The Toyota Way: Responding to, Preventing and Learning from Mistakes with Jeff Liker

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My guest for Episode #498 of the Lean Blog Interviews Podcast is Jeffrey K. Liker. Jeff is Professor Emeritus from the University of Michigan, President of Liker Lean Advisors, and author of the great books in the Toyota Way series.

He was previously a guest here in Episodes 3, 4, 37, 39, 41, 111, and 400.

Today, we have a discussion centered around learning from mistakes in the context of Toyota and lean methodologies. The episode delves into the significance of recognizing, reacting to, and learning from mistakes within organizations that employ Toyota Production System (TPS) or lean strategies. Jeff shares his insights on how Toyota's culture of continuous improvement and learning from errors fundamentally drives its success. The conversation touches on Toyota's approach to leadership and problem-solving, emphasizing the structured response to mistakes at different levels of the organization, from the factory floor to top management.

The episode further explores the Toyota leadership model, illustrating how leaders at various levels are expected to react when mistakes occur. Liker explains the role of the andon cord system in facilitating immediate problem identification and resolution, showcasing Toyota's commitment to quality and efficiency. He elaborates on the multi-layered leadership response to errors, detailing the responsibilities of team leaders, group leaders, and higher management in fostering a culture of learning and improvement. The discussion underscores the importance of a systemic approach to problem-solving, where the focus is on understanding and addressing the root causes of mistakes rather than attributing blame to individuals. This episode offers valuable insights into the principles of lean leadership and the critical role of acknowledging and learning from mistakes in achieving organizational excellence and innovation.

Questions, Notes, and Highlights:

  • How you'd expect Toyota leaders to react to a mistake on the factory floor?
  • Less likely to blame an individual? 
  • Root cause vs. controllable cause?
  • That can be a tough lesson to teach other companies?
  • Hardest habit to break is the blame habit?
  • Mistakes people make in trying to help change behavior
  • What's necessary, in another company's workplace culture, for people to feel safe pulling the andon cord or speaking up?
  • Article about the Ford plant and andon cords in 2007
  • Jeff insights on that Dearborn plant
  • The mention of psychological safety in “Toyota Culture”?
  • What do you think of the phrase “psychological safety”? Or just the concept of it?
  • Fujio Cho – biggest surprise was that TMMK workers were afraid to pull the andon cord
  • New book: Engaging the Team at Zingerman's Mail Order

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Episode Article:

Understanding Mistakes: Reacting, Preventing, and Learning in Lean Organizations

Lean thinking embodies a culture of continuous improvement, a core aspect of which involves how mistakes are regarded within the organization. Whether errors stem from the factory floor or higher levels of management, effective handling of these deviations from the norm can set apart a good company from a great one. Toyota, with its storied production system (TPS), provides an excellent framework for approaching mistakes. In this article, we'll explore how to react to mistakes, the mechanisms in place for their prevention, and, most importantly, how to learn from them.

Mistakes in Lean Manufacturing: Toyota's Approach

Toyota's Hierarchical Response to Mistakes

At Toyota, the reaction to a mistake significantly varies depending on the leadership level involved. On the factory floor, the first responder to an issue would typically be a team leader–a worker trained in leadership and problem-solving skills, responsible for addressing “andon” pulls, which signal deviations from the standard process. These leaders must decide quickly whether to resolve the issue in-process or escalate it further.

If a solution isn't found within a specified period, usually five days, the problem is escalated to a group leader, who then takes a higher-level view of the issue. Here, deeper policy-related questions are considered to avoid recurring short-term fixes. The higher up the chain of command one goes, the broader and more strategic the focus becomes, moving from quick, localized problem-solving to systemic evaluations and potential policy reforms.

Training and Defined Roles

Effective lean leadership development is crucial. Toyota provides extensive training, emphasizing the importance of respecting the hierarchical process. For instance, the management should not bypass immediate supervisors to address workers directly as it could disrupt the flow of authority and understanding. Understanding one's role and responsibilities is key to fostering a supportive environment where issues can be resolved efficiently without placing undue blame.

Toyota's Problem-Solving Approach: From the Five Whys to the Five Hats

The Five Whys Technique

When faced with a problem, Toyota encourages its leaders to ask “why” multiple times to traverse beyond immediate assumptions, which often incorrectly lay blame on an individual. This method enables one to uncover systemic issues that led to the mistake. Through this process, leaders can identify controllable causes, which lie within their circle of influence as against unactionable elements.

Balancing Inquiry with Responsibility

In lean management, the responsibility is twofold: to foster an environment where issues can be identified and resolved without fear of retribution, and to coach and develop subordinates effectively. Skipping hierarchical levels — or “hats,” as the analogy goes — disrupts this intent, denying team leaders and group leaders the opportunity to grow from their experiences and solve problems.

Error Prevention and Customer-Driven Quality Control

Mistake Proofing and Process Confirmation

While striving to prevent errors is essential, Toyota understands that the goal is not to create a zero-mistake environment but rather one where mistakes become opportunities for improvement. Continuous process confirmation and quality audits represent this mindset well, focusing on ensuring that established processes are followed and deviations are examined not as personnel failures but as learning avenues.

Elevating Mistakes as Learning Opportunities

The ethos of elevating mistakes as learning opportunities is ingrained in Toyota's culture. Whether it's an assembly line worker dropping a part or more severe quality issues, a systemic approach is employed to trace the root of the problem without hastily pointing fingers at individuals. This systemic approach allows for real enhancement in practices and processes, benefiting the company's overall health and ensuring a focus on customer satisfaction.

To conclude, following the Toyota approach to handling mistakes through structured problem-solving, proper training, and a clear-cut hierarchy of responsibility, organizations can create a landscape where every error is viewed as a path to improvement. By doing so, they establish not only a culture of proactive problem-solving but also an environment where employees at all levels are engaged, valued, and empowered to drive continuous improvement in the organization.

Aligning Lean Practice with Organizational Culture

Person, Machine, Method, Material: The Four Ms of Lean

In lean organizations, understanding the interplay between the person, machine, method, and material is critical in problem-solving and process improvement. Known as the Four Ms, these elements should be recognized as potential sources of error that can be systematically addressed.

  • Person: Human factors like skills, physical attributes, or behaviors can influence processes significantly. Rather than attributing mistakes to personal failings, lean thinking encourages an investigation into how job roles and environments can be better adapted to individual capabilities.
  • Machine: Equipment performance is another key consideration. Consistent monitoring and maintenance ensure that machines contribute to, rather than detract from, lean processes. Analysis into machinery-related errors should consider aspects such as design, functionality, and operator-machine interaction.
  • Method: The procedures in place dictate the workflow and efficiency. Lean philosophy urges a continual reassessment of methods to find more effective and error-proof ways of achieving objectives, emphasizing process optimization over placing blame on individuals.
  • Material: The quality and suitability of materials used in the production process can impact the output. A deep dive into material-related issues might reveal opportunities for using alternative materials, altering supply chain management, or revising storage methods.

