COMMENT: Toyota's lessons to be learned

By Dave Leggett | 12 July 2010

The fallout from Toyota's quality problems continues. The company is enlisting the help of outside quality experts in Japan, a sure sign of both the seriousness of the problems encountered and the need to lend additional credibility to the actions on quality being taken or proposed.

Involving independent auditors of this type is a positive move and one which demonstrates management resolve.

If Toyota has lost its way on quality – a key brand value for Toyota – it has at least shown that it wants to put that right and address underlying problems head-on, despite the impressions to the contrary that were created not so long ago.

And it's not just about the nuts and bolts of what has gone wrong with quality. There's also been disarray in the way that communications and public relations have been handled, damaging the brand further. Hindsight is indeed a wonderful thing, but some fundamental mistakes were made when Toyota was faced with an unfolding crisis in an area of company performance that had hitherto seemed a near-invincible strength.

Systemic failures were exposed – not only in manufacturing itself, but also in communication.

We published a report earlier this year by UK-based marketing specialist Cream Global that was sharply critical of Toyota's public relations management during its international recalls and the accompanying media storm.

And the outside assessment prepared for Toyota also includes a look at the way the company communicates internally and externally. Learning from crisis management and understanding how the company's culture has impacted performance is clearly a vital component in learning lessons for the future. 

But Toyota is at least demonstrating that it understands the need to learn from the uncomfortable ordeal that it has been through. Toyota's special committee for global quality and the involvement of outside consultants is a good start. The crisis management phase may be over for Toyota, but implementing changes to manufacturing systems and to a corporate culture that has shown fallibility is a process that will go on for some time.

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