The recent recall by Toyota is apparently causing gloating among some and anxiety among others —there’s back-biting and nail-biting going on. Though the incidence of failure and fatality are rare, for those experiencing the accelerator malfunction it is significant.
Apart from the priceless human cost, why is it a big deal for Toyota (and seemingly bigger than if it had been any other automobile manufacturer)? Toyota has been known as the highest quality manufacturer—the gold standard in the auto industry. Not only had consumers touted Toyota as the best in quality, the competition had sought to measure up to Toyota’s level of quality.
So what does this quality breach mean? It means that Toyota will have to do right by its customers by showing that quality includes, care and concern for customers’ well-being. In a recent New York Times article, James Womack (co-author of The Machine that Changed the World) stated, “When your whole deal was quality, every mistake is a big deal.”
Yes it is a big deal, but quality does not mean that mistakes are never made. What quality does mean is that you learn from a mistake—never to make it again—and improve using the knowledge gained. The conduct of business provides opportunities to learn and improve each and every day and a quality organization seizes these opportunities. If Toyota is indeed all about quality, then they should emerge from this situation just a bit more knowledgeable. A more knowledgeable Toyota could cause more nail-biting among those now back-biting.
Yes they must learn from the malfunctioning of the accelerator mechanism, improving the design so that it doesn’t happen again. But more importantly they must see that the bigger more fundamental mistake—the root cause—was not keeping their eye on quality in every facet of their business. Apparently what they had done was turn the focus of their attention toward costs. This led them to relax their supplier standards in order to broaden their supplier network in support of a growth objective. While they may have realized growth, they surely hadn’t made progress! Sacrificing progress for growth, they are in a less viable position today.
GM and Ford like birds of prey are circling Toyota with the intent of swooping in to bite off a share of its customers. But are they poised to learn? Are they about quality? Are they paying attention enough to learn from the example Toyota has provided or is their attention solely on the prospect of immediate gain? Are they focused on growth or progress?