An independent panel of corporate, government, academic, and non-profit experts established by Toyota a year ago just released a report saying the company needs to "loosen" its tightly-controlled structure to give more autonomy to its North American operations and take a more open view on safety and quality issues raised by "external" sources.
The North American Quality Advisory Panel document A Road Forward: The Report of the Toyota North American Quality Advisory Panel focuses on three main issues:
Balance between global and local management control
"Toyota was out of balance—it centered too much control in Japan and gave its North American operations inadequate decision-making authority to handle quality and safety problems affecting vehicles in North America." The company has already provided North American operations with more autonomy and decision-making authority.
Response to problems raised by internal and external sources
The company had a "stellar reputation" for quality thanks to an internal problem-solving process to find and fix manufacturing defects with speed and efficiency, the report notes. But a more "comprehensive" approach is needed in response to issues raised by "external" sources, such as customers and regulators. "Toyota sometimes responds less constructively, often with defensiveness, to criticism form outside sources," the report says. [Ed. Note: Could this be partly attributed to a cultural trait of "saving face?"]
Management responsibilities for quality and safety at Toyota
The panel was concerned the company did not have a chief safety officer with responsibility for company-wide safety—only a chief quality officer. While Toyota regarded safety as part of its quality process, with everyone responsible for safety, the group felt such a philosophy could have led to the realizing the old adage, "When everybody is responsible, nobody is accountable." The panel recommended, and the company has appointed, a Chief Safety Technology Officer whose "job description is still in development, [but] an important step in the right direction."
The panel had a strong aerospace engineering component with the presence of Norm Augustine, former head of Lockheed Martin and Sheila Widnall, aerospace engineering professor at MIT and former U.S. Secretary of the Air Force. Also in the group were Rodney Slater (chairman) U.S. Secretary of Transportation (1997-2001), and Brian O'Neill, former president of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.