Have Toyota’s Managers Lost Respect for Their Workers?

A key principle of lean is respect for people, and I generally regard Toyota as better than most of its competitors in following that principle. Therefore, I’m a bit puzzled by recent reports of steps Toyota is taking to address the current slowdown in business.

The actions being taken are not confusing on their face. Toyota announced it would reduce production in Japan and reduce management bonuses.

Toyota didn’t say how much it would save by cutting bonuses. The amount is probably not huge, and I suspect that action is somewhat symbolic. Nothing wrong with that. Symbols can be important. With this one, Toyota is saying managers, not just line workers, must sacrifice.

What troubles me is that Toyota said its 10-percent cut of bonuses for 8,700 managers in Japan excludes top executives.

Why exclude top executives? None of the news stories I’ve seen about the announcement explains this.

The Toyota announcement isn’t receiving major coverage. It is understandably overshadowed by the spectacle of the CEOs of the Detroit automakers appearing in Washington again to beg for bailout money. (Don’t get me started.)

But on the surface, it certainly appears that Toyota is giving its top managers special and preferential treatment. And that appears disrespectful to the thousands of lower-level employees.

Perhaps there are good reasons for the exclusion. If so, I’d like to hear them.

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