Home > Performance Management > Toyota, Herd Mentality, and HR

Toyota, Herd Mentality, and HR

Let me start by saying that my sincere sympathies go out to anyone who has been harmed in any way by the Toyota accelerator/floor mat issues.  It sucks you’ve been hurt and I hope appropriate reconciliation will come your way…if even possible.  Having said that…

Would all you other crazy-hypersensitive-sky is falling-little ninny nanny-overly judgmental-freakazoids please just cool it?  This is a perfect example of how the general public is prone to media hysteria, hypnosis, and herd mentality.  Here’s a company that did the auto industry a favor: it injected a competitive life into the increasingly arrogant and complacent Big 3 and in the process brought 10’s of thousands of jobs to the US (their Direct Investment in the US has grown to $17 Billion and they spend $29 Billion annually with US companies).  Think of all the cars this company has put on the roads in the US over the last 53 years (27 million Toyotas on the road in the US right now) and then…this.  The media gets a hold of it, the American public cries “foul,” and the next thing you know the company is projected to lose somewhere in the neighborhood of $2B by the time this is all said and done.  And for what?  Toyota owners have a better chance of killing themselves by slipping in the shower (2,300:1) than they do having even an issue (not a fatal one) with their faulty accelerators or floor mats (13,500:1).  Check it out.

One of the hardest things you’ll ever do as an HR professional is take a stand on an employee’s performance, suggest they “aren’t done yet,” and insist that you (all) have an obligation to at least try and salvage their career with the organization.  This is easy enough to do when you have some employment law risk to fall back on.  But try it when the mob is forming, when quick-judgment has already been passed, and some loud mouth is crying “foul.”  If HR professionals went along with the herd every time performance came into question, our “Grim Reaper” moniker would be well deserved.  We go out of our way to understand the dynamics at play, we gather facts, we interpret the data, and we always perform a risk analysis.  History (track record) is considered.  Multiple view points and diverse perspectives are sought.  And ultimately a recommendation is made.  But we always start with the benefit of the doubt…don’t we?  Don’t we begin with the premise that people make mistakes, that no one is perfect, that flawless performance is fleeting, and that every one should be given another (and another) chance?  And more than anything, we hate the “either/or” solution and always look for the “and/both” solution…

Why do Americans suck at this?  There are solutions to this problem, their are a number of models not subject to the issues, the company will pay for the fix, and it’s not like they are going to put new cars on the market that have the same issue.  To any one who is thinking some semblance of “I really like Toyota but now there’s no way I’m buying one,” you’re a doo doo head.  I just hope you’re not an HR professional too.

  1. February 4, 2010 at 6:30 am

    This topic is wrought with so many issues that piss me off, I don’t even know where to begin:

    – media coverage of accidents in Tampa now report when the accident involves a Camry or a Prius.

    – Ray LaHood is a dick and our car company owning givernment are looking like market manipulating assholes, violating all sorts of implied principles

    – the people on Twitter using social media to roast Toyota, and suggest solutions and bla bla bla

    Full disclosure: I have never owned a Toyota. I own a Saab. They did interview me for an HR job once, and turned me down because I used the word “crappy” in an interview. I wouldn’t have wanted to work for them because of that anyway.

  2. Steve Browne
    February 4, 2010 at 7:04 am

    Charlie – You are SOOOOO dead on with this !! One of the biggest faults of our profession is not only a “herd” mentality, but HR willingly being the head sheep! It’s time for HR to understand that we can change the tide by leading the herd and waking them up to the business around them. For those that don’t stand up, they become expendable when they thought they were doing the “right thing.” I hope every HR person I know reads your post and acts on to break out of the herd.

  3. February 4, 2010 at 9:14 am

    I own a Toyota. It’s my 5th one. This one is a Camry. My husband owns a Toyota. It’s his 4th. His is a RAV4. I love this car and my husband loves his. I will buy another one when I want a new car or when this one finally bites the dust – which my mechanic tells me I shouldn’t expect for at least ANOTHER 100,000 miles.