Cognitive Habits and Bias in Lean Management

Beyond Brainstorming: Steering Toward System Improvement

An environment fostering collective brainstorming encourages a broad examination of potential issues. It allows for a focus on solutions within organizational control, steering discussions from fruitless debates over unchangeable factors to actionable system improvements.

Tackling Habits and Biases

Addressing deeply embedded habits, such as a predisposition to blame, requires restructuring neural pathways through consistent practice of new behaviors. This effort is not so much about erasing old habits but rather building new, preferable ones through repetition and commitment.

Empathy in Leadership: Understanding and Adapting to Individual Needs

Aligning Job Requirements with Individual Abilities

A lean organization promotes adapting roles to individual capabilities. For someone who might initially be perceived as unsuitable for a specific task, a closer inspection may lead to discovering that it is the job design that needs alteration, not the person fulfilling it.

Design Considerations and Ergonomics

When frequent mistakes occur, such as dropped parts or mishandling, an investigation into the ergonomic design of tools or components is warranted. Such issues may not be tied to the operator's competence but rather to how the design may inherently cause difficulty.

Learning from Others: Applying Toyota's Philosophy in Diverse Environments

The Challenge of Old Habits and Confirmation Bias

Removing blame-focused reactions demands more than awareness; it entails active practice of alternative approaches to problem scenarios. Leaders must be prepared to apply scientific thinking and question deeply held notions, even when cognitive biases urge them toward familiar but ineffective responses.

Mike Rother's Toyota Kata and Mindset Change

Adopting Mike Rother's Toyota Kata approach involves embracing scientific thinking by setting clear goals, understanding the current condition, and running experiments to achieve the desired outcomes. Through this method, leaders can navigate away from automatic responses, opting instead for a pattern of inquiry and learning.

Implementation across Different Cultures and Organizations

Andon Cords and Encouraging Issue Reporting

Taking cues from Toyota, organizations like Ford have attempted to emulate lean tools such as the andon cord system. The aim of such implementations goes beyond the mechanical installation of error notification systems to promoting a culture where workers feel safe and encouraged to report issues without fear of reprisal.

Scaling Lean Implementations

Adapting lean principles across various organizational structures requires recognizing that lean is not a one-size-fits-all solution. For instance, broad dictates from upper management can be less effective than concentrated, in-depth changes within smaller, controlled areas. Progress often demands acknowledging limitations, setting realistic expectations, and taking a step-by-step approach to effecting change.

To expand lean methodologies and mindsets into a company's culture, a focus on the actual behavior and attitudes of workers and management is paramount. It starts with exemplifying the desired behavior at the leadership level, followed by nurturing and coaching throughout the organization, creating a foundation for lasting change.

Fostering Leadership and a Problem-Solving Culture

Emphasizing the Role of Group Leaders and Team Leaders

The structure of leadership within lean organizations is a critical factor in nurturing a problem-solving culture. The story of Ford's attempt to implement a team leader role, inspired by Toyota's model, illustrates the impact leaders have on the success of lean processes. An effective team leader must not only be technically proficient but also embody the principles of lean management–transparency, continuous improvement, and problem-solving. Their primary role bridges the gap between management and the shop floor, fostering communication and driving the group's collective problem-solving efforts.

Addressing the Challenges of Workforce Dynamics

External factors such as workforce turnover can severely disrupt the flow of lean culture development within a company. The phenomenon of ‘bumping and bidding,' as observed in the Ford example, underscores the significance of stability in achieving lean transformation. To mitigate such risks, it is essential to design robust systems that can withstand the ebb and flow of workforce dynamics. This might include intensive cross-training programs, comprehensive onboarding procedures, and employee engagement strategies to encourage long-term retention.

Creating a Sustainable Lean Culture

Building a Foundation of Psychological Safety

Psychological safety, a term popularized in Western management practices, is paramount in enabling employees to openly discuss problems and engage in improvement initiatives. Companies need to create environments where employees feel physically and psychologically secure to speak up and raise concerns without fear of criticism or blame. Leadership can cultivate this safety by not only advocating for such an environment but by being the change they wish to see–actively demonstrating support for those who bring issues to light.

The Continuous Struggle Against Entropy

Even with a strong initial commitment to lean practices, organizations can find themselves faltering as they navigate the highs and lows of maintaining a lean culture. As exemplified by Toyota's experiences at their Georgetown and UK plants, it is crucial to maintain continuous learning and reinforcing lean principles. Periodic “back-to-basics” campaigns, enhancing professional development, and restating the core values of the lean culture can help organizations combat entropy and reignite the commitment to lean methodologies over time.

Role of Upper Management in Lean Transformation

Support and understanding from the upper echelons of management are vital for any cultural shift, including the transition to lean thinking. Senior leaders must be willing to commit to the education and development of middle management and front-line leaders to foster a robust lean culture. By investing in the training of individuals like team leaders and group leaders, organizations can ensure that lean principles are upheld and propagated through all levels of operation–driving performance improvements and enhancing competitiveness in the market.

Integrating Lean Principles into Diverse Business Models

The adaptability of lean principles across various industries is highlighted by Jeff Liker's work with Zingerman's mail order, a gourmet food distributor based in Ann Arbor, Michigan. The exceptional story of Zingerman's demonstrates that lean thinking transcends the manufacturing sector–it is just as relevant in service-oriented businesses and can significantly enhance customer value and business efficiency.

The Kata Approach to Engaging Frontline Workers

At the heart of Zingerman's transformation lies the concept of the kata, a structured, iterative set of practices aimed at achieving continuous improvement and mastery through coaching and practice. By integrating kata into their routine, Zingerman's has successfully engaged frontline workers in the lean process, leading to a more empowered workforce that actively contributes to the company's problem-solving culture.

The Four Elements of the Improvement Kata:

  • Grasping the Current Condition: Understanding the present work processes and identifying potential issues.
  • Defining the Target Condition: Envisioning the desired future state and establishing clear goals.
  • Iterating Toward the Target: Experimenting with continuous, incremental steps to move closer to the targeted outcomes.
  • Coaching and Guidance: Providing support and feedback to foster skill development and ensure adherence to the improvement trajectory.

Visual Storytelling as a Means of Education

The distinctive approach of conveying lean lessons through a comic book format underscores the effectiveness of storytelling and visual aids in education. By using this medium, complex topics can be made more accessible and memorable for a wider audience. Visualization is a potent tool for sharing knowledge and can be particularly effective in facilitating the understanding of lean principles among employees at all levels.

The Importance of Consistently Practicing Standard Work

Drawing a parallel between classical guitar and lean principles, the importance of rigorously practicing ‘standard work' is evident. Just as a classical guitarist respects the compositions written by masters of the past, an organization's employees must adhere to the established standard procedures to ensure consistency and quality. However, within the framework of lean, there is still room for improvement and innovation around these standards, as the aim is to continuously challenge and refine processes.

