“Before cars, make people.” – Eiji Toyoda, former chairman of Toyota.

Jidoka is one of the core principles of the Toyota Production System, one that empowers production workers to stop the assembly line and solve problems at the moment they occur. Jidoka integrates the two guiding pillars of the Toyota Way, “Continuous Improvement” and “Respect for People.”

Recently, Toyota has suffered some major blows to its reputation. Toyota’s failure to quickly respond to incidents resulted in the recall of millions of vehicles, millions of dollars in fines levied by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), individual and class-action lawsuits, and damage to the Toyota brand name. Because of the problems, Toyota could see a financial loss of more than $10 billion.

I believe that the financial and human consequences of the safety issues could have been greatly minimized had Toyota practiced zenjidoka, a new word meaning “total jidoka.” Instead of confining jidoka to the factory floor, zenjidoka extends jidoka to every employee who has any contact with the customer. When an employee hears directly or indirectly about a customer problem, that employee is empowered to use his or her knowledge, skills and judgment to immediately take action, even if that action means going against company policy or procedures.

Had Toyota customer service personnel and technicians been empowered by zenjidoka, they could have raised a red flag, communicated with each other across dealerships, and solved the company’s problems much sooner.

With zenjidoka, employees thousands of miles away from corporate headquarters have the trust of management to make timely and necessary decisions to solve customer problems. This unprecedented level of management respect has two powerful effects:

1) The immediate attention to a customer’s problem by the first person contacted becomes a competitive advantage, building long-term customer loyalty and creating a word-of-mouth grapevine that’s more effective at winning new customers than any marketing, advertising or incentive campaign.

2) This unprecedented level of management respect for the skills and judgment of the customer-facing workforce builds employee self-confidence, loyalty and, most importantly, self-reliance.

Self-reliance might seem like an old-fashioned concept in this age of Google, where help is a click away, but for zenjidoka to be effective, employees must be self-reliant. To teach self-reliance, the best method I have found is the Harada Method.

The Harada Method – A Lesson in Self-Reliance

In March, on my 78th trip to Japan, I took a course from Mr. Takashi Harada on the Harada method. Mr. Harada is a former middle-school teacher who is now revered as a genius in Japan at helping people develop the skills to define and accomplish meaningful, rewarding and self-fulfilling personal goals. He began his career as a teacher and track and field coach in perhaps the worst junior high school in Osaka, Japan, where students believed they had little chance to achieve academic and athletic success.

Mr. Harada believed that what the school needed was a method to change the students’ attitudes, and three years after he began teaching at the school, the school had changed from the worst to one of the best. Thirteen of his students won gold medals in the national track and field competitions. This was like winning the Olympics. In addition, the entire school was improved academically.

To achieve this success, each student was taken through the Harada method to become self-reliant, to work out his and her own personal plan for success. The children learned to establish their own goals, to work out their own plans to attain the goals, to evaluate their progress toward their goals, and to do the necessary work to develop themselves to achieve these goals. The students were taught how to do all of this on their own, because, in Mr. Harada’s own words, “the Harada method is a means to achieve self-reliance.”

Monozukuri and Hitozukuri, the Heart of Zenjidoka

When we were with him in March, Harada also taught us about monozukuri and hitozukuri, which are the heart of “respect for people.” Together, they form a secret recipe to enable domestic Japanese and United States manufacturers to compete against low-cost labor in China, India, Indonesia and other emerging countries.

Monozukuri is a term that can be best translated as “the process of creating superior products through pride of workmanship, manufacturing excellence and continuous improvement.” Its closest English equivalent is “craftsmanship,” which suggests that the work product is a labor of love, one that requires an extremely high level of skill that might take a lifetime to master. This high level of skill is achieved through hitozukuri.

Hitozukuri is an organization’s commitment to lifelong development of the skills and knowledge of all employees. Denso, one of Toyota’s major suppliers, has a saying, “monozukuri is hitozukuri.” In other words, monozukuri (product excellence) cannot be achieved without hitozukuri (people excellence).