    The media frenzy that starts when this type of news is released is not exclusive to companies. It also tramples people once the stampede begins. The excitement in the tone of the printed stories and in the voices of the reporters should tell you all you need to know about why this happens. Big news….awful news….readers & ratings!!! The public responds with same impulse that causes them to stop to see an accident.

    Consider also the dynamic in the desire to see a successful person or company fail. The higher you get the more people start poking at you. Toyota has been a wildly successful company because of a reliable, attractive line of vehicles. I’m sorry it has been at the expense of the American car makers but that’s not Toyota’s fault. They have made a big mistake which has shocked everyone simply because they have been known for not making mistakes.

    So everybody just shut up about it for crissakes! Let them fix the problems and let’s get on with business

  4. February 4, 2010 at 10:10 am

    Michael, Steve, and Fran, doesn’t suprise me that we HR people are so sensitive to the herd mentality. it can be really dangerous in the workplace and i’ve seen a bunch of people get run over by it. it sucks when we try to break the herd up, but get trampled in the process. i hate that more than anything. i’m working on a situation right now with two of our senior leaders who are notorious for “herding.” they are adamant about a comp structure for someone that is way out of whack and would be unfair to a number of their constituents. i’m dead-set on stopping it…but the stampede is building. hate it!

  5. BW
    February 4, 2010 at 2:43 pm

    I wouldn’t worry if I were Toyota. I don’t know anyone who is condemning them because of this issue. I think most of us see it as out government willing to jump on anything to take the light off what’s happening, or not happening in our economy.

    Step to the side of the herd and most of the time it will pass… and whatever is driving it will die.

  6. Dawn Hrdlica @dawnHRrocks
    February 4, 2010 at 2:47 pm

    The reason HR people must take a stand and be couragous in the face of scrutiny isn’t because it is the right thing to do…it is the only thing to do. If you can’t do it–that is OK, it is hard. Just don’t lead HR.

    Also, what comes around goes around. I have seen people close to being on the chopping block who later are the golden child. And vice versa. So HR leaders are smart to go with facts not popular opinion–because popular opinion will change (and fast).

    The Toyota analogy is a good one. We all know Toyota is a great brand—and as soon as there is something else for the media to scrutize it will all but be forgotten (Remember that little H1N1 thing…been months since I’ve heard about that).

    Same with HR crisis. Sometime the same with employee performance issues.

    HR, be couragous–Don’t just lead the herd—start a new one.

  7. Doug Newman
    February 4, 2010 at 2:58 pm

    How come the media and NHSTA are silent regarding Jeep Sudden Unintended Acceleration that has caused hundreds or thousands or accidents including significantly injuries and deaths???

  8. Marissa Crean
    February 4, 2010 at 3:03 pm

    I am happy to say that I work for leaders who believe in the value of independent thinking, but coming to a consensus decision. Currently, I am working through a critical decision on whether or not to make an exception for an outstanding employee. All good stuff, really, but it’s rewarding to know that the discussion is about what is the right thing to do, not just for this particularly successful individual, but to take into consideration the impact on peers. One leader actually deleted my voice mail so that he could give me his opinion without knowing what the others thought — he expected to be an outlier, and, in fact, was not. I do believe it takes courage to know what is right, accept it, and then follow through.

    As far as Toyota goes…wasn’t there a huge outcry a year ago that GM could not file for bankruptcy because no one would ever buy a car from them again? Gov’t bailed them out until they could make their way over to a pseudo-bankruptcy situation. And now they reported record sales for January, as compared to a year ago. Does anyone really listen to mass media and twitterers? Our memories are short, and the Toyota buyers will be back because of the strength of the brand.

  9. February 4, 2010 at 8:53 pm

    @BW, ‘condemning’? maybe not. but $2B is a hit anyway you look at it.

    @dawn, problem is we have too many HR people who are afraid to take a stand and their business leaders like them there for that very reason.

    @doug, good question. who knows, maybe Jeep will get a blog post of their own too.

    @Marissa, i hope more leaders will take note of yours. it’s catching on, but i’m afraid it’s still the exception.

    Thanks, All, For YOUR Comments!

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