It’s difficult enough for any corporation to let go of workers in tough economic times, but common sense and human decency, along with an organisation’s values must prevail in these circumstances.
So it was with great interest and probably disbelief that workers, unions and employers alike viewed last week’s retrenchment of 262 workers at the Toyota Altona plant in Melbourne.
The exceedingly public escort of employees as they were driven to their exit interviews and impending doom, the heavy presence of security guards, and the individually presented score sheets handed over to unlucky candidates raised a number of questions in terms of management strategies and ethics.
It most definitely set a new low for management and HR teams where retrenchments are concerned, and puzzling in view of the Toyota Motor Corporation’s published guide “The Toyota Way 2001”.
This was a set of principles and behaviours that underlie the car manufacturer’s approach and production system further developed in 2004 when Dr Jeffrey Liker, a University of Michigan professor of industrial engineering published "The Toyota Way”, a system designed to provide the tools for people to continually improve their work.
The Toyota Way covered the corporation’s goals and values in four key areas:
1. long-term philosophy
2. The right process will produce the right results
3. Add value to the organisation by developing your people, and
4. continuously solving root problems drives organisational learning.
The key cultural values as stated by the car manufacturer’s published guide in its 14 principles covers continuous improvement and, interestingly, respect for people − certainly not the experience of those Australian workers at the Altona plant.
Values are the set of underlying principles that shape decision making and actions internally and externally, and guide a corporation’s cultural compass both in respect to business and in the treatment of customers and employees.
They determine organisational behaviour and become a core part of the companies ' way of doing things' or DNA.
All values get tested both on a personal and professional level, and it is in those times that values need to be publically demonstrated, not bent to expedite actions or achieve the interests of a chosen few.
Toyota has made its values public and has honourable ones at that.
However, that is where the leadership challenge starts for leaders across the business to ensure that they are being 'lived' at every level of the organisation, not delivered inconsistently.
Values and purpose are the immovable core of an organisation that acts as the ballast to the need for providing agile strategy and direction.
It is the deep-seated nature of values and purpose that align people to an organisation, to a sense of contributing value through their jobs to an outcome bigger than themselves.
But what about trust and engagement?
This is a two-way process and once the values are breached, the lifeline is often irretrievably damaged.
Indeed, of the 14 principles in “The Toyota Way”, the final ones embrace a philosophy of problem solving that emphasizes through understanding, consensus-based solutions swiftly implemented and continual reflection and improvement .
The final principle requires that Toyota be a "learning organization", continually reflecting on its practices and striving for improvement. As Dr Liker says, this principle involves criticising every aspect of what one does.
Seen as an HR benchmark of its time and a reflection of the corporation’s values and purpose, The Toyota Way is at odds with the actions of the car manufacturer in Altona.
Values, set in calmer times really come into their own in stormy ones. They need to be used by leaders to raise the level of thinking for the greater good.
Too bad Toyota didn't follow its own rhetoric.
About the author
Pia Lee is CEO of LIW global leadership consultancy. For further information visit www.liw3.com