Wednesday, March 17, 2010

A Spectacular Event

(Due to the launch of the Musicians For Haiti [M4h] website on Friday, this blog entry has been intentionally delayed to allow more time for the important blog entry heralding its arrival.)

Edit: updated to include the skepticism that Toyota and others have about the incident in San Deigo.

We are all witnesses to a spectacular event. All of us will one day be able to tell our grandchildren, "I was there when Toyota got flushed down the toilet like yesterday's fast food." And yet to be observers only would be a disservice to ourselves, for it is always easier to learn from the mistakes of others than to repeat the same mistakes ourselves and look like idiots as a result.

Toyota has failed on several fronts, but there are two that I'd like to highlight.

They failed to be true to their vision. I remember the days when Toyota was the car to beat. The Camry has been the best selling car until this fiasco occurred and had been for the prior seven years. Instead of realizing that being in a position of superiority makes you a target for every other automobile manufacturer, they rested on their laurels and allowed the quality to of their products to wane.

They failed to be honest. When the problems first surfaced, they had a moral responsibility to tell their customers what they knew; what they were doing to alleviate the issues; what the current status of the testing of their proposed solutions was; and what the expected time to resolution was. Furthermore, they owed it to their customers to not do this once, nor twice, but weekly until they were 1,000% certain they had fixed the problem completely.

Instead, they attempted to stem the loss of revenue by doing just the opposite. Specifically, they claimed that they a) knew the cause of the acceleration and b) had a fix that worked. But as the 61 year old driver of a Toyota Prius recently found out, neither of these were true. In that article, he tells how he was turned away when he brought in his Prius as part of the recall because supposedly his car wasn't affected.

(Of course, immediately I wrote this entry came the flood of stories including this one attacking the credibility of the driver. There are factually accurate statements about dishonest activities and significant debt incurred by that person, so perhaps his story doesn't hold water after all.)

The net result is that the losses they will now suffer are going to be far worse than had they simply owned up to the responsibility they owe to their customers. Instead of admitting that they do not have all of the answers yet, they lied and now their credibility is sinking faster than the Titanic.

I'm not naive - I know that, in business, image is everything. How you are perceived has a direct impact on your career, financial well-being, etc. Yet there must be a recognized line in the sand where we realize that we cannot hide from the responsibilities we must accept for the actions we do. At that point, we simply must admit to the failures at hand and "let the chips fall where they may" (as my father once said); let ourselves be judged by the court of public opinion; and then make the necessary adjustments to ensure that we don't make the same mistakes again.

Renowned psychiatrist Frank Pittman once stated that infidelity is not "whom you lie with. It's whom you lie to." While he was referring to infidelity in relationships, we must apply this to our lives as professionals and representatives of the companies for whom we work. You can lie with the Spirit of Slothfulness (when it comes to producing a quality product or service; excelling as an employee; etc.) but don't lie to those that have a vested interest in the fruits of your labor if things do not go the way you intend them to.

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