energizing breakthrough performance

Toyota Breakdown Linked to Decline of Mentoring

Author: ; Published: Feb 22, 2010; Category: Mentoring, Workforce Planning, Workforce Succession Planning; Tags: , , ; 3 Comments»

The Washington Post reported on February 13, 2010, that the “Toyota Way” was derailed in part because the company had thinned its ranks of expert mentors. The article quoted Susan Helper, a professor of economics at Case Western University in Cleveland, as follows: “So much of what made the company work well was that each manager was personally trained by a mentor who himself had long experience with the company.  When the fast expansion came, Toyota was very short of senior managers who were ready to become mentors.”

Whether you are dealing with explosive growth, constricted staffing, or simply the changing of the guard as a new generation replenishes the ranks, the Toyota story is instructive: Mentoring is not an HR frill to be dismissed lightly. Indeed, as the Toyota example demonstrates, sufficient high-quality mentoring is the make-or-break difference in ensuring continuity of quality and productivity as well as pivotal values and norms. Those who have brought success to an enterprise can and should pass the torch to those who will bring future success after the mentors have moved on. Effective mentoring is the passing of this torch of success–a torch that is not passed by accident or raw luck.

It takes several years to ramp up a quality mentoring program with an adequate stable of capable mentors. This cannot be done overnight. No mentoring “miracle-grow” exists. Fancy electronics won’t get it done either.

Mentoring is a long-term investment intended to yield long-term benefits and as such, it conflicts with day-to-day operating imperatives. Long-range initiatives are trumped regularly by the emergencies of the day. Those of us in the training business often hear “there is no good time for training.” This logic suggests that there is no good time for mentoring either. That said, ask Toyota if there is a good time for failing.

Once your mentoring program has developed momentum, it is essential that it be maintained adequately. This means ensuring that new mentors are cultivated and that legacy mentors are refreshed periodically. In addition, once target mentor-mentee ratios have been established for the workforce, an enterprise must ensure that these ratios are maintained properly.

We don’t know if quantitative and qualitative indicators of mentoring were Balanced Scorecard dashboard items at Toyota, but we surmise that Toyota now wishes that it had paid more attention to the maintenance of a mentoring program that was once the envy of its industry. “Short-Term Bottom-Line Fast Buck Freddy” companies don’t and won’t make the long-term investment that quality mentoring requires, but “Built to Last” companies will.

To ignore mentoring is to ignore the long-term interests of your stakeholders. Today’s choices surrounding mentoring are your strategic future. The strategic future is now.