Toyota and the power of leverage

Mike Wroblewski, Batesville Casket Company
Tags: lean manufacturing

The great Greek mathematician and engineer Archimedes (c. 287 BC – c. 212 BC) once remarked on his work with levers, provided he had a lever big enough, just “Give me a place to stand on, and I will move the Earth.” This boastful claim was based on his experimentation of the power of leverage.

A lever helps us multiply force to gain a mechanical advantage, or more simply, the ability to do more with less. With the length of the lever and a properly placed fulcrum (the support point for the lever to raise or move), we gain an advantage in our effort.

Based on this power, not only can we leverage our effort, we can leverage practically anything like money, knowledge and contacts. Leverage makes things work for us, and we get more output with less effort. As simple as this notion sounds, many of us tend to stumble over what this means and how it works. Sometimes we are quick to take effort away and expect more results without changing the method or tool, which only results in us working harder. From a lean application, the power of leverage to do more with less is deeply embedded in our thinking.

What does Toyota use as leverage? At a glance, there are many ways Toyota creates leverage, including its quality, reputation, brand name, cash flow, innovation and design. But the company’s greatest asset is its people, and Toyota uses this strength as its largest lever of all.

One powerful example of Toyota’s leverage with its people is by teaching, coaching and expecting everyone to be problem-solvers. More problems are solved in a shorter period of time. By comparison, many companies fail to match Toyota’s problem-solving skill not because of a lower intelligence level but because we make problem-solving an exclusive activity of managers and engineers.

People create, innovate and experiment. People learn and think. People create value. Robots and machines do not. Like Toyota, we say that our people are our greatest asset, yet we are also quick to cut headcount to make our quarterly or year-end numbers. With each headcount reduction and layoff announcement, we proclaim a cost savings. But, all we are really doing is shorting our lever.

About the author:
Mike Wroblewski started his lean journey with instruction in quick die change from Shigeo Shingo. Mike is currently the lean sensei at Batesville Casket Company in Batesville, Ind.