A CAPSULE VIEW OF
Just before Christmas 1991, General Motors made an announcement. The giant automaker, its profits and market share in a state of free fall, said it was poised to lay off 74,000 workers and close numerous plants by 1995. We were reminded of a very different view of the auto industry from a visit the previous spring to the Toyota auto plant in Georgetown, Kentucky, just north of Lexington.
Our district was in its first full year of site-based management. We had been reading about Japanese management and wondered if an upclose look at a Japanese plant might not have something to teach us about promoting high morale and productivity in a more autonomous, decentralized workplace. Visiting Toyota of America gave us our first glimpse of the powerful influence of a radically improved management system. It gave us an inspiring vision of where our district needed to be headed, while also introducing us to the work of W. Edwards Deming.
In hindsight, we realize that we did not know at the time what we were looking for. We expected to find some helpful information as we moved into the site-based model. Our visit to Toyota gave us more than a measure of practical advice; it gave us a different vision of the workplace. It is no overstatement to say that we came away with something larger and more exciting, something like a world view. A visit to a plant like Toyota will tempt you to doubt things you never before questioned and to see possibilities you never before considered.
We will be referring to Deming throughout our description of Toyota in the next chapter. But before we delve into what we saw there, it is appropriate here to provide a brief overview of Deming's principles, along with those aspects of them that we intend to emphasize.