Friday, February 05, 2010
Toyota: A Cultural Defect
Many people have expressed surprise at Toyota's recent quality troubles. Naturally, one should be surprised to see such a highly regarded quality leader encounter trouble of this scale and scope. Many observers, including me, have noted that Toyota's quality issues have been building for awhile, as the company's rapid recent growth stressed the Toyota Production System. However, this Los Angeles Times article suggests that Toyota's problems run much deeper than many observers have suspected. The LA Times documents a history at Toyota of hiding or denying quality problems, or trying to delay product recalls. If we concur with the newspaper's assessment, then we must conclude that Toyota has a much deeper cultural problem, not just a short term issue related to the torrid growth of the past few years. Interestingly, the company is so well known for encouraging workers on the front lines to speak up when they see a defect or problem. This open culture has enabled them to surface problems on the line, and to fix them proactively so as to achieve high quality. Yet, it appears that this same frank and candid dialogue may not be occurring when it comes to top management communicating with its dealers and customers. Today, Toyota's chief executive finally spoke to the press about the firm's recent troubles. His late communication with the public may also be another indicator of the cultural challenges the firm faces. Toyota has a great deal of work to do. They must not only fix this set of defects and understand how to prevent them in the future; the firm must also address the issue of whether and why it has been slow to come clean on defects over time.