A beautiful vision: Translating words into action (Episode 29)

Interview with Miguel Fonseca, Senior Vice President People & Innovation, Technology and Corporate Affairs at Toyota Motor Europe.

“I believe that our mission is to provide goods and services that make people throughout the world happy, or, in other words, to “mass produce” happiness.”

The words are from Toyota President Akio Toyoda on May 12, 2020 at the announcement of the year-end financial results for the term ended March 2020.

“Mass produce happiness” – what a powerful statement, and what a rhetorically interesting technique to get the people in Toyota to stop thinking about “mass producing cars” and instead embrace a larger vision.

I got to know about “mass producing happiness” when I interviewed Miguel Fonseca, Senior Vice President People & Innovation, Technology and Corporate Affairs at Toyota Motor Europe.

During two decades with Toyota Mr Fonseca has held a very wide range of positions within the company, from Regional Officer Toyota Latin America and Caribbean (TLAC) to Vice President for Toyota Spain and many, many other roles. He might have had many different roles but, as he told me, “In every job I have had I have promoted change.”

This love for change has brought him to his current role where one of his key responsibilities is to help the people of Toyota to innovate. As the car industry is dramatically transforming it is crucial for the people in the industry to change as well.

One key aspect for creating the will for change is to have, what Miguel calls, a “beautiful vision”.

He told me: “There is no innovation if we don’t have a vision about where we want to go – and if we do not have a way of getting people to embrace that vision.”

And then he added that the vision needs to be clear enough for people to be able to follow it, and at the same time, allow for improvisation. “If you are too restricted in your vision you are limiting innovation.”

For the last few years Toyota has gone from “producing cars” to a “personal mobility services company” and now the new vision of “mass producing happiness” is taking that one step further.

Cue the need for a beautiful vision.

Miguel Fonseca explained to me that a vision is about “translating words into action.” An effective vision not only triggers the imagination of the people, but it also moves them into action. Miguel Fonseca: “It is translated into energy…”

I love that he is using the word “translate” to describe it. To “translate” means “to move from one place or condition to another”. It comes from the Latin: “Carried across”.

According to Miguel Fonseca for a vision to work on moving people to one place to another it has to:

1) Focus on transforming what the company needs to become. (Paint a beautiful picture.)

2) Leverage who you are. (In Toyota’s case the very strong tradition and pride in their ability to mass produce well – “The Toyota way”.)

3) Show the direction – but do not show the way. (Allow for the flexibility needed when you head into the unknown.)

The “beautiful vision” that Toyota has painted for their employees has, according to Miguel Fonseca, energised the people of Toyota to look at what they do, how they do it, and how they could be doing things. It has sparked creativity, innovation and a drive for positive change.

He told me that despite huge disruptions to the supply change by the Covid-19 pandemic and drastic reductions in sales due to the economic downturn that the pandemic created, Toyota was able to create such a positive financial result that it had, as per the time of this writing (Q3 2020) not had to fire a single person within the company. The people came together to find ways of solving huge obstacles and challenges.) When I asked Miguel Fonseca to describe how the company had reacted to the crises he summarised it as: “It was amazing.”

Do you have a “beautiful vision” for where your organisation is going? Are your people onboard with the vision? And is it pushing them to never before seen creativity, innovation and change?

If the answer is not a resounding “Yes!”, then could there be anything more important than taking another go at creating a “beautiful vision” that the employees can translate into action?




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