In response to a post a few days ago called "How About Multi-Skilled Managers?" two emotional responses were logged in almost immediately – one from "Bill" who wrote a disparaging piece about unqualified managers and the ‘strategy of the week’ approach he had experienced on the shop floor of a big machining plant, and an equally passionate response from "Mike" who defended management and trashed negative guys like Bill.
I teed off on Bill yesterday, and now it is time to look at Mike’s perspective on things.
In 1950, Mike, the Toyota Motor Company fell on very hard times and nearly went belly up. They laid off thousands of people in order to survive. Management had plenty of outside problems on which to place the blame. Today’s American managers sound like so many crybabies in the sandbox compared to the Toyota environment in 1950. The economy of Japan was controlled by Douglas MacArthur and the post War Occupation Forces. They were openly out to whittle people like the Toyoda family down to size and they were equally open in support of labor unions. There was no stock market, for all practical purposes, and the money in the banks was tightly regulated by MacArthur’s gang. The Toyota plant had been bombed on the last few days of the War. Compare that with the ‘insurmountable’ regulatory problems Detroit claims to have with the American business environment today.
When the layoff happened, Kiichiro Toyoda – head of the company – did not blame it on MacArthur, or the banks, or the War, or the Unions. He accepted full personal responsibility for having to lay off those people. He resigned in shame and disgrace, and left the company to his cousin Eiji. His attitude toward his employees was similar to that of an airline pilot. He knew that they had no control over the direction of things, and that they placed their families security and future in management’s hands. He felt that he had violated that faith.
Toyota vowed then and there that they would never have another layoff. No Toyoda would ever have to be similarly humiliated. The profound change, Mike, was that hourly workers at Toyota became fixed costs on that day. In America they are still variable costs.
So what exactly do you mean when you say you "Of course it is important to engage the journeyman machinists in the process, but it is equally important to engage the secretaries, assembly workers, financial clerks, buyers, salesmen, and so on." Are you saying that, they are still variable costs, but you occasionally listen to them? Is that the big stretch that makes your company people oriented? Or is the management of your company as cognizant of their responsibility as the Toyoda family? Are you and your management ready to give up your jobs before any of the hourly folks lose theirs?
There is a great scene in the Movie "Good Will Hunting" in which Robin Williams is lecturing Matt Damon, telling him that memorizing art books and art history is not the same as actually standing in the Sistine Chapel and looking up at Michelangelo’s ceiling; and reading all about War is not the same as having a close buddy die in your arms, and reading Oliver Twist does not tell everything there is to feel about being an orphan. The same analogies extend to manufacturing, Mike. They taught you a lot in MBA school, and much of it has real value – but you do not know what it is like to run a machine in the factory unless you have done it, and you cannot possibly know what the production people know from books. If you want production people to respect your MBA, then you must equally respect their factory knowledge. If you do not, then you are just another know it all American manager who is bound to fail.
The common bond – at least one of them – between Taichi Ohno, Shigeo Shingo, Kiichiro Toyoda and the early Ford lean pioneers – Henry Ford, Charles Sorenson, Pete Martin and the rest – was that they respected and viewed as equals, good production people. They also had pretty cold personalities in common. None of them were particularly nice guys – they didn’t engage anyone. They did not seek to placate people by buying them pizza or giving them a dollar per idea. They would have been insulted had someone treated them so condescendingly, and they would not treat anyone else that way. They talked to people – man to man.
I dunno about you Mike, but if I were an hourly guy and I were viewed as a variable cost, with my paycheck dependent upon a management that treated me as a child, to be bribed with pizza and spare change, and ‘engaged’ from time to time as it suited management, I would probably be writing some pretty insulting stuff on the Internet about management too. How about you quit engaging people, change their paychecks over to fixed costs, and start talikng to people as if there is no distinction between job titles anywhere in the company, then write back and stake you claim to being a lean manufacturer like Toyota.