The editors of the MIT Sloan Management Review have awarded John Shook, chairman and CEO of the nonprofit Lean Enterprise Institute (LEI), the Richard Beckhard Memorial Prize for his “marvelous and lively recounting” of culture change lessons at NUMMI, the GM-Toyota joint venture.
Shook’s account of how NUMMI rapidly took its plant from being one of GM’s worst factories to one of its best “should be required reading for anyone concerned with planned organizational change and just how culture — in its various guises — plays such an important role in these efforts,” the magazine noted.
“What my NUMMI experience taught me that was so powerful was that the way to change culture is not to first change how people think, but instead to start by changing how people behave — what they do,” Shook wrote.
“Those of us trying to change our organizations’ culture,” he continued, “need to define the things we want to do, the ways we want to behave and want each other to behave, to provide training and then to do what is necessary to reinforce those behaviors. The culture will change as a result. This is what is meant by, ‘It’s easier to act your way to a new way of thinking than to think your way to a new way of acting.’”
The award, which covers articles published in SMR from fall 2009 to summer 2010, is named for MIT Prof. Richard Beckhard, a member of the MIT Sloan School of Management faculty for more than 20 years and one of the founders of the field of organizational development. Shook’s article was published in January 2010.
Sex, Drugs, and Defects
Shook was hired by Toyota 1983 to help it transfer its lean production, engineering, and management systems from Japan to NUMMI and subsequently to other operations around the world.
Officially known as New United Motor Manufacturing Inc., the Fremont, CA, company was a bold experiment between the two auto giants. GM wanted to learn how to build high-quality, profitable small cars. Toyota, facing import restrictions from the U.S. Congress, wanted to learn how to deal with American workers so it could build cars here.
GM’s Fremont plant was “a factory known for sex, drugs, and defective vehicles,” according to a 2010 NPR story . “And it was a reputation that was well earned,” said Bruce Lee, who ran the western region for the United Auto Workers and oversaw the Fremont plant. “Everything was a fight. They had strikes all the time. It was just chaos constantly.”
From Worst to First
But the “militant” work force was not a major obstacle, Shook wrote. “In fact, the union and workers didn’t just accept Toyota’s system, they embraced it with passion.” Absenteeism immediately fell from 20% and higher to a steady 2%. Quality that had been GM’s worst became its best in just one year
“All with the exact same workers, including the old troublemakers,” Shook recalled in the article.
What changed were the behaviors of managers and workers under the plant’s lean production and management systems. The culture changed.
The example Shook gave is the famous stop-the-line — or andon — system on the assembly line. Workers were expected to stop the line when they found a problem and, together with managers responding to the line stop, were expected to implement a countermeasure or solution.
The andon system reflected Toyota’s tenet of “respect for people.”
“All employees have the right to be successful every time they do their job,” wrote Shook. “Part of doing their job is finding problems and making improvements. If we as management want people to be successful, to find problems and to make improvements, we have the obligation to provide the means to do so.”
Toyota closed NUMMI in spring 2010, a year after GM pulled out of the joint-venture in the midst of a deepening recession and financial difficulties that ultimately led to bankruptcy.
Learn more about the lean culture change lessons from NUMMI
- Read John Shook’s award-winning Sloan article
- What did GM and Toyota get out of NUMMI? Read John Shook’s reflection: “Was NUMMI a Success?”
- What will be the impact of NUMMI’s closing on the lean management movement? Read LEI Founder Jim Womack’s essay “The End of the Beginning.”
- Learn what it was like to work at NUMMI. Listen to the NPR report “The End of the Line for GM-Toyota Joint Venture”
What is Lean?
The terms lean manufacturing, lean production, or lean management refer to a complete business system for organizing and managing product development, operations, suppliers, customer relations, and the overall enterprise that requires less capital, material, space, time, or human effort to produce products and services with fewer defects to precise customer desires, compared with traditional modern management.
Lean Community Resources
Join LEI’s community of Lean Thinkers at https://www.lean.org to receive newsletters with lean management resources. You also get access to case studies, lean leadership interviews, webinars, insights from John Shook and LEI Founder Jim Womack, who led the MIT research team that coined the term “lean production.”
Lean Enterprise Institute Chairman and CEO John Shook is recognized as a true sensei who enthusiastically shares his knowledge and insights about lean management within the Lean Community and with those who have not yet made the lean leap.
Shook learned about lean management while working for Toyota for nearly 11 years in Japan and the U.S., helping it transfer production, engineering, and management systems from Japan to NUMMI and subsequently to other operations in the U.S. and around the world. While at Toyota’s headquarters, he became the company’s first American kacho (manager) in Japan. As co-author of Learning to See John helped introduce the world to value-stream mapping. John also co-authored Kaizen Express a bi-lingual manual of the essential concepts and tools of the Toyota Production System. In his latest book Managing to Learn, he describes the A3 management process at the heart of lean management and leadership.
Shook was a senior advisor to LEI from 1997 when it was founded by management expert James P. Womack, Ph.D. until 2010 when he succeed Womack as chairman and CEO.
Lean Enterprise Institute, Inc., was founded in 1997 by management expert James P. Womack, Ph.D., as a nonprofit research, education, publishing, and conference company with a mission to advance lean thinking around the world. We teach courses, hold management seminars, write and publish books and workbooks, and organize public and private conferences. We use the surplus revenues from these activities to conduct research projects and support other lean initiatives such as the Lean Education Academic Network and the Lean Global Network. Visit LEI at https://www.lean.org for more information.
Media: Chet Marchwinski, LEI communications director, email@example.com, 617-871-2930