Toyota sells more vehicles than any other manufacturer across the world and consistently earn outstanding quality and customer service rankings from the global market research company J.D. Power.

‘Kaizen’, meaning ‘continuous improvement’ is one of Toyota’s core values and is deeply embedded in Toyota’s cultural DNA. ‘Kaizen’ in practice means that staff across the organisation are tirelessly looking for ways to improve operations, and people at every level in the company to support the process of improvement.

With an incredible desire to continue to be second to none in customer experience, Toyota (GB) approached us for support to move them even further beyond the great customer experience they were already delivering.

Critical to driving the desired step change has been the delivery of our leadership development programme for their senior and middle managers. Historically, these participants have been exposed to various theories, courses and ‘traditional’ methods of leadership development. This time, Toyota was looking to achieve a real and tangible change in leadership performance.

Early on we worked alongside Toyota (GB) to understand the cause of the difference between where they were now and where they wanted to be and identified a number of key elements affecting this: the extent to which their staff genuinely felt empowered to do the right thing for the customer; how decisions got made; how they delegated work; how they had effective performance conversations; and how much their staff really engaged with the customer and thought about their individual needs.

Using focus groups of managers, we spent time exploring with them what got in the way of doing what they knew intellectually was the right thing to do to further enhance the customer experience. This early involvement really gained participant engagement and a sense that the leadership programme was going to add value - both to them personally as well as Toyota as an organisation.

The innovative ‘Leadership Moments’ approach we designed for Toyota (GB) was a practical and highly engaging way of helping their leaders make sustainable behavioural change in themselves and others. The programme provided the skills leaders at Toyota needed to succeed into the future, but more critically, we helped grow their thinking in order to lead more effectively.

One element of the innovative programme was the ‘Making it Real Event’. At this stage in the programme, participants had spent some significant time reflecting on their own behaviours and leadership style and how they managed themselves and others. We had given them opportunities to try things on for size, test them out and reflect on their effectiveness. Many were reporting that they were going back into the workplace and trying new ways of doing things – to good effect.

We wanted to build on this, and to focus participants beyond the boundaries of their team, to develop their ability to manage in ambiguity and complexity, to see the wider organisational picture and focus on delivering the strategy.

As well as challenging them intellectually we also wanted them to experience how they operated under the pressure of the work environment – how they interacted with others, how the organisational culture kicked in and whether they individually managed to sustain the behaviour changes they had already made. The Making it Real Event was a real test of their relational leadership skills – how they built networks, influenced without power and harnessed theirs and others’ skills and knowledge to achieve the task. Did they use and implement everything they’d learnt, or did they slip into old habits? What strategies did they use to ensure they didn’t?

The Making it Real Event was therefore designed to mimic the high pressure, complex work environment and we focused on a real business issue that was core to the organisation’s strategy – so that participants cared about it. They were given a real high pressure business challenge and required to present their strategy back to a group of Board Directors. We also wanted to give participants the opportunity to reflect on how they operated – developing their skills of reflective leadership. So the day was interspersed with reflective time and in the moment feedback from other participants as well as the observers.

The outcome of these events was really powerful both individually but also for the group collectively to understand their organisational culture and the ways of working.

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