To achieve hitozukuri, masters from inside and outside the organization provide the lifelong training and mentoring of employees. This enables the employees to:

  • Learn new skills and technology to increase their value to the organization
  • Become “masters” of their current positions and serve as mentors to more junior employees
  • Advance within the company to positions requiring new knowledge and skill sets
  • Develop a level of self-confidence and self-reliance that grows over time
  • Create and implement ideas to improve work processes and the organization as a whole

“The Kaizen system of incremental improvement owes much to traditional Japanese craftsmen. No one sits down and teaches an apprentice all the techniques he needs to become a master. He starts out as a minarai, and learns by watching. First, he is given menial jobs around the workshop. After a time, if someone calls in sick, he may get the chance to do a trivial part of the process. Later, he may purchase his own tools and try things out in his spare time. He gradually gains more responsibility. At no time does the master specifically “teach” him anything. It is up to the apprentice to “steal the art,” to figure out for himself what the master is doing to get the right results. Over time, the apprentice develops a technique like the masters but also all his own. Each person sees the process with a fresh eye, observing the master but learning for himself how to make the process work.” – Japan Intercultural Consulting

Building Hitozukuri with the Harada Method

How can organizations create a hitozukuri structure for the lifelong development of employees, making sure that every employee is successful no matter what positions they hold and what challenges they face? My study of the Harada method over the past two years, along with my personal correspondence and training seminars with Mr. Harada, have convinced me that the Harada method provides a structure and a process for hitozukuri, enabling every employee to learn and be successful.

Today, many Japanese companies are using the Harada method as a key process to achieve lifelong learning and continuous improvement. The Harada method teaches that people can be successful in life, if they first identify and embrace a goal to drive them forward. The method provides a disciplined, rigorous process for learning and achieving success for every position at every level.

Bring Passion to Your Work

Too many people sleepwalk through life, never having a career, a trade or even a hobby that brings them passion, excitement and enthusiasm. Just to survive, they take jobs they don’t like, that are full of stress, that don’t bring satisfaction or self-esteem. There’s nothing wrong with this in the short term – we all have to feed and shelter our families and ourselves. What is wrong is that they don’t have a plan to get to where they really want to be, to put them in a job or a career where they can do what they really want to do.

For most people, identifying this goal is not easy. In fact, when I asked my 29 current students at Portland State University about their futures, only one student had a concrete career goal. All of the other students, mostly seniors, were going to school to learn and get a degree, but they did not know what they really wanted to do to succeed in life. Their only goal was to convince some company to give them a good job, and they had no plan that could align their own passions with any future career.

Everyone should have a passion for what they do. Their goal should be to find that passion and learn from a master, to “steal the art” from them and surpass his or her achievements.

Ask yourself:

  • Do I feel passionate about my job?
  • Do I look forward to going to work every day?
  • Do I have difficulty containing my enthusiasm when someone asks what I do for a living?

If you answered “no” to any of these questions, the Harada method can help you realign your life so that your passion translates into career and personal success.

The First Steps of the Harada Method – Choosing Your Goals

To get started with the Harada Method, pick something you want to master.

When you have picked something, write down 10 variations of the idea and ask your family, friends and your superior at work for their input. After a week of reflection, pick one of the variations and write down your timeframe. This can range from one year to many years from now. The important thing is to set a date.

Next, pick an intermediate goal, something to accomplish in the next three months. When you have that written down, pick a current goal, something that you can achieve this month.

Setting your long-term, intermediate and short-term goals are the first steps of the Harada method. Once you pick something and learn to follow the process every day, you will be successful. The beauty of the method is that no one tells you what you need to do. It is truly up to you.

The Harada Method and Zenjidoka

Companies that want to extend quality beyond the factory walls and implement zenjidoka need to have employees who are skilled enough that they can be trusted with the autonomy to identify and solve customer problems. The development of excellent employees, or hitozukuri, is necessary to make zenjidoka work. The Harada method provides a framework to help companies and individuals develop their knowledge and skills to this level. The method is a step-by-step process that also aligns personal and professional goals, providing motivation for anyone who undertakes it.

Mr. Harada teaches that “if you believe in yourself and are willing to work hard this year, I guarantee you can succeed in life.” Mr. Harada has taught more than 50,000 people in Japan, and it is my privilege to teach his self-reliance method in the West.

About the Author