points of view. Thirdly, several people from around the world were invited to share best practice at a global meeting. Finally, training tours were arranged in factories in Japan to demonstrate TPS practices, encouraging geographically diverse employees to speak the same language.
Setting an example to the new European workforce was one of Toyota's first challenges. The solution was found in Japan. Takahama, the Japanese 'flagship plant' is a guiding light for TPS best-practice. Cortiglioni describes the flagship factory's role in creating international continuity for the brand and setting an example of TPS transformation; by identifying and correcting issues quickly, averting potential faults in the production line and promoting a continuous improvement mindset.
From monthly meetings and Takahama-led projects, workforces at international factories are inspired by the successful implementation of the Toyota Production System in the factory, enhancing confidence across the world. Cortiglioni recalls a global initiative on painting, driven by Takahama and successfully engaging people across global plants. "The scope of the project was to reduce the quantity of paint utilised in the painting line of the Toyota factories all over the world. Thanks to the TPS methods associated with the worker experience we have achieved a 20% paint reduction," Cortiglioni explains.
Helping European teams understand the importance of Yokoten is another critical aspect. Designed to bring every site to the same lean standard, the practice encourages the sharing of learning laterally across the business by copying and improving on Kaizen ideas that work. The Japanese word for 'copy' differs from the Western concept of imitation by asking why someone should invest in creating something new when a solution has already been found. Yokoten means employing every small Kaizen improvement across the organisation at all levels. Coordinated by Senseis from Japan, Yokoten leads to knowledge sharing of successful working practices during a merger and beyond.
Once key processes were embedded, Cortiglioni turned to instilling beliefs, including Toyota's conviction that success is not driven solely by financial results, to a European business used to prioritising cost reduction (Genka Teigen). TPS (Toyota Production System) defines success as the product of healthy processes practiced by engaged employees and encourages Kaizen cost reduction projects to improve results in small ways by human capital development.
Another critical task of adapting lean at different global locations was emphasising the value of respect, a mark of Japanese culture which permeates every area of Toyota. The Senseis highlighted the importance of working with respect without imposing major change, easing their new colleagues into lean gently and patiently, never enforcing mandatory practices, but simply encouraging the adoption of a long-term vision.
Cortiglioni describes the methods for transferring the vision and targets to Europe from Japan, all based on a series of powerful methodologies.
Hoshin Kanri is used to embed the flow of data and KPIs from senior management to the shop floor of the European plants. Toyota's President creates a yearly plan, detailing targets and activities on a monthly basis, which is sent to the Vice President to improve and deliver further down the chain. Step by step, the picture is enhanced and passed down the business eventually reaching the shop floor, allowing for a comprehensive overview of targets from every level. This critical connectivity aligns the thinking throughout the business and incorporates the factory point of view around security, safety, quality, cost, delivery, environment and morale.
In order to ensure alignment across the organisation, Toyota relies on Daily Management, which defines the commitment to alignment between bottom-up and top-down communication throughout the business. Designed to eliminate potential problems associated with poor communication and inconsistent management, the strategy requires the visualisation of KPIs throughout factories so that daily targets as well as weak points are clearly visible to everyone at every level. For example the repair of a faulty machine can be understood through highly visible charts and graphs, allowing plant managers to put relevant budget, resources and processes in place to address the problem.
The final component in Toyota's integration strategy is Quality Circle - key to lean working, where self-established teams of about 10 people select a topic to work on for 6 months, offering leadership opportunities at every level coupled with the necessary tools to work on projects autonomously. This is one of lean's key features, says Cortiglioni, to portray every individual as a protagonist, enabling them to create change autonomously.
With a shared vision and collaborative work environment, a culture of continuous improvement mindset can be implemented throughout an organisation, regardless of culture or geography. Toyota employs Kaizen, Hoshin Kanri, Jishuken and Yokoten amongst other pioneering philosophies to bridge gaps in ethos and methodology and to employ a continuous improvement mindset throughout Toyota Material Handling.
This article was written in cooperation with The Leadership Network.