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Matthew E. May

Six Sigma

Toyota Needs a Strategist

And it knows how to advertise for one

Published: Wednesday, July 1, 2015 - 12:09

No, this isn’t an opinion piece or in any way a critique. It’s more like a public service announcement for business professionals in the job market, looking for a strategy position with a market leader.

Like most regular users of LinkedIn, I constantly get pushed notices about “jobs I might be interested in.” Even though I’m not looking for a job, I do find these notices interesting. Sometimes they’re even insightful, from the perspective of giving me a look at how companies are thinking about strategy. The words they use to describe roles and responsibilities tell me a lot about whether a particular organization “gets” strategy.

Which is the exactly the case with a notice I received about Toyota needing a “senior foresight and innovation strategist.”

Before even getting to the strategy-focused content, I really liked the way Toyota did two things. First, it was upfront and transparent about its move from Los Angeles to Plano, Texas, by 2017. It’s the first thing you see, in bold letters. I’ve read other job listings, and they either hide critical criteria like this completely, or treat it as an afterthought, as if somehow where you live isn’t important.

Second, they structured the listing in three buckets: what you will get paid to do, what will make you successful from Toyota’s perspective, and what Toyota’s candidate preference is. In other words, Toyota gives you a hint as to what might be the deciding factor among a candidate pool in which all other factors are essentially equal. Other listings I’ve seen don’t do this at all; they simply render a laundry list of responsibilities that represent an unrealistic view of what you will actually get paid to do.

As far as “getting strategy,” Toyota does.

Instead of “analyze,” they use “synthesize” as the verb to describe the key activity of identifying business implications of short- to long-term societal and consumer trends.

One of the big ideas of strategy is that it is as much about creativity as it is logic, and this comes through loud and clear in language like: “Use creative approaches to design and facilitate idea generation and implications workshops and deliver solutions,” and “Proactively identify innovative ideas and solutions to capitalize on changing business priorities and needs.”

The capabilities required to do these things are clearly linked: “Ability to think strategically and problem solve. Ability to identify/develop innovative ideas and approaches. Ability to work with ambiguous project guidelines, and to be flexible. Experience in presenting and leading/facilitating brainstorming sessions.”

All too often internal strategy functions become too insular and inward-looking, evolving to become more about organizational effectiveness than true strategy, which must have an external focus. Such is not the case here, according to a key capability of a Toyota strategist, who will “engage with stakeholders across Toyota in North America and globally to formally and informally exchange trends, innovative ideas, and business insights,” as well as “proactively expand external trends network, to bring new and unique insights and connections to the organization.”

If you follow my writing, you know that I’ve developed a visual approach and tool to help facilitate strategy formulation. So it should come as no surprise that what I found particularly interesting was the inclusion of visual capabilities: “Experience developing creative and visual methods of reporting and distributing information.” In fact, Toyota’s preference, and the possible deciding factor I mentioned earlier, may hinge on this aspect of a candidate’s repertoire: “Experience in graphic or visual design,” with “interest in new technology and digital software that can support leading-edge reporting and integration of our work.”

Finally, Toyota’s genetics come through loud and clear in language like: “Offer continuous improvement and development ideas to contribute to Toyota’s culture of innovation and creativity.”

Well done, Toyota!

You can view the LinkedIn listing here, and Toyota’s TalentLink listing here.

First published June 16, 2015, on Matthew E. May’s Strategic Business Design blog.


About The Author

Matthew E. May’s picture

Matthew E. May

Matthew E. May counsels executives and teams through custom designed facilitation, coaching, and training using four basic ingredients: strategy, ideation, experimentation, and lean. He’s been counseling for 30 years, a third of it as a full-time advisor to Toyota. He is the author of four books, the latest The Laws of Subtraction (McGraw-Hill, 2013), and is working on his fifth book. His work has been appeared in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Harvard Business Review, and many other publications. May holds an MBA from The Wharton School and a bachelor’s degree from Johns Hopkins University.