Classical Music and Lean: A Metaphor for Mastery

  • Discipline in Practice: Much like practicing a musical instrument, mastering lean principles requires discipline and consistency in practice.
  • Respect for Legacy: Acknowledging the value in established works or standards is paralleled in lean by respecting the wisdom embedded in existing processes while striving for enhancement.
  • Continuous Improvement: The pursuit of excellence in classical music can inspire a similar drive within organizations to perfect their own operations through incremental improvements.

The Pivotal Role of Leadership in Encouraging Lean Mindset Shifts

The role of senior managers cannot be overstated when it comes to reinforcing the beliefs and behaviors necessary for sustaining a lean culture. Senior management must exemplify lean principles and provide unwavering support to those at the front lines of implementation. It is their commitment to lean education and the development of their teams that can truly solidify lean thinking within an organization, thus leading to lasting improvements and sustained success.


Automated Transcript (Not Guaranteed to be Defect Free):

Announcer:
You welcome to the Lean Blog podcast. Visit our website www.leanblog.org, now here's your host, Mark Graban.

Mark Graban:
Hi, it's Mark Graban. Welcome to episode 498 of the podcast. It's February 14, 2024. Joining us today, a returning guest, Jeff Liker, author of books including the Toyota Way series. Our main focus today is going to be talking about mistakes, reacting to them, preventing them, learning from them in Toyota or companies that are applying TPS or lean.

Mark Graban:
So to learn more, look for links in the show notes or go to leanblog.org/498. Thanks for listening. Well, hi. Welcome back to the podcast.

Mark Graban:
We are joined today. I think we'll call it his 6th time here on the podcast. Jeff Liker. He is professor emeritus from the University of Michigan, president of Liker Lean Advisors, and author of the great books in the Toyota Way series and more. So, Jeff, welcome back to the podcast.

Jeff Liker:
Thank you.

Mark Graban:
See you again. Your guests, episode three, episode 400, a bunch of episodes in between over the last 17 plus years. So thank you for coming on, Jeff. But today, as we're recording this, congratulate you for something exciting that happened in your world yesterday. If you want to tell everybody what that was.

Jeff Liker:
Well, Michigan is the national champion in football for the first time since 1997 when we were co-champions. The first time, I think it was 1948 that we were solo champions. So it's a historic event. First time we've ever won 15 games in a row. I watched it with my wife last night, was completely delighted.

Jeff Liker:
And still in the afterglow.

Mark Graban:
Well, I'm glad you have a voice. And yeah, congratulations to you and all the Michigan fans. I grew up a Michigan fan growing up not too far east of Ann Arbor. So it's not too hard to slip back into that. Very happy, very happy for you and everyone that I know back in Michigan.

Mark Graban:
I mean, not the Michigan State fans.

Jeff Liker:
They're not happy, but no, or Ohio State fans, although I watched, they had this thing where they were showing the students in Chrysler arena, the basketball arena, who are watching on a big screen. And in order to watch that YouTube video, you have to watch a public service announcement of how wonderful the state of Ohio is to try to convince.

Mark Graban:
People not to be too.

Jeff Liker:
Was it was just that they happened to be willing to pay for their spot.

Mark Graban:
Okay. Yeah, that's just kind of like putting up a billboard. That's the modern equivalent of putting up a billboard somewhere.

Jeff Liker:
Right?

Mark Graban:
Okay, my mistake. But now I get what you're saying. We are going to talk about mistakes today and learning from them. And I'm glad it's not in the context of the Michigan Wolverines making too many mistakes on the field there in Houston yesterday. But bringing it back to lean and Toyota.

Mark Graban:
I want to pick your brain on this topic, Jeff, and maybe the first question is, from your study of Toyota, your experience with Toyota. How would you expect Toyota leaders to react when there's a mistake on the factory floor?

Jeff Liker:
Okay, so first of all, we talk about the factory floor. You'd have to ask what level of leader? So there's different levels. Sometimes Toyota will show the chart upside down. So there's the team member who's doing the jobs, and then there's a team leader, and there's ideally one team leader for every four or five team members.

Jeff Liker:
And they're the first line of attack when there's an andon pull. And then you go up from there, there's a group leader. The group leader is a first line supervisor in the first level of real management. Then there's manager, and there's section manager, and there's general manager and vice presidents and presidents. So it depends on what level you're talking about, because they will always react differently.

Jeff Liker:
But the first line of attack is at the team leader level, and the team leader is not a manager, but rather is a worker. And they have been trained in leadership skills, they have leadership potential, and they specifically have been trained very deeply in problem solving. And they've done projects, multiple projects, to earn that place. And one of their key responsibilities is to respond to the and on, which is when a team member worker notices a deviation from standard, their job is to pull the cord. And then that doesn't mean the line stops immediately, but the team member comes over and the team member has to decide, do I let the line keep going?

Jeff Liker:
And then the line will stop when it reaches the next zone, or do I pull the court a second time? Which overrides the line stop, and then the car will keep going. The team leader will pull the court a second time if the team leader believes that he or she can fix the problem and contain it in process. And then at the end of the shift, this is all recorded electronically. And then at the end of the shift, the team leader looks at the and on polls that day, and they'll be able to see quantitatively it happened on this station more than any others, and this was the problem.

Jeff Liker:
And then, they're expected to do problem-solving and address the problem. A general trade of standard is, if they can't solve the problem, themselves within five days. On the fifth day, they escalate it to the group leader, who then deals with it from the point of view of the group leader. When there's an and on pull, if the team leader can handle it. Now, if the team leader less line stop, then the group leader gets involved immediately.

Jeff Liker:
But if the team leader handles it from the point of view of the group leader, either it's a non issue because the team leader handled it, or it's a coaching opportunity. So they're constantly walking the floor, and if there's an and on call, they're going to watch the team leader in order to see how the team leader handles it and see if there's an opportunity to provide coaching. So Torita talks about windows of opportunity for coaching. And one window of opportunity is when an and on is the they're looking at generally overall numbers. Like, did we make the number of vehicles we're supposed to make within the regular eight hour shift?

Jeff Liker:
What kind of quality problems we have? If there's a safety issue that comes to their attention immediately and they have to investigate. So they're looking more big picture and they're supposed to be thinking about more general policy. Like, is there some sort of recurring problem that we need to address from a policy point of view to not.

Mark Graban:
Be quickly responding to the same problem over and over and over again with a short term countermeasure? Get the line.

Jeff Liker:
Yeah, and there's different kinds of problems, different levels of problems. One kind of problem that's common is that the worker drops a nut or bolt and that's not going to reach the president of Toyota in Japan because it's happening all the time, every place. But then there's another kind of problem where there's a serious injury, and then that's going to get the attention even in Japan. And there's another kind of problem where there's something called, there's a quality audit done at the end of the line and they're looking at that, the vehicle from the point of view of the customer, a finished vehicle from the point of view of the customer. They take a certain number of vehicles, and then in that case, if there was, say, several cases where the brake system was not installed properly, that would get the attention of the president.

