Friday, February 12, 2010

Toyota on the Right Track?

The latest Toyota ad, “Our Pledge to You,” is out and does show signs that the company is making progress in understanding what it has to do to be forgiven. But, the approach is still too austere and fails to go far enough to make the customer-focused commitment that’s needed.

If Toyota truly wants to achieve the forgiveness it must have to recover (and also foil the critics, confound the media, convert the public policy makers, and disable the bloviators, bellyachers, and back bench bitchers), its strategy needs to include two powerful ingredients:

1. Stop talking about Toyota and what the company is doing, and begin talking from the customers’ point-of-view, entirely. The former approach sounds like (and is a form of) self-forgiveness and problem minimizing. The approach must emphasize what customers can expect, what customers need to do, what the next steps are, and how customer interaction (as small as it might be) is providing meaningful assistance to the company as it resolves the issues it’s facing.

2. Toyota needs to follow the time tested algorithm for obtaining customer, employee, shareholder, and public forgiveness:

Step #1 Candor: Outward recognition, through promptly and continuously verbalized and written public acknowledgement, that a problem exists; that people or groups of people, the environment, or the public trust are affected; and what specifically is (will) be done to remediate the situation.

Step #2 Apology: Verbalized or written statements of personal regret, remorse, and sorrow, acknowledging personal responsibility for having injured, insulted, failed or wronged another, humbly asking for forgiveness in exchange for more appropriate future behavior and to make amends in return.

Step #3 Explanation (no matter how silly, stupid, or embarrassing the problem-causing errors are): Promptly, briefly, and extensively explain why the problem occurred and the known underlying reasons or behaviors that led to the situation (even if there is only partial information). Keep updating the findings.

Step #4 Affirmation: Talk about what you’ve learned from the situation and how it will influence your future present and future behavior. Unconditionally commit to regularly report additional information until it is all out or until public interest has ended.

Step #5 Declaration: An ongoing public commitment and discussion of specific, positive steps to be taken to conclusively address the issues and resolve the situation.

Step #6 Contrition: The continuing verbalization of regret, empathy, sympathy, even embarrassment. Take appropriate responsibility for having allowed the situation to occur in the first place, whether by omission, commission, accident, or negligence.

Step #7 Consultation: Promptly seek help and counsel from “victims,” government, the community of origin, independent observers, and even from your opponents. Involve directly and request the participation of those most affected to help develop more permanent solutions, more acceptable behaviors, and to design principles and approaches that will preclude similar problems from re-occurring. Seek, insist, and propose more oversight, restrictions, regulations, rules, and legislation.

Step #8 Commitment: Publicly set your goals at zero. Zero errors, zero defects, zero dumb decisions, and zero problems. Publicly promise that, to the best of your ability, situations like this will be prevented in the future. Disclose through Web site announcements and dashboards the diversity and intensity of the efforts.

Step #9 Restitution: Find a way to quickly pay the price. Make or require restitution. Go beyond community and victim expectations, and what would be required under normal circumstances to remediate the problem. Do more, talk productively.

The people from Toyota may indeed say they’re doing all of this, but if you read this algorithm structure carefully, they’re doing very little and skipping the really hard parts (the disclosure and the customer voice). The one thing we know for sure about situations like Toyota’s, the company will do every algorithm element – the way it’s presented here – for this nightmare to begin to end and go away. If the company starts sincerely and consciously doing all of these steps immediately, the tides will turn sooner rather than later. The behavior in the algorithm helps employees and those who rely on Toyota to have many more reasons to rally around the company.
Newspaper ads can be a fine gesture, though they often give the impression that more is being done then is actually accomplished because they’re so general and nonspecific. If you want to talk about accomplishments, do dashboards, including your data on customer attitudes and confidence. Talk is cheap. It is performance and action that matter most.

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