Recapturing Monozukuri in Toyota’s Manufacturing Ethos

Toyota’s environmental performance is driven more by internal commitments than government regulations. And by practicing its monozukuri mantra, Toyota hopes to resume its leadership in creating a more dynamic — and more sustainable — automotive sector.

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For decades, Toyota caught the imagination of managers around the world. It became an emblematic case for everything from quality and reliability to employee engagement and continuous improvement. Recent years have tarnished its image somewhat due to recalls related to manufacturing defects once unheard of in a production system synonymous with efficiency, productivity and customer satisfaction. (The most recent product recalls came within two days of each other last month.)

Yet despite its recent troubles, Toyota remains highly regarded by both its customer base and its peers. That’s in part due to a lesson its president (and grandson of the founder of the company) Akio Toyoda took from the most serious recall incident in 2010. As described by business journalism professor Micheline Maynard in a 2012 Forbes article about the episode, the company relearned that it had “to earn [its] reputation every minute.”

To understand Toyota, you have to understand its long-standing corporate philosophy. The company’s core values revolve around having a sense of duty to contribute to the development and the welfare of the society at large rather than using the company just as a money-making machine. Toyota’s official website puts these values in terms of a concept that may be unfamiliar outside of Japan: “Toyota has always sought to contribute to society through the monozukuri philosophy — an all-encompassing approach to manufacturing. In its application of monozukuri to the production of automobiles, Toyota has pursued a sustainable method of making its cars ever more safe, environmentally friendly, reliable and comfortable.”

The Japanese word monozukuri has a literal meaning of “production” — “mono” is the thing that is made or created, and “zukuri” refers to the act of making. Monozukuri, however, has meanings beyond the literal; it can be best compared to the word “craftsmanship” in English, which describes the making of an object with particular skill, care or artistry.

There is, however, a difference between the two concepts: “craftsmanship” emphasizes the skill and attentiveness of the maker, whereas monozukuri focuses more on the qualities of the object being made and less on the qualities of the person making it.

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Leading Sustainable Organizations

Corporate adoption of sustainable business practices is essential to a strong market environment and an enduring society. What does it mean to become a sustainable business and what steps must leaders take to integrate sustainability into their organization?
More in this series

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Comment (1)
Rabindranath Bhattacharya
Japanese people are known for following rigid rules and regulations right from the childhood which to a great extent gets reflected in their work also. Although Toyota is well known for its unique production system but it sometimes tend to overlook the humane touch which is so vital for the efficient working of supply chain. Human beings are not bonded labors and irrespective of positions must be allowed to think freely, work fearlessly and discuss freely and to call a spade a spade. The call back of cars by Toyota is definitely a set back for the company but the company with proper humane touch would be able to come out with a solution to avoid such instances. Each employee should be allowed to think that the cars they work on are their own and he would not let either the management or dealers recall the vehicles from the market for any defect whatsoever. From my experience in industries I can narrate an incident when I addressed a gathering of my suppliers in a TVs group of companies in India saying ” I am pained to say that I feel insulted when my products are rejected by my customers. Do you feel the same thing when we return your products? Products/inventories are to be treated as cash. The moment you do that perception changes”. The situation improved dramatically when the message was given. However this should be a never ending exercise.

Rabindranath Bhattacharya