Jeff Liker:
And then they'd ask, why is that happening? And their job is, they talk about, they use the term process confirmation, so they're trying to confirm if the correct process is being followed and if there's deviations from that process. I do a master class on lean leadership in cooperation with the Toyota plant in the United Kingdom. I've been doing it for like, eight years. I've been in the plant, like, 50 times.

Jeff Liker:
And they have developed a training room. They call it an obeya, but it's a training room. And it lays out each of the roles: team member, team leader, group leader, etc. And it lays out their roles and responsibilities. And there's various teaching points.

Jeff Liker:
And at one point, they have a row of hats, and each hat has a different symbol on it. And one hat says, I'm a team member, and one hat says, I'm a team leader. And depending on how many bars there are or something, so they have these all lined up, and then they show an arrow from the team leader to the team member, group leader to the team leader, manager to the group leader. And they say, don't skip hats. Interesting.

Jeff Liker:
So if a team member were to pull a cord and a manager were to come down and say, why did you pull that cord to the team member? That would be considered inappropriate. The manager should be asking the group leader. And one of the things the manager is trying to determine is whether the group leader knows, whether they have investigated enough to know. So the group leader uses that data to then coach the group leader.

Jeff Liker:
But if the manager goes down to the floor and asks the worker, what happened and why, can you explain it to me? Number one, they're usurping the authority of the team leader and group leader. And number two, they're not going to have the depth of understanding that the team leader has. So they're likely to start to jump to conclusions. And there may well be a reason why, based on past history and based on various conditions, why the team leader and group leader reacted the way they have, and the manager won't understand that, and they may mess up things.

Jeff Liker:
And that's a common issue when we're teaching other managers and other companies is that they think the reason why you go to the gemba is so that you can solve the problems as opposed to just observe. You're a fly on the wall. And then you have to think and reflect on, what should I do about this?

Mark Graban:
When you talk about, yeah, don't skip a hat, I've seen or heard about situations where even a healthcare senior executive, I guess you trace back. Yeah, they skipped a hat or two, and it ended up causing more trouble. At least it wasn't following that path of what I hear you describing of the senior leader's job is to coach and mentor the person that has the role directly below them, not to circumvent them and jump in and be a hero.

Jeff Liker:
Right? Yeah. So when we think of the chain of command, we think top down, we think that the top is giving an order and then everybody's executing. But this is actually kind of a bottom up chain of the command. It's not the top having the authority, it's the top having the respect of the people on the floor to respect that they're trying to do a good.

Mark Graban:
Job and the responsibility to. So, you know, with all of the effort Toyota puts into mistake proofing, there are, I'm sure, inevitably errors that will occur, mistakes that we've made, whether know, physical slips I dropped apart, tools slipped out of my hand, scratched the paint on the car, I'm just making up examples. But the stories that I've heard from Toyota people, whether it's stories from the my favorite mistake podcast or stories I was able to include in the mistakes that make us the book, and there's other stories I've heard that I don't think I really have permission to put those stories in the book. But there's this common theme of individuals not being blamed for what was arguably a systemic problem. I was wondering if you have examples.

Jeff Liker:
Part of that comes from Dr. Deming where he said, drive out fear. And he said like 90% of problems are system problems and they're the responsibility of management. He was not saying 100%. So there's some, whatever it is, 10, 20, but some percent that really is somebody just wasn't paying attention and they messed up, or they didn't think of the rule at the time, or they were not paying attention when the standard work was explained or something.

Jeff Liker:
But he's saying that in the vast majority of cases, it's a system. So let's start with the assumption it's a system, and that's something that then became kind of religion within Toyota. So they talk about the difference often between the five whys and the five who's and the who is who's to blame. And the five whys is what allowed this to happen. And when you do the five whys, it's not unusual that anybody, any person, whether they work for Toyota or elsewhere, that their natural inclination is to blame the person.

Jeff Liker:
So they might say, so and so dropped a nut or so and so put on five nuts instead of six, and then you could say, well, what are you going to do about it? But in Toyota, they would say, why did that happen? So they wouldn't say, don't blame the person. That's not our policy, and start reading the right act, they would just simply say, all right, fine, that person dropped. Why did they drop the part?

Jeff Liker:
And then let's say they said because they weren't paying attention and they didn't follow the standard work. Again, you don't need to argue with that person. All you need to say is why didn't they follow the standard work? And at some point, and I also have written about the idea of Toyota Kata in Mike Rother's work, and one of the things he talks about is a threshold of knowledge. And when you're at the point of a threshold of knowledge, you want to investigate.

Jeff Liker:
So at some point you're going to detect that the person you're talking to is just guessing. Why didn't he follow the standard work? I guess he wasn't paying attention when we did the training. Okay, I guess. How could you find out?

Jeff Liker:
So now you're stopping the process and you want the person to go and observe, talk to people, investigate, and then come back to you so you can then do more coaching. So the five why is often thought of as a technical process to get to the root cause, when actually it can be a coaching process as well. And also you often assume that the first answer that's given is superficial. And by digging down, you're getting to the actual system that allowed this to happen. The other part of five y is that you want really to find not the root cause, but a controllable cause that will make an impact.

Jeff Liker:
So if you keep on asking five why enough, you'll get to things outside of your control like it was product development's fault, and that's too far. We know that we're not going to see a change in product development until the next new model introduction. So what can we work on right now?

Mark Graban:
I've always joked, and maybe I heard somebody else make this comment so I won't claim it was original thought, but passing along the idea of you, if you ask why too many times you end up somehow blaming society or Congress and you've gone.

Jeff Liker:
Right. Or you could get into minerals, how their minerals are taken from the earth. You can go into evolution of how humans evolved and our genetic weaknesses.

Mark Graban:
Yeah, somehow it was a damn meteor strike. Hundreds of millions.

Jeff Liker:
Yeah. Right. Yeah. So the point is, again, there's always more than one cause and there are some things we can control and there are some things that we can't. But again, the process, what you're trying to do is to get the person to think and think beyond their first impression.

Jeff Liker:
And the first impression is often to cast blame.

Mark Graban:
Yeah. And asking the five whys with a blaming mindset wouldn't get us anywhere. Right. Jim Bob dropped the part.

Jeff Liker:
Why?

Mark Graban:
Because Jim Bob's clumsy.

Jeff Liker:
Why?

Mark Graban:
Jim Bob doesn't care.

Jeff Liker:
Exactly. Why?

Mark Graban:
Because I'm like, no.

Jeff Liker:
Right. Well, that's another issue is that you could go down that wrong path. So then there's another tool that is used very commonly in Japan is the fishbone diagram or the cause and effect diagram. And again, that's another way to get the person to think beyond placing blame. So there's the person, machine, method, materials.

