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What Toyota can teach us about social business

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What Toyota can teach us about social business

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If you can cast your mind back to the 80′s, it was a time when the automobile industries in many western economies were having a tough time.  Their nemesis was a Japanese company whose culture was rooted in the teachings of W. Edwards Deming, an American thinker whose musings gained significantly more traction in Japan than they did in his homeland.

By the time Toyota started swallowing market share from the big Detroit car companies, those companies rapidly began casting around for reasons why, and quickly settled upon the fabled Toyota Production System that gave the company its unique edge.

What followed was an attempt by car companies throughout the world to mimic what they saw as the bedrock of Toyota’s success.  Most of these early attempts centered on the various tools contained within the Toyota Way, and rather predictably these early attempts failed to alter the beating these companies were receiving.

Indeed, these early attempts to foister TPS onto the kind of make and sell systems that were common throughout the industry had calamitous consequences.  Accounting and reward systems simply weren’t designed for things such as just-in-time or quality programs.

It is increasingly appreciated these days that the genius of Taiichi Ohno was to create a system and environment that enabled TPS to flourish.  At the time however, all the imitators saw were a bunch of tools that they could deploy in their own companies and magically become lean.  They didn’t appreciate that the only way they could begin to mirror Toyota was to overhaul their entire management model.

We’re seeing a similar situation in the social business world.  There are probably hundreds of tools and applications to enable collaboration or open innovation, and the dominant point of view at the moment is that buying such a tool will be all it takes to become a social business.  This is despite the reality that most organisations have designed their systems to be anything but collaborative.

Their rewards systems are seldom collaborative, their measurement systems seldom are, nor are their decision making processes or their people management structures.  All manner of things are in place in the modern workplace that shout out to employees that collaboration isn’t really something we want you to do.

Buying a piece of software, no matter how feature rich, will not change that I’m afraid.  Just as the auto industry eventually realised that if they want to achieve the success Toyota achieved that they will have to change their entire approach to business, so to will organisations that want to achieve success in a social world.

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