The Eroded Trust of Toyota

 Toyota’s recent woes with automobile manufacturing defects and the dragging of their feet in responding to the resulting safety and customer issues has left a lot of people feeling cold right now.  This, combined with the record brisk temps we’ve been having anyway  is wreaking havoc on the car buying public and our collective psyche. 

Well, maybe I’m the only one who’s collective psyche is cold.  

 John Rosevear of the The Motley Fool points out that the problem really isn’t so much the safety issues, which are bad and need fixing, but more with the “company’s longtime pattern of responding to problems with a mix of denial and foot shuffling.”

 And apparently it is going to get worse. 

John goes on to say that,

 “Officials in high places in the U.S. are getting cranky…on Tuesday [February 16th], the Department of Transportation ordered Toyota to turn over documents related to various safety issues.  That may not sound like a big deal, but it is — the DOT is aggressively looking for evidence that Toyota knew of safety defects but didn’t take appropriate action. And if they find that evidence? Oh boy.”

Suddenly, it’s getting hot in here.

Many companies have faced recalls – I distinctly remember Johnson & Johnson’s recall of its Tylenol product  as I worked for The Southland Corporation (parent company of  7-ELEVEN food stores) at the time and in the absence of our area manager had to tell our franchise owners to remove the analgesic from the shelves.  Bad situation.  Good decision.

But the product recall itself is not the entire issue; the more important issue is how the company deals with the recall. 

Which really is trust, isn’t it  — customer trust in whether or not it is safe to purchase the company’s products, and employee trust in whether or not leadership is upfront in walking the talk.

J&J’s doing a great job.  Toyota’s not.

The president of Toyota’s Georgetown, KY plant says company workers are taking the series of recalls personally.

Of course they are.

It seems that Toyota built its reputation on excellence, reliability, customer service and value.  But the company values listed on its website say:  “We believe…in hard work…that good neighbors make good company and vice versa…that the world is getting bigger, but resources aren’t…in the value of diversity – it’s what makes life interesting.”

I don’t about you, but I don’t take away anything about integrity and trust from those values.  Maybe they are implied, but if company leadership refuses to accept responsibility for its mistakes and doesn’t even acknowledge that trust and integrity are important components of doing business, then what can employees believe in?

Now, I’m not saying that if it’s not written down, it doesn’t exist.  But we do know that mutual trust is a critical factor in the employer-employee relationship.  If trust exists, employees have a pretty good idea of what company life they can expect and how the company will behave.  When that trust has been breached, as it has been with Toyota, that relationship changes dramatically.

Or maybe the relationship really wasn’t there to begin with.

The best way to maintain trust is to keep from breaking it in the first place.  Leadership integrity, as demonstrated by behavior, is crucial.  That’s Leadership 101.

So, it really is not just Toyota’s products that need to be recalled; I think it’s also time to recall its leadership.


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