Jeff Liker:
So there will be some things related to the person, like Bob is clumsy. And then off that you can say, why is Bob clumsy? His hands are just too big. Or you can have different. But then what you do is you say, let's investigate to maybe to see the relative impact of these different causes.

Jeff Liker:
At some point you're going to say, what can we focus on that we have some control over? And then if the person says, well, Bob's too clumsy. And then you might say, well, is that something we can change? Can we change Bob? And in some companies they'd say, sure, we could fire Bob.

Jeff Liker:
Well, is that really what you want to do? Is there something you'd rather do first before you assume that we need to fire Bob? And then we have a bunch of clauses there, pick something from that list. So the fact that you have a brainstorm, you have a wide set, gives you the ability to kind of steer the person toward the system.

Mark Graban:
Yeah, because if we are respecting our team members, not just for their backs and their hands, but also for their brains, you wouldn't want to fire. Why would you waste the investment that you've made in training Bob to be a good team member? I mean, it could be, if Bob's hands are too big, maybe there's just a matter of job fit.

Jeff Liker:
Right? Or it could be a matter of why is this job designed so that only people with small hands can do it, right?

Mark Graban:
Yeah, because if a part is always being dropped, there's a grip. Could be a design issue related to the part itself or to the types of gloves they're wearing or what have you. But it seems like that mindset, and maybe I can frame this question. Thinking about times when you're trying to help other companies, it seems like that blame habit is so embedded that it can be a really hard habit to break. Like your co author for a few of your books, David Meyer, who's a friend of mine and told stories for the podcast and in the book, talked about a mistake he made.

Mark Graban:
But then he also talked about the mistake of being too quick to blame and how he had to unlearn a lot when he came into Toyota, because that wasn't his first job. Right, but what are your thoughts on trying to unlearn those old habits?

Jeff Liker:
Yeah, I'll go back to the kata for a second. But in doing the research, it took about five or six years for Mike to develop the model of the improvement kata and realized that really what he needed to focus on is creating the mindset of scientific thinking. The mindset of scientific thinking would cause you to then question your assumptions, for example. And one of the things he learned along the way, he studied cognitive psychology and how people learn. And he also studied neuroscience, which gives you some insights into how people learned.

Jeff Liker:
And one of the things he discovered is that we don't unlearn something. The habit is deeply embedded, and you may go to your grave with it. With those neural pathways. What you can do is you can overwrite a new set of pathways that your brain is more used to. So to the extent that you practice a new habit repeatedly, like, say, for example, I'm right handed and I can't do anything with my left hand, but I want to get good at using my left hand, I wouldn't do this or wouldn't recommend this, but a good thing to do might be to tie your right hand behind your back so you can't use it.

Jeff Liker:
And then you force to use your left hand in practice, and over time, you'll develop the neural pathways. And then when you finally untie your right hand, you might find you're doing things with your left hand that used to do with your right hand, because your neural pathways are so well developed. Now, in that example, I think that the right handedness is so genetically wired that most likely you would very quickly want to start using your right hand again. So you'd have both. You'd be ambidextrous, which is what, for example, a basketball player wants to be.

Jeff Liker:
But if you have the neural pathways that you've built up to react with anger and blame when something goes wrong, you're not going to erase that. You might have gotten it from your father when you were a kid, and that's deeply embedded. The one thing we know about learning habits is that every time you do something a certain way, you're more likely to do it that way again. You keep on reinforcing that habit. So as long as that's the way you're dealing with problems.

Jeff Liker:
You will keep doing that, as well as there's also a concept called confirmation bias, which is the bias where we tend to want to select information, data that confirms what we already believe. So you will find a way to convince yourself that you are right and to yell, and that's the only way you can deal with these people, because they won't listen to reason. So how do you overcome that? And somehow you have to practice an alternative. So I have to somehow get you in a situation where your tendency is that you want to blame and yell, and instead you ask a question, and then after you have that interaction, then we talk about it, and then you agree that that worked better.

Mark Graban:
I'm sorry, I'm smiling. I'm thinking about some of these leaders I worked with 30 years ago at GM that had very deeply embedded habits. And I'm just thinking of. I'm sorry, I'm just playing out a scenario where you tell one of them, okay, well, instead of yelling, you need to ask questions. And the first question would be, what the bleep is wrong with you?

Jeff Liker:
Yeah, right. Yeah. There's a few problems there, one of which is that the boss who is doing the coaching also has that bad habit. So they went to a class and somebody told them to ask that question, and you know that they are full of it. And the second problem is that you don't want to.

Jeff Liker:
As soon as I say, when you go to the floor, please ask questions instead of yelling at people. I'm entering through the rational cognitive mind. I'm assuming that the person is in control of their behavior and emotions. And if I either order you or convince you through logic, and you agree, you can now change your behavior. But the definition of a habit is that we do it without thinking.

Jeff Liker:
We don't decide to do it that way. It's just that we have the neural pathways embedded and it just happens automatically. So what I have to do is to get you to do something interesting or useful or as important and then find what Toyota calls these windows of opportunity for coaching. So what Mike rather does with Toyota Kata is he says, let's teach kind of a problem-solving approach, which is to understand your direction and understand your current state and then set short-term goals and then run experiments. So now I'm not going to you and saying, hey, by the way, you should be asking questions.

Jeff Liker:
I'm going to you and say, we've been learning this new approach to helping you achieve your goal. Are you willing to try it and then you agree on an important goal, and then you try to understand the current condition, and then you start to run experiments. Now, if in the course of that, like, for example, in the current condition, they say the problem is in order to reach their goal, the workers have to follow standard work. And then they say the problem is that workers don't want to follow standard work, they want to do it their own way. Well, now you have an opportunity for coaching by saying, for example, why, how you, if what you're describing really is an obstacle, let's put this on what Mike calls the obstacle parking lot, and we'll get to that at some point.

Jeff Liker:
But first we have to actually figure out what we want to standardize. We don't want to standardize a bad process, so let's work on the process. And it may well be that by the time you actually start to work on the real issues and you're talking to the worker, the resistance against standard work doesn't even come up. But if it does come up now, that's an obstacle. And then you'd say, well, what are some things we can try to overcome that obstacle?

Jeff Liker:
So you're trying to get them to think about that not as an innate characteristic of people that we can't change, but rather as an obstacle to our goal. And you're doing this day by day by day. So over the course of several months, you have lots of opportunities to train the person so that they think differently about problems. And you never have to really give them lectures about why it's important to ask questions and why it's important to blame the system and not the person. You don't have to get into a that.

Mark Graban:
So when you think about trying to transfer lean methods, TPS methods, into other companies, it seems like the mechanics of things are far easier to copy, if you will, or transfer than the mindsets. Or if we bring a system that works well in one culture, can crash and burn in another. And one example I'm thinking of is the and on cord. And I remember an article, and I'm pretty sure this was only 15 years ago, an article about a new Ford truck plant that had installed all the same andon cord technology that you would see in a Toyota plant. And this article, it was actually from the BBC, but I don't think it was about a UK Ford plant.

