Learning Servers? LO21643

Tony Padgett (anthony_padgett_za@mail.toyota.co.jp)
Mon, 17 May 1999 12:56:22 +0900

Replying to LO21625 --

Roy Greenhalgh wrote:

> I think that there are a many companies who already have software which
> enables them to behave as learning companies. With an email address of
> mail.toyota.co.jp, I feel I am speaking to one of the leaders in the this
> field!

Roy and others,

First, thanks for the replies so far. They have given me some thoughts.

Second, I have read on this list and have been sent several emails over
the past couple of months that people feel Toyota is a good model as a
learning organization. Although I believe that Toyota's manufacturing arm
is definitely on the ball with learning and improving, I can say from
experience that their non-manufacturing side (marketing, sales support,
HR, etc.) in Japan is no way near being a learning organization.*

Managers here _for the most part_ use negative sorting for creating and
implementing ideas. The basic premise is that you or a group is assigned a
project and you are to guess what the manager wants--not what is good for
the company overall. After you have done the research and come up with the
ideas, you sit down with your manager and discuss the ideas. He then goes
through the idea and line item vetos the stuff he doesn't like. What you
are left with is about 10% of what you originally started out with and
then you go back and try to mindread what you think he wants now. At the
same time, that manager is doing the same kind of things with his
superior. In the end, you get a very big compromise of mindreading--a big
result of Japanese groupthink which can be used in either a positive or
negative way (in this case negative). As I've posted in a previous
message, subordinates are not looked upon as learners and they definitely
don't question their superiors. Personal mastery comes down to who you
know in the company and how the company functions to get the job done--a
very big political mess.

As I often tell people, many Japanese managers in Japanese companies in
Japan have a lot of _experience_ but not a lot of knowledge. This is most
likely due to the 'generalist' approach they have to their roles--they
spend 3 or 4 years at a variety of divisions, never developing a
particular specialty. I don't think it is only Toyota that behaves this
way, since I have seen it in two other Japanese firms that I have worked

It is a fact that Toyota's automobiles are view as top quality throughout
most of the world. It is also a fact that Toyota ranks very low on the
customer satisfaction scale when it comes to buying a car. Thus, my
premise that Toyota has excellent manufacturing skills but lacks in sales
and other 'soft skills'.

I believe that Toyota along with many other Japanese firms in Japan are
finally starting to go through some serious soul searching due to the
overbearing recessions that continues to plague Asia. Many companies are
starting to drop the lifetime employment idea (including Toyota), and I'm
glad to see that they are allowing a 'grandfather' clause to keep the
upper management in the loop (where would they go after all this time and
dedication to the company?) while the younger employees are starting to
come up through the ranks under this new system and are focusing more on a
particular set of skills. However, this naturally will take at least a
decade before this has any meaningful effect.

In sum, Toyota and other Japanese companies have made some terrific
breakthroughs in manufacturing, but they'll need to improve on the soft
skills before they can get themselves out of the rut of this recession.
Until then, they will not have learned anything meaningful, and the result
could be another recession more sever in the future.

I am wondering if there are any other people on this list who are working
at a Japanese company in Japan and have the same or differenct experience.

* (In this post, I am only speaking in terms of Toyota in Japan. I cannot
speak for Toyota U.S. or other distributors. These are only my opinions
and not the official word of Toyota.)


Tony Padgett <anthony_padgett_za@mail.toyota.co.jp>

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