Too perfect to fail

When anatomizing the Toyota debacle, the most interesting machinations will not weigh on Toyota's car failure, but its failure to handle crisis; quality issues had been metastasizing long before they accelerated over recent weeks.

When anatomizing the Toyota debacle, the most interesting machinations will not weigh on Toyota's car failure, but its failure to handle crisis; quality issues had been metastasizing long before they accelerated over recent weeks. Toyota's lust for operational excellence and its pursuit of "just in time" delivery was its ultimate undoing and revealed five distinct traits.

Trait 1: Failure to analyze failure

If brands are belied as perfect, their skills to handle crisis atrophy. Since 1996, Toyota has experienced five debates surrounding the safety of their products. Each time Toyota has failed to think ahead and lacked a swift response.

Toyota's protestations of “we care” seem blithe and distrustful, portraying itself as too perfect to fail, and its willingness to avoid anything peremptory to stay aloft. Consequently, trust in Toyota is experiencing blunt impact trauma, which could have been avoided. Not to alter one's faults is desultory, just ask John Edwards.

Trait 2: A derisory crisis plan


Even the best of plans fall apart on impact, but that doesn't mean one shouldn't have one. Responding to the crisis with alacrity would have offered some palpable success for Toyota's woes. Instead, Toyota displayed the dexterity of goop and the personality of ash. The simplest answer is to act, because to the court of public opinion, no answer is an answer. And when you fail to even respond to the US Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood, you risk harsh brand depredation.

In crisis, necessity saves us the trouble of choosing. It took Toyota's CEO Akio Toyoda too long to move his company beyond its internal sloganeering and denial. The pusillanimous response of Toyota has deracinated its reputation for quality and beckoned the dangers of a reputation for dodgy cars. The gaffes are too many to enumerate. Hide nothing, tell all -- just ask Tiger.

More traits coming in the next post.

Dean Crutchfield is chief engagement officer at Method.

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