Within the last year, I just switched jobs from a US car manufacturer (GM) to a Japanese car manufacturer (Toyota). The culture and work environment within the two companies are very different. The strategies used within the companies are different. Toyota believes strongly in lean manufacturing and developing their talent based on their eagerness for the job. GM believes in hiring the right person for the job, but does not give as much freedom to develop their talents into other fields. Toyota’s belief is that if the employee has a certain set of characteristics, they will be able to achieve success in projects/goals. However, Toyota would rather be “undermanned” than hire too many employees, hence, the strategy to be lean. I have interacted with many employees who came from other fields but now work in marketing or other job fields other than engineering within Toyota. At GM, as a software engineer, it was difficult to find other positions of interest. The upper management team preferred employees to stay within their current field, work on related projects or other projects which are within the same engineering field.
When the economic crisis hit the car manufacturers in 2008, GM’s strategy led to a layoff of approximately 47,000 employees according to an AOL Jobs article in 2011. As a former executive at GE Capital explained in The Real Value of Strategic Planning, “Business is unpredictable.” The economic downturn gave GM a chance to reevaluate their strategy. GM tightened up their overall talent acquisition and reevaluated many of the benefits to employees which cost the company an enormous amount of money. The layoffs and cutting of benefits has lowered employee morale. In my 5 years at GM (after the economic crisis), I believe their strategy has improved. However, GM should review their strategy of developing their employees. Too many employees are disgruntled and don’t enjoy their job. There is a lack of developing the employees and in some cases, a lack of willingness to satisfy the employee’s career path. GM may be focused on the near term financial targets rather than the long term opportunities for their employees. At Toyota, the upper management team wants us to develop. There is a focus on the financial targets, but also a willingness to develop employees into their position. I’m encouraged by upper management to complete training courses or attend seminars so I can develop technical skills and other business related skills.
There are many differences between Japanese and an American company. I’ve only partially explained one of the many differences. It is interesting to see the difference in strategy. The Japanese are well known for their strategies and ability to operate as lean companies. It doesn’t mean that everything is perfect when working for a Japanese company, but at least at Toyota, they have an understanding to look at the long term value of the employee.