Is Your Chapter/Region a GM or a Toyota?

December 4th, 2006 by bebersghost

Sit down and get comfortable. This is going to take a while. But trust me – it’s going to be worth it.

GM, or General Motors, was the largest car company in the world. They have one car in the top 11 in terms of quality (JD Powers). They lost 10.5 billion dollars last year.

Toyota is the largest car company in the world. They have 7 of the top 11 cars in terms of quality (including Lexus). They made 11.8 billion dollars last year.

Why is this?

  • Are Japanese smarter than Americans? No.
  • Do they work harder? No (many of those Toyotas are made by American workers in Toyota plans here in the U.S.).

So what is it?

One of the major reasons is simple: Management and Corporate culture.

What does this have to do with BBYO? After all, you’re not exactly in the car business, right?

Your chapter, your region and BBYO Inc. are organizations – groups of people who come together in an organized manner for a purpose.

Like any organization, its ability to accomplish that purpose depends on its internal management, organization and culture. The better your management and culture, the more likely your organization will succeed in its goals.

Today I’m going to show you where GM went wrong and where Toyota went right – and exactly how you can apply those lessons to BBYO. Some of what you read here will probably surprise you.

What Toyota Learned from America 

GM was founded in 1908 and grew to be the world’s largest auto maker by 1931. During this time it was organized based on the best management theories of the time. Their organization was very hierarchical – decisions made from higher up, with managers handling various jobs and responsibilities. BBYO was founded in 1923 – the same time period. And it too adopted the latest management theories of the time. Look at your chapter board – each position has its own area of responsibility, with an Aleph Godol or N’siah to coordinate their efforts.

Decisions in a hierarchical organization result from communication from top to bottom (board officers to Godol/N’siah) and from meetings to bring people together to discuss issues and solve problems (business meetings or management/board meetings). This was a good system for the time – given the limitations and cost of communications back then.

Now think of this: given how much the world has changed, what are the chances that management theory has advanced a bit since then? Pretty good, don’t you think? Here’s another question: Your chapter and region’s organization and communication flow is based on a system created in 1923. Has it advanced since then? To find out, let’s go back to the Toyota story.

After World War II, America sent management experts to Japan to help with their reconstruction. These experts brought with them the very latest management theories – theories that were NOT being adopted by GM or other American companies. But the Japanese, rebuilding from scratch, adopted them all.

The big one is called Kaizen, which roughly translates to “continuous improvement”. Those of you who live near to Kentucky can (and should) visit the Toyota plant in Georgetown. You’ll be able to see this process in action.

What is Kaizen?

The principles of Kaizen are as follows:

  • Everyone is responsible for improvement of the organization from the CEO (Godol/N’siah) to the lowest employee (prospective). Even people who are not traditionally part of the organization are part of Kaizen. These are called “Stakeholders” – people who have a stake in the success of the organization. For a chapter, the stakeholders include not just the members, but the advisor, prospectives, parents, local congregations and others.
  • Open Communications. Instead of hierarchical communications, horizontal communications occurs – groups of employees working on small groups, but with the ability to also communicate to the higher ups. In a chapter this reflects not only the ability of anyone to talk to the Godol or N’siah on any issue, but members forming formal and informal groups with members from all levels of the hierarchy to discuss issues.
  • Full Picture. Everyone has information on all aspects of the organization so they can understand the entire working of the organization. This helps them to come up with suggestions based on complete information.
  • Continuous Communications – Issues are dealt with immediately, not put off until formal meeting times. To give you an example – even the lowest employee at a Toyota plant has the ability to stop all manufacturing in the plant if he or she sees a problem.

Kaizen is probably the main reason Toyota is succeeding and GM is not. Oh, GM has learned a lot, and has gotten a lot better than it was. But Toyota continues to get even better yet.

Kaizen and Your Chapter

Does your chapter use Kaizen?