Mark Graban:
But the BBC article know the andon cord was only pulled a few times a week at the Ford plant. And that must have been somebody testing to see that it worked for whatever, you know, how do we help a company get past that problem and do so in a way where they're not blaming the workers for not pulling the and on cord.

Jeff Liker:
Okay. So I guess one of the things we have to do is to accept our limits, think about our own situation, our own role visa vis the company and what resources we have at our disposal and what kind of power and influence we have. So if I were to be, say, hired as a consultant to Ford, who said, we have this problem and we want to change it, and we've got x number of plants, last I knew, they had something like 100 and 3140 plants. And in every plant there's bunches of managers at different levels. How do we change their way of thinking so that they encourage the end on and don't punish people when they pull the end on.

Jeff Liker:
And to some degree, from my point of view as a consultant, if I'm being honest, that's going to be an impossible task. I can convince, say, this vice president who brought me in about certain things like Mike Rother's idea that these are habits and you really have to get down to the level of changing behavior and changing mindset. And it starts with you and all that. And there's a certain, to a certain degree, particularly in a hierarchical culture like Ford has, having a vice president who's modeling, who's speaking, who's persuading, is going to have a certain amount of power of influence, at least to make people aware that there seems to be new messages coming from the top, that we need to be nicer to our workers and encourage them to point out errors. But to really do know, if you go back to Mike Rogers Kata, what you'd like to do is, and this is the way Toyota works with outside companies.

Jeff Liker:
They have a group in America called the Toyota Production System Support Center, TSSC. And they would say, let's go to one of your plants and let's do a model line project, and let's work with one supervisor in that supervisor's area of control and their manager up to the plant manager, and we'll do the project. And as we do the project, we'll be teaching problem solving and we'll have opportunities to coach. And then once we have that one chain learning, and that would typically take about eight or nine months, then we can figure out what's next, how others can learn from that, and how many more plants we can take on. And we refer to that as going an inch deep and a mile wide.

Jeff Liker:
I'm sorry, an inch wide, a mile deep. It was my mistake.

Mark Graban:
We all make mistakes.

Jeff Liker:
Right. An inch deep, mile wide would be more like, well, you as the vice president have to tell them that they need to pull the end on more. And let's go plant by plant and visit and meet with the plant management and let's develop a presentation you can give. So now we're trying to scatter like fairy dust across all these different plants the pronouncement from the vice president that this is the new way, and then we're going to do a three hour course on and on and how to use it, which we know doesn't change behavior. It can change awareness.

Jeff Liker:
It could change what people say, but it's not going to change their actual behavior. So you could do superficial stuff that's one inch deep and a mile wide, or you can do something deep that actually changes habits that's one inch wide and a mile deep. When you go deep, you're not going to go wide. So you're not going to quickly affect a lot of different plants and a lot of different leaders. But at least you build the kernel to then grow organically and to then bring people to other plants and to cross-pollinate and then also begin to develop coaches and also begin to learn what it takes in this culture of Ford to change behavior.

Jeff Liker:
So you now have an informed answer to the question of what should we do next instead of just guesses. So that's what I would do now if I were to, and I've been in this position many times where I've been asked to bid on a request for bid, an RFP request for proposal. So I'll talk to somebody who will contact me and say, we have this new initiatives and this is really important to our company. And Jeff, we read the title away and we want you, but we also have a committee of people who are going to look at proposals, and we need you to write a proposal. We'll help you with it.

Jeff Liker:
We want you to win, but we have to go through this process, if it's okay with you. And about, I don't know how many times, 510 times I've gotten suckered into it. And what they're looking for is a very organized roadmap with key milestones and how long it's going to take and what is going to be our return on investment. Often their final question is, are we willing to put some of your fees at risk based on the outcomes? And I say none of that's going to work.

Jeff Liker:
We don't really know until we get started. There's going to be a process of discovery. So I could tell you how I'm going to get started and I can give you a general overview philosophy. Anyway, I've never won.

Mark Graban:
Somebody is willing to put out that plan, even if they don't know.

Jeff Liker:
They pretend they know. Probably every other consulting company they approach put out that plan, but I wouldn't do it. So it's clear that the first question is, do they really want help? Are they serious about it? Or do they want to just act as though they're.

Mark Graban:
Would you have been a good fit for them? And vice versa? You may dodge a bullet.

Jeff Liker:
Yeah, that would real. The right thing to do is to ask, are they a good customer for me and am I a good fit for them? And unfortunately, in most cases, I think the answer is no. So I know, for example, Mike's attitude is, if you think about all the organizations in the world, if 5% of them are a good fit, that's still way more than you can handle.

Mark Graban:
I did look, that BBC article, I'll put a link in the show notes was 2007, which I find that interesting because I'd like to think Ford would have had those things figured out by 2007.

Jeff Liker:
What plant was that? Was it in Louisville?

Mark Graban:
I'm going to open up that article quickly. Oh, the BBC link has changed, so it's on my blog.

Jeff Liker:
Okay.

Mark Graban:
I'm trying to see if it said which Ford plant. As I scroll through, I might have to go find. I'm sure that article is probably still out there. No, it says, okay, here we go. The link has probably changed the BBC site, so I'll fix that.

Mark Graban:
But it says Ford's brand new truck plant in Dearborn, Michigan. Pull the cord only twice a week.

Jeff Liker:
Okay.

Mark Graban:
A legacy of generations.

Jeff Liker:
All right, so I'll give you a little background of that plant because at some point we had a conference when they first opened that plant, and they had put a lot of effort into developing the culture from the start. And we were running at that time an annual lean conference, and it was John Shook and Mike Rother and I through University of Michigan. And that year, the year they opened the plant, we had the plant manager come to speak and he had his team, and they had worked with some former Toyota people for a couple of years. And one of the things that they were told by the Toyota people was that you really need well trained group leaders and you need a team leader role. And the team leader is, again, it's a worker who's been trained in problem solving and given extra leadership training.

Jeff Liker:
And they've actually proven themselves. You pick them from the workforce based on them proving themselves, and then they are offline. Now, in the Toyota plant, the normal ratio, a typical ratio would be you have a group leader, you have four team leaders, and then you have maybe 20 to 25 people. So each team leader might have four or five or six people. So the group leader has four team leaders.

Jeff Liker:
On a given day, two of them are working on the line and two of them are working offline, responding to and on, and they keep on rotating. So you're actually paying for only two people to be offline, even though you have four team leaders. So I say you get two for the price of one. Anyway, at that point in that plant, they had decided to include a team leader role, which is critical for the and on. For responding to the and on.

Jeff Liker:
And also the team leader is one of us. If I'm a worker, it's John who works next to me. And I've known John for years, and I respect John. John's a leader. So John is the one who's encouraging me to pull the cord, and John is the one who's responding.

