For this series about the crossover wisdom between work and life I talked to Heidi Gehris. Heidi is Senior Manager of lean strategy and marketing within the heathcare consulting practice at Moss Adams and a certified lean workshop leader.
HOW THE TOYOTA MANAGEMENT SYSTEM APPLIES TO LIFE
The Toyota Management System (TMS, also known as the Toyota Production System) offers an alternative to an ad hoc approach to daily work and life, which can be chaotic when you don’t know your priorities. It becomes something like a religion, or martial arts, with rituals that you practice regularly.
The pillars of TMS are continuous improvement and respect for people. On a personal level that foundation provides strength to get through the disorder of day-to-day life, to continuously improve, and to look back while recognizing that it’s ok to make mistakes. We all make mistakes and try to improve.
The mindset helps me set priorities that align with who I want to be as a person. Knowing what your priorities are enables you to move more nimbly through life. For example, it’s always a challenge to make everyday decisions about balancing a career and raising a family. The question might be as simple as: Am I going to work tonight, or spend time with my family? TMS practices help me make those decisions deliberately, either way, and feel good about it.
One of the most valuable ideas from TMS is genchi genbutsu, a method of empirical observation that means going and seeing for oneself. It requires not relying on past knowledge, as well as patience and humility. You have to recognize what you don’t know and “go and see” to really understand the current situation.
For example, a friend recently received a job offer. He was about to take the job when I coached him to first visit the city and see the situation. He ended up learning some valuable information that helped him make a decision that was right for him, and he declined the job!
TOOLS FOR EVERYDAY LIVING
TMS provides a foundation for clear decision-making and the tools provide ways to work through any issues and questions that arise. An A3, for example, provides a structure for problem solving. It starts with figuring out what you want the end state to be then figuring out how you’re going to get there. To do that you have to fully understand the current state and root causes, then do a gap analysis. Breaking a problem down this way leads to an action plan to move forward with control and focus.
Then there’s the 5 whys. Problems can have root causes that you don’t immediately consider. After making an error at work asking the 5 whys enabled me to reflect back on it and realize the underlying cause and ensure that it doesn’t happen again.
I’ve used the 5S methodology (sort, set in order, shine, standardize, sustain) for organizing and controlling our household inventory of items like toilet paper, tissues, and so on. 5S is about having just what we need where we need it and using visual signals, like a dirty/clean sign on the dishwasher. We posted a visual guide for turning off the gas to the house in the case of an earthquake next to the tool at the gas meter with red tape indicating the position in which the valve needs to be when turned off.
Similarly, hoshin planning [also known as “hoshin kanri”] grounds you in what’s really important. I created a personal X-matrix to focus on my goals and values. When faced with a quandary like inviting a relative passing through town to stay with my family at an inconvenient time, I asked myself if not inviting her to stay really aligned with my objective: “Experience and support extended family.” The tool helped me see and make the right decision.
I love that you can apply these tools to life. They make an organization or a family more agile and connected, and ground you in what’s really important.
References and Recommended Reading
Crossover Wisdom is about the leadership and management theories, practices, and experiences that have had a positive impact on our lives beyond work. To receive updates when we post new interviews follow me on LinkedIn.
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I am an independent leadership and management writer, editor, researcher and journalist. For the past ten-plus years (wow, has it been that long already?) I have helped business leaders and companies tell powerful stories.
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