Professor Takahiro Fujimoto from the University of Tokyo was recently interviewed for a Wharton publication on the Toyota problems; he is known as perhaps the world’s leading authority on the Toyota production system. Professor Fujimoto spoke about deviation from expectations leading to Toyota’s problems and hubris of middle management as an underlying factor.
“I would probably say middle managers, particularly at headquarters, started to deviate from the Toyota Way by being arrogant, being overconfident, and also they started not to listen to the problems that customers raised. Toyota is a problem-finding, problem-solving company. This culture is still there in the factories and in product development centers. But in some parts of the headquarters, someone started to say, “Hey, this is our problem. I am responsible for finding my problems and solving my problems. It’s not [for] you [outside Toyota] to find our problems.”
Sometimes I’m critical of Toyota. But they get angry. They always say, “We want to find problems. So please, give us any clues on the problems you see. “But if I actually say, “This is a problem for you,” they say, “This is none of your business. We have to find the problem. Not you.” This attitude was growing for some time, I think, in some parts of headquarters. That was very dangerous. It is a good time to correct this kind of attitude and go back to the basics of the Toyota system.”
Dianne Vaughn’s work on the “normalization of deviance” was a major contribution to the NASA Columbia Accident Investigation Board Report. Her contributions informed the Board’s deliberations on NASA’s organization system and its political and economic environment, as those factors affected decisions made about the foam debris problem.
Gary Klein’s work on decision making (see his most recent book “Streetlights and Shadows”) offers that “We put too much emphasis on reducing errors and not enough on building expertise.”
So my questions for today are:
- Does your organization know how decisions are made?
- Does your organization invest in developing decision making as an explicit individual and corporate competency?
- Is hubris a part of your organizational culture and a substitute for true competency in decision making?