Research Paper: Knowledge Management: A Toyota

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Knowledge Management: A Case Study of Toyota

Knowledge management is a system capable of making comparisons, analyzing trends, and presenting historical and current Knowledge. But more importantly, such a system enables decision makers to analyze and understand the patterns quickly and identify the most significant trends. It is needed in an enterprise because it provides an accurate predictive method for decision makers. In addition, a knowledge management system can track and evaluate key critical success factors for decision makers, which is valuable in assessing whether or not the organization is meeting its corporate objectives and goals. Overall, a knowledge management system can assist decision makers in making better informed decisions that affect all aspects of a company's operations (Dalkir, 2005).

Toyota allegedly had just such a system in place. However there was clearly a major flaw in the system early in 2010, which resulted in safety issues that led to negative publicity, a tarnished reputation and being forced to suspend eight of its most popular car models. So what happened at Toyota, and what could have been done differently? Perhaps more importantly, what can Toyota do now to prevent similar problems in the future? These are the questions this research project will attempt to answer and analyze.

Background

For decades, the quality of leadership and innovation in the automobile industry has been equated with Japan. Even in light of massively funded and channeled campaigns to get U.S. .citizens to "Buy American," American auto manufactures have long been criticized as being inferior to the Japanese manufacturers. However, Toyota's recent troubles have cast a new light on the situation, causing many people to rethink the trust they have placed in the Japanese automaker. In January of 2010, Toyota was forced to recall eight models, and stop selling them, because of a faulty accelerator that had the potential of sticking when depressed, which is obviously a major safety hazard. This has debacle has cost Toyota money, prestige and consumer trust. Although the company posted a $1.7 million profit for their fourth quarter in 2009, "the suspension of U.S. sales of eight of its most popular models and repair costs are expected to undermine earnings in the current quarter" ("Toyota Posts," 2010, par. 3).

Toyota has been praised for its Total Production System (TPS) strategy for decades. The company runs on 14 principles which are outlined in Appendix a. Many of these principles are rooted in the concepts of knowledge management. For example, Principle 9 reads "Grow leaders who thouroughly understand the work, live the philosophy, and teach it to others"; and Principle 12 reads "Become a learning organization though relentless reflection (hansei) and continuous improvement (kaizen)." Toyota certainly seemed to be on the right track in its organizational strategies, yet somewhere along the line, something went off the rails. By applying various models of knowledge management (KM) as outlined by Dalkir (2005) it may be possible to figure out where Toyota went wrong, and what the company can do to get itself back on track.

KM Models

The following chart briefly compares the four primary models discussed in chapter 3 of Knowledge Management in Theory and Practice:

Name of model

What does it state?

Positives

Negatives

Von Krogh and Roos KM Model

Knowledge management is both an individual and interaction-oriented strategy. The model adopts a "connectionist" approach: "Everything known is know by somebody" (Dalkir, 2005, p. 51)

Promotes group sharing of knowledge and provides a solid connectionist model.

Is inflexible in terms of perceiving knowledge as abstract

Nonaka and Takeuchi Knowledge Spiral Model

Metaphors, slogans and symbols spur organizational innovation. Also, everything is connected and part of a larger entity. Therefore knowledge is "group knowledge" however, "knowledge creation begins with the individual" (Dalkir, 2005, p. 52)

Provides a well established and often used framework for knowledge conversion in terms of explicit and tacit knowledge.

The eight emergent characteristics for company survival are vague and generic.

Choo and Weik Model

Sense-making is imperative for knowledge creation and effective decision-making.

Provides a viable explanation of how chaos turns to order.

This is a holistic model but it does not account for abstract interactions.

Wiig Model

"In order for information to be useful and valuable, it must be organized" (Dalkir, 2005, p. 61). Completeness, connectedness, congruency and perspective/purpose are the model's four primary dimensions.

Emphasizes the importance of the individual knowledge worker

The perspective and purpose dimension needs further development

In attempting to analyze Toyota from a KM perspective it is important to apply these models, and their various aspects. Several themes that cropped up frequently in the discussion of all of these models are 1) the knowledge worker; 2) Organizational development; and 3) Knowledge exchange.

The Knowledge Worker

A great deal is being said and written about the knowledge worker of today, about a workplace with workers who constantly shift among employers, are continually being retrained, or have to upgrade their skills on their own. Although much of this is true, the popular view tends to treat the new workforce as a one-dimensional entity and obscures the subtleties and complex demands of the work world. According to Davenport (2005) "knowledge workers have high degrees of expertise, education, or experience, and the primary purpose of their jobs involves the creation, distribution, or application of knowledge" (p. 10). Thus from this perspective, a stability and long-term dedication to learning is a process is imperative. As such, it is difficult to view the knowledge worker as transient or ephemeral, despite the notion that many may expect to stay on board with a company only as long as it takes to enhance their marketability and boost their salary. Ultimately, a true knowledge worker wants to use what they have learned for the betterment of the organization which has fostered that learning.

Knowledge workers thrive on change, but that does not mean that they need to switch employers every few years. It simply means that they need to apply their knowledge to a variety of scenarios within their chosen workplace. Change is, of course, a major component of learning. In fact, in Handy's (1985) view, change can be described as another word for learning; that is, organizations that undergo change of a cultural nature can be described as going through the learning process. The learning organization is explained by Handy as having two meanings. It can mean an organization which learns and it can mean an organization that encourages learning in its people. Either way, this 'learning mindset' should ideally foster successful organizational development.

A true knowledge worker is one that has a long-term commitment to their field, to their organization, and to learning in general. He is dedicated to applying his ongoing acquirement of knowledge to his present environment because this is where he feels it will be the most beneficial. He also feel a sense of loyalty to his organization and feels duty-bound to put back into the organizational knowledge bank more than he has taken out of it (Lord & Brown, 2001).

According to DeTienne et al. (2004), Chief Knowledge Officers (CKOs) must interact with the organizational culture in such a way that "human barriers associated with knowledge creation, transfer and sharing" can be overcome. They note that despite the inherent ambiguity of the CKO's role, "Chief Knowledge Officers are at the heart of KM processes" and therefore for must be adequately prepared to meet the changing goals and functions of the modern organization.

Working in the field of automobile manufacturing requires a level of critical thinking for the knowledge worker that extends beyond that of some other fields. Because automotive technology changes so quickly, there is always more to learn; New knowledge makes old knowledge obsolete all the time. For this reason, leaders in the field have come to understand that to become a knowledge worker in the true sense of the term requires flexibility, adaptability and strong critical thinking skills (Lawler, 2005).

An example of how Toyota has promoted the idea of the knowledge worker can be seen in their use of simulations and assessment as training approaches for their e-learning training programs. Toyota has employed simulations as a means of providing workers with hands-on instruction in soft skills needed for conducting sales activities. The training program was developed based on the philosophy that content must be relevant, instruction must be learner driven, and training must be convenient and cost effective (Kelly & Nanjiani, 2005).

The training system allows workers to access a module-based system that provides instruction and hands-on experience in preparing sales presentations, creating project plans, and learning problem-solving skills. Simulations based on real-life scenarios are used as a training and assessment tool in customer service, business management, sales, and other areas that are aligned with the Toyota's organizational goals, culture, and work environment. The training program provides a safe learning environment where workers can receive personal assessment and instruction. The implementation of simulation-based training has increased worker performance and productivity (Kelly & Nanjiani, 2005).

To maintain the quality of the program and… [END OF PREVIEW]

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