Jeff Liker:
So they spent a lot of time and they brought the group leader and team leader on board months earlier than normal so they could train them well. In the meantime, you've got Ford finance and Ford finance say, explain to me again why we're paying for these extra up. And it turned out at Kentucky truck, where they were also making the same f series trucks, they did not have team leaders. And they said, we're going to compare the Dearborn output, quality issues, productivity. We're going to compare that to Kentucky truck.

Jeff Liker:
And if the team leader role is truly as valuable as you say it is, this plant ought to perform better. If not, we're going to kill the team leader idea. So they couldn't do anything about it. So that was what's going to happen. So then something on the order weeks.

Jeff Liker:
I don't know if it was two weeks or four weeks or six weeks, but weeks. And meantime, because they were speaking at the conference, I was out there visiting, they were taking mentors, and I was interviewing them sort of to get background and helping them to put together their presentation. They had a nice presentation, but then weeks before they're going to launch the plant, and actually we're doing a tour in the plant as part of the course, as part of the conference. Now, I remember I talked to the guy who's in charge, and he says, we're screwed. And I said, what happened?

Jeff Liker:
He said, well, there were layoffs in the rouge and they have a system called bumping and bidding where somebody more senior can bid on a job and if they're more senior they bump you out of the job. So what had happened is that they had downsized one of the plants in the rouge and it was one local and hundreds of people from these other plants bumped the people they had trained. And now they're launching with a whole new set of people. They had spent like 810 months developing culture, training people. They had developed the standard work.

Jeff Liker:
They did everything that the threat of people told them to do. But the people they trained were gone. And then before you know it, the plant manager was gone and the head of that site was gone because this launch did not go well. What a surprise. It turns out Kentucky performed better.

Jeff Liker:
So the lesson learned was the team leader role doesn't sad. So it's not surprising that they had. If that hadn't happened and if senior management Ford was truly interested in learning and encouraging them to experiment with the team leader role, it would have been a totally different story, I think.

Mark Graban:
Well, it's really fascinating to hear some of the history there. What the BBC wrote was probably true, but not fully complete. So they're excellent.

Jeff Liker:
I would say that what they wrote was superficial and uninformed. I would be less generous than you. I wouldn't say that they're lying. I would just say that they don't know what they're talking about.

Mark Graban:
Again, they're a causal analysis that didn't go very deep. They only pulled the cord twice.

Jeff Liker:
Exactly. They didn't ask why more than one time.

Mark Graban:
The legacy of generations of mistrust between shop floor workers and managers seems like a true statement, but not really the answer.

Jeff Liker:
Well, that's true. So what happened in the plant is they were trying to intervene. The managers, leaders and the Toyota people were trying to intervene in the culture. But because of that bumping and bidding system, the historic natural culture of Ford won. So if the BBC were saying that they couldn't overcome the legacy of all that, that's true.

Jeff Liker:
It's true that they were not able to do that. Why? What could have happened? If and why that happened is something that you probably didn't get out of the article.

Mark Graban:
But that's where somebody might say in that case or pointed at some other organization. They tried lean and lean failed. They're like, well, lean ran up against the company's finance culture, the union contract.

Jeff Liker:
There's these contributing, but personally I'm convinced that with the effort that was made by all those leaders and what they had learned and their belief system, I'm convinced that would have worked, would have been more like a Toyota plant than a traditional Ford plant. I can't prove that, but that's what I believe is true.

Mark Graban:
So maybe one last topic here, Jeff, to touch on one of the things I've had a chance, I wish I'd learned about it sooner, but in recent years have had a chance to learn more about what people call psychological safety, the feeling of safety, to speak up, and I think pulling the andon cord is an example of speaking up. And I went back through your books and back in Toyota culture that you and Mike Hoseus wrote. That's the only direct mention I could find of the phrase psychological safety, where it says, quoting from the book, Toyota believes people must be treated fairly, they must feel psychologically and physically safe. And without trust in their employers, employees are reluctant to admit to the existence of problems and learn that it's safest to hide them. So I'd be curious.

Mark Graban:
I'll try to make this as open-ended a question as possible. Your thoughts on, quote unquote, psychological safety and how big of a factor that is when companies are trying to embrace.

Jeff Liker:
Lane well, I was thinking about why that was the know, certainly I think the reason it was in that book is because I was writing with Mike Joses, who was the human resource manager at the Georgetown, Kentucky plant. And Mike is a very sensitive person, and he's very concerned about things like psychological safety and people's emotions and all that. In Japan, they don't worry about that. They don't talk about that. They talk about getting the job, then they talk about problem solving.

Jeff Liker:
So they will often quote Taiichi Ohno, who says no problem is a problem. So what he was saying is that if you tell me you don't have a problem, you're just unaware of the problems you have. Because I know you have problems because there's always problems. So you'll hear that, which is sort of a bravado statement, but you wouldn't hear ono say, I'm concerned that people don't feel psychologically safe to admit they have problems. So, in Western culture, there's a different vocabulary used in Toyota plants compared to in Japan.

Jeff Liker:
Whereas in Western culture, they will talk about emotional intelligence, and they even have courses on emotional intelligence for managers, and they will talk about psychological safety. So partly it's that distinction that made me more aware when I was working with Mike. But also I think to some degree it's true that it's so natural in the Toyota plant for people to accept and understand that they have to pull the end on. They have to be willing to admit mistakes. It's so foundational because the whole system is based on problem solving, continuous improvement, which ends.

Jeff Liker:
It dies if we don't think we have anything to improve. And what do we have to improve? Our problems. And the problem is defined in Toyota as a gap between what should be happening and what is happening, what is the standard, what is the goal, what is the policy, what's the standard for the product and what's actually happening. So the reason you go to the gamba is to be able to see reality and see the gaps with the target, see the gaps with the standard.

Jeff Liker:
If you don't see a gap, if you don't understand that there's a gap, then you can't improve anything. So it's so foundational, they can't even imagine how you could have an environment where people. But on the other hand, it might have been in the Toyota culture book that I had interviewed Fujio Cho, who was the first president of the Georgetown, Kentucky plant, and I asked him, what was your biggest surprise when you came to America and were trying to introduce TPS in America? And he said, my biggest surprise is that people were afraid to pull the end on. And I said, what did you do about it?

Jeff Liker:
He said, I had to go to the shop floor every day and encourage people. It's okay. Pull the cord. You won't get in trouble. So he felt that he had to be at the gabba to personally encourage people.

Jeff Liker:
And that was his approach, his answer. And then we have a story where Mike Hosea goes to a meeting with Fujio Cho, his annual review, and he has pages of scores on KPIs and data, and there's green and red and yellow, and he has all the green items on the front of his report, and all the red items are at the back. And as he's talking, Fujio takes the paper out of his hand and he starts looking through it. And Mike pulls the paper back from him and he resorts it. And Mrs.

