How Healthcare Can Take A Page From The Automotive Industry

3 Lessons Healthcare Leaders Can Learn from GM & Toyota's Joint Venture

Last year, we published an article on the 13 business lessons leaders could learn from the Toyota General Motors Joint Venture. Our readers can’t stop talking about the article (read it here), so we decided to pull the top leadership lessons for healthcare professionals and push them here. These lessons, all captured from how General Motors and Toyota worked together to rescue an auto manufacturing plant in Fremont, California will make your career, or company, better.

According to Frank Langfitt from the This American Life podcast, GM’s Fremont plant “was considered the worst workforce in the United States. Everything in the plant was a fight, strikes all the time, and chaos constantly." Listen to the full report here.

It got so bad for GM that they literally sent 30 of the Fremont employees to Japan to learn how to streamline their assembly line as a last ditch effort to save the plant. These are timeless principles, and the connections between NUMMI and healthcare are profound.

1. Show true humility by offering help, because you’ll need it to build a team

While in Japan, the Americans wanted to show the Japanese workers what they could do in the same timeframe as the Japanese, but they were slow in their daily work.

While they were at the plant, a Toyota worker would come over and say, "Do you want me to help?" This never happened at the GM plant. The Japanese knew how to work as a team, and that meant helping anyone who needed it.

Take away for healthcare leaders: No matter your title or role, don’t be too proud to ask someone else, “Do you want me to help with that?”

2. Don’t be too proud to ask for help too

If there was a problem at Toyota that was slowing down the process, employees helped each other. Executives would approach the group and ask, "What are your ideas for improvement so we don't have the problem again?"

The Americans were shocked at the executive team’s responsiveness at Toyota, because they were not used to higher ups actually listening to them from the line.

Take away: Improve systems by listening to the feet on the ground. If clinical improvement, listen to the floor nurses; if patient care conditions, ask the CRNAs. Don’t believe us? Check out this study.

3. Learn Kaizen, the Japanese principle of continuous improvement

If the assembly line stopped at GM, executives believed the workers would take advantage of the company, but this simply didn't happen. Toyota was different: they believed in Kaizen, the principle of continuous improvement.

Toyota’s goal was to streamline their processes down to the second for the quickest automotive manufacturing system in the world. So they made mats to stand on, cushions for kneeling on, shelves to organize with—whatever it took to make an efficient process. The philosophy behind this is called Kaizen, the Japanese principle of continuous improvement.

Take away: Learn Kaizen and always look for ways to improve your processes as a healthcare leader and professional. This requires humility, so be ready to swallow your pride as you improve.

So, how have you seen these lessons apply to your worklife? Share your story in the comments below.