• Madani Sahari

Good work culture enhances carmakers’ competitiveness

PHENOMENAL successes attained by automotive giants are largely attributed to the work culture that is developed within their respective companies.

The employees of these companies are self-motivating and are largely self-directing, guiding themselves towards achieving the organisational objectives. This is their culture.

It is believed success of Toyota is due to the company being Japanese and that the Japanese culture is the driving force.

On the contrary, despite the Japanese cultured workers being gentle and obedient, experts' study found that Toyota tolerates and even creates "contradictions" in many aspects of its organisational operations. Employees are encouraged to contradict opinions and ideas at all levels.

Ethical contradictions among employees, whom are constantly faced with challenges and problems, create new ideas and thus drive Toyota's continuous improvement philosophy. The success of the Toyota Production System (TPS) is largely attributed to Totoya’s culture of contradictions.

Toyota sells cars in more than 170 countries, operates some 580 companies around the world and has more than 50 factories outside Japan.

Employing more than 330,000 workers around the world, Toyota, therefore is not entirely Japanese and with such diverse operations, it is the “Toyota Way” corporate culture that holds these operations together.

Volkswagen, Toyota’s rival, has a 513,000 –strong workforce that handle its global operations. The company is not only diverse in its manufacturing operations but more uniquely very diverse in its model range.

Audi, Sear, Skoda, Bently, Lamborgini, Ducati, Porsche, Bugatti, MAN and Scania are among the companies in Volkswagen’s stable.

Contrary to the Toyota ways, Volkswagen is less obsessed with its production lines and production methodologies. However, its group of companies remains efficient and productive and its total production has been able to surpass that of Toyota’s in recent years.

Volkswagen’s focus in largely on cost-saving through parts sharing between models and this has helped it to preserve, and continue to inculcate a culture of permanent innovation and a willingness to take risks among its workforce.

Its workers’ diligence and attention to detail are among its most sought-after and promoted values.

To help achieve these values improvement in “work-life balance” is being cultivated and is believed to be the motivating factor if its workplace efficiency.

It has established a culture that discouraged emailing and smartphone communication between employees during non-working hours.

Studies have shown that no less than 40 per cent of experienced high-level businessmen and managers suffer from burnout syndrome, due to prolonged working hours. Volkswagen pays close attention to this.

Malaysia’s automotive industry, employs some 550,000 workers, and is by size almost similar to both Toyota and Volkswagen. It is as diverse as Volkswagen, but does not share the privilege of having one leader.

As such, the national automotive culture is unfounded. Over the years, Malaysian industries have tried to emulate the Japanese work culture.

A Lean Production System (LPS) is widely practiced, which undoubtedly improves product quality and manufacturing efficiency, but adopting the practice as the normal working culture of a local car maker is still some distance away.

If the LPS trained personnel leaves the company, the practice simply fizzles off.

An advanced arsenal and complex strategy does not guarantee an army’s success on the battlefield. Its soldiers’ discipline, courage, morale and ability to wield the arsenal well is the key to victory.

The same can be said of the national automotive industry. A skilled and cultured automotive workforce is the determining factor of its competitiveness.

An excellent automotive work culture need to be inculcated in workers that are entering the diverse local automotive industry.

This calls for educators and trainers to emphasise more on building a solid work culture in their syllabi, and perhaps local anthropologists and sociologists to formulate and build a dynamic work culture for our fledgling automotive workforce.

The Malaysia Automotive Institute is slowly working towards this with its various training programmes.

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