How CIOs Can Use “Nemawashi” to Mimic the Success of Toyota
Toyota is known as much for innovating cars as it is for innovating the business of making cars. For example, the company pioneered wide use of the now-famous “just in time” manufacturing system, also known as lean manufacturing. This approach relies on a technique borrowed from supermarkets that keeps shelves stocked without a large warehouse. In the Toyota Production System, parts are produced and arrive at the manufacturing lines only as needed and only in the quantities needed. Not having to buffer the manufacturing process with large stockpiles has helped Toyota to become a hugely competitive automaker.
Getting to the roots of better decision making
Another key aspect of the innovative Toyota Production System is called nemawashi. It is a Japanese gardening term that refers to the process of digging around the roots of a tree to loosen the soil and prepare it for transplanting. In a business context, it means laying the groundwork for good decision making by understanding the key stakeholders’ issues and concerns and integrating those ideas into a proposal—before implementing it.
In practice, it works like this. The person proposing the change or initiative meets with all the key stakeholders one-on-one and then incorporates their feedback into the proposal before presenting it. In this way, no one gets blindsided during the initial presentation. If someone has an issue with the proposal, they work it out with the presenter before the initial meeting. If two people disagree about the concept or details, they work out their difference privately before the next group meeting.
Collaboration correlates with success in market-leading organizations
Collaboration has become a popular business buzzword. But does anyone really know why? The example of a market-leading company like Toyota shows a correlation between success and valuing collaborative decision making over top-down management. “Nemawashi is the first step in the decision-making process,” according to the company. “It is sharing of information about the decisions that will be made, in order to involve all employees in the process.”
The lesson for businesses is clear: While the most effective collaborations more often occur at the top of the organization, success and collaboration are correlated at every level.
Economist Intelligence Unit
In fact, recent research by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) supports the view that collaboration helps to drive the success of market-share leaders. In addition to reporting effective collaboration among the C-suite or among senior executives (73% for leaders vs. 62% for others), leading companies polled in the study found successful collaboration at every level of the organization. For example, market-share leaders described collaboration among frontline managers as “very” or “mostly” effective in 53% of responses vs. 44% for non-leaders.
According to the EIU, “the lesson for businesses is clear: While the most effective collaborations more often occur at the top of the organization, success and collaboration are correlated at every level.”
Harmonizing a distributed workforce
Bringing the whole team together to arrive at a better decision works fine in a company like Toyota. Even with its global operations and almost 400,000 employees, in most situations, groups at individual facilities can meet in person to work out a consensus. But companies with functions scattered among branch and global office, telecommuters, and many workers constantly on the move may find it more of a challenge. Coke famously once wanted to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony. As a CIO, you might be happy to achieve even a moderate degree of harmony among such a far-flung workforce.
CIOs need to drive the collaboration culture
Traditionally, CIOs and their C-Suite business counterparts have worked in separate arenas. But now technology increasingly drives business change—and the C-Suite and CEO increasingly look to IT leaders for business innovation. So fostering a culture of collaboration is integral to deploying technologies that enable it.
For example, not so long ago, workers meeting face-to-face through videoconferencing was often not viable. It meant complex installations and ongoing hassles with hardware configuration. However, now you can easily equip workers with cloud-based video conferencing. Participants in these online meetings can easily share screens, whiteboards, apps, files from cloud storage, or even high-quality video clips from any device.
Or, as you look around the organization to establish a baseline for the current state of collaboration, you may find email is slowing things to a crawl. According to a study by Yahoo Labs and the University of Southern California, as email volume increases, people reply faster (47 minutes or less on average), with fewer words, and to less email (only about half). And as the inbox snowballs, users respond to only a small fraction of their messages—less than 5% when the load reaches about 100 emails a day.
You may want to deploy team messaging to replace email and other old-school forms of communications with an instant messaging platform on steroids. The interface of this new generation of collaboration software allows team members to send messages in real time vs. whenever the recipients get around to reading an email. It also lets users share the content and context they need to collaborate and make decisions as if they were in a physical meeting room.
The primary benefit of driving this collaboration is obvious. Toyota, for instance, believes that building great products—like playing great baseball—is a team effort. With a whole range of new cloud-based unified communications as a service services, the possibilities for upping your organization’s collaboration game are endless. Your own nemawashi-enabling initiatives may not give your company the phenomenal global success of Toyota, but evidence suggests it will improve your chances.