I visited a Toyota plant today as part of the IW Best Plants Conference. Coincidentally, Toyota today became the world's biggest automaker (at least for the first quarter of 2007), for the first time selling more cars worldwide than General Motors.
The plant I visited in Columbus, Indiana, doesn't actually produce automobiles -- instead, I got to tour Toyota Industrial Equipment Manufacturing, which manufactures lift trucks and material handling equipment. Now, I've visited a lot of manufacturing plants and gone on a lot of tours, and even seen various companies' adaptation of the Toyota Production System, but it was quite eye-opening to see the TPS in action at Toyota itself.
Nobody at the Toyota plant was crowing about displacing GM -- maybe the announcement came too late in the day (the tour was first thing in the morning), or maybe the MSNBC article is accurate when it points out that Toyota doesn't seem too interested in celebrating its new status as # 1. With a culture devoted to continuous improvements in every aspect of the company, where the ideas and input of every employee is not only valued but essential, then maybe Toyota has figured out that the only way GM (and Ford, and Chrysler) can potentially reclaim some of their faded glory is to figure out exactly why it is that companies that are on a continuous improvement journey (a fair characterization of all the IW Best Plants winners) believe more in the power of their employees than they do in their legacy.
Just a thought.