Jeff Liker:
Cho says, Mike-san, Mike-san, it's ok. I'm looking for the red because you're a good manager and I know there's a lot of green, and I know that you're doing a good job. And I don't need to help you with the green items, but I can help you with the red items. I need to understand what you need from me. And Mike said that he walked out of there like he felt like he'd been on another planet his previous employers were so different that he was just unimaginable.

Jeff Liker:
But that one meeting made it. And I say that just one meeting and talking to people doesn't make much of an impact. That one meeting made a huge impact on Mike.

Mark Graban:
Well, you talk about the Georgetown plant. It was just over a year ago. I had a chance to go and do the public tour. I've done the San Antonio plant many a times. I've seen the plants in Japan.

Mark Graban:
I just never gotten to Georgetown. Now that I live closer, it's easier to get there. So during the tour, they talked about the Anadon court, of course, and then afterwards in the visitor area, one of the people on the tour was a Toyota retiree who had brought children and grandchildren to be part of the tour. And he was talking and ended up sharing. I think the Toyota people had already walked away.

Mark Graban:
I think he was there when the factory launched or ramped up, and he was talking about, yeah, they talk about, you know, that was great at first, but then when the Americans started running things, that started changing, and we started getting pressure to not stop the line. And I just think about the evolution and the challenges to really make that culture stick.

Jeff Liker:
Right? Yeah. So David Meier is one of the first. The people that first started there, they knew their number. Employee 76 forever.

Jeff Liker:
That's ingrained in their head. So when they first launched, they brought an army of people from Japan. So if you were a group leader, you had a trainer. If you were vice president, you had an executive coordinator. An executive coordinator might be on a three to five year assignment, and the trainers might be there as long as they can get a visa.

Jeff Liker:
So maybe they're there for six months or a year, and then they rotate, but continually you have some Japanese guy whose job is to teach you the Toyota way, and that was like at a peak of learning and socializing them in the Toyota way. Then eventually those people had to go back to Japan. It was several years, but eventually those people had to go back to Japan. And then another thing happened, which was that also coincided with interest in the Toyota production system being probably at a peak, particularly in the auto industry, and everybody wanted to hire away a Ford group leader or manager, and you could double your salary overnight. So not only did they lose the Japanese, they were also losing these managers who had been trained by the Japanese, and that took a dip.

Jeff Liker:
And I mentioned in the United Kingdom, they have that obeya for training, and they actually have a chart shows from when they launched till today, and they're showing the ups and downs of the Toyota culture over that time. And there was a big dip. Then they put a lot of effort and they brought back some Japanese and they put a lot of effort into retraining. And then they started going up again. And then events happened, like when the great recession happened, they offered buyouts to managers, and then when business came back, they hired outside people and then things went down again.

Jeff Liker:
So it's been those ups and downs. So partly somebody like you talked to, it depends on when they were talking about, because there were ups and downs and during an up period they were probably doing pretty well. And it also depends on their frame of reference, their standard. So their standard was way up here. And then if, say, the average plant was here and Toyota's up here, they might have come down like this, but still it was a big drop from what they're used to.

Jeff Liker:
So anyway, it's hard to kind of judge what that means, but there certainly are managers who they'll say they know there's trouble when the manager is more interested in the score on the KPI than the process used to achieve the KPI. And when they get to that point and they say all they care about are the numbers that you know that there's trouble. But then that usually leads to within six months, within a year, you'll see that there's a new plant manager. Sometimes it's a japanese plant manager, and then they're trying to recover the culture and that's going up and down over time.

Mark Graban:
I've heard of different waves of getting back to basics with standardized work.

Jeff Liker:
Right. And suddenly it's like rediscovered 5S, like they never heard of it before. And that'll become a campaign for a year.

Mark Graban:
That's surprising to hear, but I guess it goes to show the laws of entropy in a corporate setting.

Jeff Liker:
Right? Yeah. So that's a constant effort. In the case of the UK plant. That's why they developed the obeya, that's why they created those clear roles and responsibilities.

Jeff Liker:
That's why they instituted more training for the team leaders and the group leaders and managers. And they're at a point now where they're at a pretty high point, a pretty positive point, but it could go. And there's a lot of uniformity in the basic thinking and beliefs of the senior managers. That doesn't change much.

Mark Graban:
Well, Jeff, thank you for being a guest again. Last time we were talking about the second edition of the Toyota way, so I'll remind people about that. They can still get that. And in addition to the great back catalog, of other books, Toyota culture. When I think of Dave Meyer, the Toyota Way field book was his co authored with you and then got Toyota.

Jeff Liker:
Talent… And I've got some recent books. One of them is a comic book. It's called Engaging the Team at Zingerman's Mail Order. And Zingerman's mail order is a mail order company that sells fancy, expensive foods and they ship them around the country from Ann Arbor, Michigan.

Jeff Liker:
And one of my PhD students started working with them about 15 years ago, and we've been working with them for the last five years or so on kata. And this is a 60 page comic book that tells the story of how they have been using kata to engage the frontline worker. So that's new. That's only a few months out.

Mark Graban:
I feel like I should have interviewed you and talked more about that book. But thank you for, well, okay. Always can not let another four years go by, I hope. I know you're continuing to work and you're writing. Last time we talked about guitar.

Mark Graban:
Are you writing guitar music or just playing guitar?

Jeff Liker:
No. Well, I play classical guitar, and classical guitar is very rigid. It's like standard work. And the standard work was written by somebody else who lived 200 years ago, and they were brilliant. And you want to play this music the way they wrote it so you don't improvise on classical guitar.

Mark Graban:
Well, Jeff, thank you again and certainly wish you all the best here for 2024. Thanks for joining us.

Jeff Liker:
You too. Take care then.

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Mark Graban
Mark Graban is an internationally-recognized consultant, author, and professional speaker, and podcaster with experience in healthcare, manufacturing, and startups. Mark's new book is The Mistakes That Make Us: Cultivating a Culture of Learning and Innovation. He is also the author of Measures of Success: React Less, Lead Better, Improve More, the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, and the anthology Practicing Lean. Mark is also a Senior Advisor to the technology company KaiNexus.

4 COMMENTS

  1. I think that the system with the hats seems very efficient. I can also imagine it could be frustrating when new people are hired and they need to determine who they go to for help. When hiring somebody new, considering how intricate the system is, what is the criteria for determining they are not the best fit for the company?

    • Hi Julia – Thanks for reading the post. I think the thing that’s great about the Toyota system is that there should be no confusion about who to go to for help — it should be your immediate supervisor or manager. So, for team members, that means the team leader is the clear point of contact.

  2. Wow, what a useful conversation for any team that wants to be deliberate about its work culture.

    One story between the lines here may be how we are beginning to realize, in a more widespread way, the extent to which we are driven by subconscious habit patterns, and that a ‘change trick’ is to deliberately practice a different, desired habit pattern that, over time, can replace an older pattern. Seen in this light, a lot of what Toyota did in the last 40 years to establish Toyota-grade production in North America makes sense.

    But, of course, you gotta wanna.

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