Employee Engagement

Process Improvement Japan, Kozo Sakano, Angela Corriero, Yasuhito Yamauchi, Toyota`s Fmr Snr Managing Director

An interview with Aisin Seki`s Executive Vice Chairman, (fmr. TMC Snr. Managing Director) Yasuhito Yamauchi.


Click here for the Japanese version of Employee Engagement 全員参加.

Above Photo: Angela Corriero, Process Improvement Japan, left; Mr. Yasuhito Yamauchi, Aisin Seki center; Kozo Sakano, Process Improvement Japan, right

John Fraser, Lean 6 Sigma Black Belt in the UK had questions:

  • What is the single biggest success factor when engineering a culture of change and continuous improvement?
  • What is the best way to manage people who are resistant to change?
  • What has Toyota done in terms of communications to support organizational change?
Process Improvement Japan approached Toyota Motor Corporation`s former Senior Managing Director, Mr. Yasuhito Yamauchi to gain his perspective. The interview is summarized below.

The Success Factor:
Line Workers must be empowered.

Work must be delegated. Authority must be delegated. Workers must have the freedom to make decisions (within reasonable limits).

Targets will be met by waste elimination (TPS`s 7 kinds).
In order to eliminate waste continually, and thus have a continuous improvement system, there must be employee engagement.

How to inspire employee engagement?
Make it Real

In Japanese, Gheeno or 技能 means skill or technique. For artisans, it`s easy to see their talent and skill. In mass production, on the other hand, what is Gheeno?
It`s the skill of tightening nuts for example. But it`s so much more than that. A worker with good Gheeno has the ability to quickly recognize abnormalities and prevent defects from passing to the next process. The next level of Gheeno is the ability to fix a problem. A worker with good Gheeno is able to work in many processes and make good kaizen suggestions.

It takes time and experience for a worker to develop his/her Gheeno (skills). These skills must be evaluated and recognized. Recognition and skill development "make it real" for the workers. They can see the fruits of their labour.

Workers become engaged in the process when they can really see the value in it.

What is the best way to manage resistance to change?


Workers must be able to understand and agree with the benefits of engaging in the process.
A great example of employees engaging in process after understanding its value was given by Kozo Sakano:
A Toyota company wanted to increase participation in their multi process handling certification program. The plant manager decided to make the certification "visual" so that workers would be more motivated to enroll in the training courses. He thought that by making the employee`s certification status visual, individuals would gain recognition, see how they were progressing, compare with their co-workers and be more motivated to increase their skills. His plan worked. This year, the company is meeting their certification targets.

Why did it work?
The Gheeno value was made real. It was visualized. It was evaluated and recognized.

What were the benefits?
For the worker:

  • Visual recognition
  • Pride in their improvements
  • Increased skills
  • Increase in promotability

For the company:
    The elimination of more in process stock with more multifunction workers
  • Defects are more readily found
  • One piece at a time production is more efficient.
  • Labour cost do not change even with volume fluctuations.

When you ask your workers to start continuous improvement or do kaizen, the first step is NOT to focus on improving quality or reducing cost.

Start with the workers` benefit in mind. Give them a vested interest in company improvements.
“If a boss says, `Do what you are told.`, it`s a denial of humanity, a lack of respect. So kaizen cannot be practiced.” Mr. Yamauchi says.

Kaizen culture needs to start with the company helping to create a better working environment. Ie: Safer, more comfortable working conditions.
There are two steps:
1.Take the worker`s suggestions and improve their conditions.
2. Recognize the workers for their contribution.

Trust and stronger relationships between management and employees will form. The spirit of kaizen will begin to develop. Then, after trust and spirit has been created, ask the workers to think about how to improve a certain problem area in the company.

When workers see what can result from working together, naturally the QC circle will be vitalized.

South Africa

“In South Africa, we had success with this approach. We developed local QC leaders. We gave them proper training on leadership and kaizen methodology. Other employees watched as the leaders grew and developed. They were allowed to carry out their QC activities. It was very empowering. The other employees also became motivated.” Mr. Yamauchi recalls.


“Bosch in East Germany studied TPS and QC circle methods. We visited them to have a look. They are doing well - even the young members are engaged.” Mr. Yamauchi said.

Koji Suzuki, lean sensei -  Process Improvement Japan

Toyota`s Creative Suggestion System

The Creative Suggestion System is a key element of an effective kaizen system. It can, when implemented correctly, also be an effective tool for employee engagement. Even a small suggestion by an employee is recognized and acknowledged by the company. People like to be recognized. “Build up those small successes little by little.” Mr. Yamauchi says.

Recognition for each person`s contribution is essential to any employee engagement or kaizen effort.

CASE STUDY 1: How Toyota`s CCC21 damaged the spirt of kaizen & The Toyota Way

CASE STUDY 2: How engaging management is key to kaizen implementation, click here.

Return from Employee Engagement to Process Improvement Japan

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