If you’re ever in the Georgetown, Kentucky area, I recommend that you take a tour of the Toyota plant. It’s a hard place to miss: an 8.1 million square feet factory that employs 8,000 “team members” and makes nearly 2,000 Avalons, Camrys or Lexuses every day. It is the largest Toyota plant in the world.

Observations from my visit:

> While there are parts of the car that are made using gigantic robots, far more work is done manually than I would have guessed. Except for the main chassis, people assemble everything by hand, and then it is all inspected manually as well. To avoid monotony or repetitive stress injuries, crews rotate every two hours to tasks that involve different muscle movements.

> The human element allows for instantaneous quality checks. There is a rope that can be pulled to stop the assembly line if any defect is discovered, but rather than sounding an alarm or a tone that is inherently negative, pulling the cord results in “a tune” that resembles a chime that could be from a children’s toy. We heard the tune several times during our tour.

> Employee comments are taken seriously. One example is a seat that allows the operator to rotate while doing a job, rather than continually standing then sitting. This was suggested by an employee who suggested they needed something like the seat in his bass fishing boat, and that is exactly what it now looks like!
> Toyota seems to measure everything. There were charts and graphs and printouts posted on large bulletin boards by each process station, overhead, near the assembly line and just about everywhere there was a blank space. 
> The plant is in the process of doubling in size, meaning the need for 8000 more workers from an area that is not densely populated. I think this is partly what motivates Toyota to be a responsive employer, offering 24-hour child care, a pharmacy, on-site doctor’s office, nature trails, a fitness center and on-site college classes.

> And in addition to the intangibles, there is a tremendous amount of visible Kentucky pride. Even though our group filled four trams, and tours are offered three or four times each day, people treated us as if we were the only ones who had ever shown interest in their plant. Many people waved as the tram toured their area in the factory and seemed genuinely pleased to have us there. The Kentucky logo was visible everywhere — it was very clear that you were at Toyota Motor Manufacturing, Kentucky, Inc. (TMMK) and not just anywhere.

If Toyota can build pride in an 8000 member workforce and quality in an assembly line that moves almost continuously, what can you learn from them to enhance your organization? Hint: start by identifying, with excruciating specificity, the outcomes that matter and communicate those widely!

beth triplett

The first Camry built in Kentucky, 1988

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