A large, homemade poster vaguely reminiscent of a fifth grade class project is pasted to a classroom wall at the training center of the Toyota Motor Corp. assembly plant.
It shows two nearly life-size figures cut out of colored paper tending to a paper tree. But this is not an elementary school depiction of Arbor Day. The figures are Toyota workers, and the tree is a symbol of the cars that will be rolling off the Kentucky assembly line this summer.Written on the root of the tree is the Japanese word "kaizan." And this foreign concept is at the root of the Toyota training program that is re-educating their American workers in the fundamentals of the work ethic.
Kaizan is loosely translated as a constant restlessness and search for improvement. The word is heard constantly, in every classroom visited. And it is coming from the lips of the 750 workers hired so far and who are being trained to make cars the Toyota way.
"We have to blend two cultures," said John Allen, manager of training and development.
"We have to blend the Japanese culture, the Toyota culture, with the American culture, the Kentucky culture. This is our challange, to blend the values."
Eventually Toyota will have to blend the values of 3,500 American workers when the $1.1 billion plant reaches full production in 1991 of 200,000 cars a year. Most of the first hired will be supervisors, and most were sent to Japan for initial training.
The paper tree was made by trainees after they returned from Japan and were debriefed in Georgetown on what they had learned. The large classroom is ringed by different posters depicting the Toyota way of building cars.
In a smaller classroom, a Japanese instructor leads a class broken up into four groups in a problem-solving session. The American trainees discuss how they get their fellow workers to constantly look for improvement. Again, the word kaizan.
"It is very important," said Rodger Lewis, quality control manager who for 11 years made cars the German way for Volkswagen-Porsche-Audi before coming to Toyota.
"The Japanese philosophy is they always want to improve," Lewis said. "It's a bottom-up philosophy here, where at other places they are looking at things from the top down."
In another classroom, an American instructor talks to about 15 American men about how to get an employee to discuss ways to improve. The instructor stresses asking the right questions, and making sure both the worker and the supervisor are talking about the same thing. Two-way communication is the key.
"The Japanese believe, and we have come to believe, that the system of managing and dealing with people is a holistic system," Allen said.
But it must be the right sort of people. In screening the more than 100,000 people who applied for jobs at the huge plant, Toyota looked more to personality than experience.
"We are looking for a desire to learn and an ability to work with others," said Sam Heltman, human resources manager. "They are called team members and they must have good interpersonal skills."
But to be a team member may also require not being a union joiner. While Toyota officials say they are not looking to screen out pro-labor applicants, they have made it clear they will not open their arms to any union's organizational efforts.
"Whether or not the employees are represented by a union, that would be an individual's decision, not one of Toyota's," Heltman said.
And yet Heltman admitted that applicants are questioned on how they have dealt with problems with past employers. Heltman traced the source of that question back to the Toyota method of building cars.