  • Does your chapter give responsibility to even the newest prospective? Does it listen to outside stakeholders such as parents or rabbis or even the managers of restaurants you frequent?
  • Do members and board members work together on tasks and projects where they see a need, without formal appointment or committees?
  • Does your chapter wait until business meetings to deal with issues, or are conversations happening continuously via Email, forums, IM, chat and phone?
  • Is your chapter leadership open about issues affecting the chapter so that anyone interested can find out anything going on (except for issues that are truly personal)?

If you do these things, you are practicing Kaizen, even if you don’t know it. And I’ll bet your chapter is amazing.

And if you aren’t doing these things, no matter how great your chapter is, Kaizen will make it better.

Modern technology makes Kaizen easy. Back when BBYO was started, communications was hard and expensive (phone calls were expensive, if you even had a phone), so you needed centralized communication flow and formal meetings. But today communication is free and easy and immediate – so of course management techniques have changed. And if you feel bad for GM, don’t worry about American business in general – newer companies (especially in technology) have such efficient communication that you can hardly spot a hierarchy at all.

Kaizen and Your Region

The chapter I work with practices Kaizen (though they don’t call it that). The region I work with does not. They are still largely stuck in the 1923 system. Regional board members communicate largely with counterparts. Motions are discussed just a few times a year, at a business meeting where there is hardly enough time for deliberate discussion.

In a Kaizen region, motions could be proposed at any time on an open forum. Every member from the newest member to chapter leaders could read them, comment on them, propose new language, and discuss the pros and cons. By the time a meeting came along, everyone would already be well versed with the issues and chances are the options would be clearly defined. A short discussion and debate would be sufficient for the region to make a final decision.

In a Kaizen region, everyone would have a clear idea of what regional board members were doing because they’d be blogging about it. Surveys would allow them to quickly get a sense of how members of the region felt about issues. Suggestions would be public, allowing others to contribute and build upon them rather than having them evaluated just by the region’s leaders.

(I’m being a bit hard on the leaders of my region – they actually understand this instinctively and are taking steps in the right direction. Part of my reason for writing this essay is to share with them a theoretical background they can use as they go forward with their plans. I’m about 90% certain they’ll see the connection, and I’m hoping others will as well).

Kaizen and International 

Does the international order practice Kaizen? Not yet. What they do practice very well (both youth leadership and staff) is what is called an “open door policy” – welcoming direct input from stakeholders to leaders. This is expressed in recent postings on B-Linked and international staff releases that invite direct feedback. Open door policies are very important and reflect an advance on classic management techniques, and BBYO’s leaders (youth and staff) have demonstrated a real commitment to it for which they are to be commended.

But it isn’t Kaizen – Yet.

The idea that members influence the order by first talking to their regional board members, then having those board members and delegates wait to discuss issues until International Convention (when time is limited and people often have other things on their minds), or that advisors raise issues to their regional directors, who then address issues at staff conference, simply doesn’t make sense in the 21st century. Even direct communication between members and leaders (vertical hierarchy) is not enough.

Conclusion 

BBYO has ambitious goals – important goals. The principles of Kaizen are hard to adopt – very hard – and there can be much trial and error along the way. But if the new BBYO is to be the “Toyota” of Jewish Youth groups (which I would love to see), it needs to change in more ways than just updated policies. Kaizen, and other modern management techniques, can work for any organization from the smallest chapter to the largest corporation.

I know this has been a long essay (and thank you for still reading). I hope you’ve found this helpful and encourage you to let others know about it. These ideas are not magic bullets – they won’t solve every problem. But by engaging all of the stakeholders of an organization and giving them the information and opportunity to work for the success of your organization, you increase your chances of success dramatically.

One Response to “Is Your Chapter/Region a GM or a Toyota?”

  1. bebersghost Says:

    Purists and management experts will recognize that I’ve taken some liberties in expressing Kaizen in the context of BBYO, incorporating other process and value based management theories under the Kaizen label and simplifying things considerably. But if you translate manufacturing quality to creating quality leaders and a quality youth group experience, I hope you’ll agree that it is not too great a stretch and my adoption of the term a reasonable interpretation. Oh, and if BBYO does become the Toyota of Jewish Youth Groups, put me down for a new car… jk

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