Mikako shares her story

It is often coincidences that point the course. Senior consultant Mikako Lago Lengquist can sign it. As a recent MSc in Economics from the Gothenburg School of Economics in 1997, she was brought in to Saab Automobil in Trollhättan. With her bicultural background, she found herself well placed in the role of interpreter and cultural bridge between the Swedish and Japanese car industries.

– Saab had brought in about twenty consultants from Nissan. They needed interpreting services, and I joined the group to interpret and assist. The role grew rapidly. After a short time, we worked in the combination as interpreters, advisers to the management team in Saab at the individual factory, and “translators” of cultural differences between the two nationalities. We probably had a certain significance for the collaboration between Nissan and Saab to be as good as it was, says Mikako unassumingly.

With multilingualism as a tool

After a few years as an interpreter, she was given increasing responsibility. Eventually she became an independent supervisor and coach. Like many other improvement experts, she built her expertise in Lean and continuous improvement in the automotive industry. The small beginning at Saab has later become Mikako’s great strength, namely the ability to use multilingualism and translate spontaneously at the same time as she guides and explains.

If you have experienced a session with Mikako in pairs with one of Toyota’s senseier, you will never forget it. Invisible, yet heavily present. It’s as if the Japanese are talking through her. The language barrier is a non-topic in teaching.

But we are anticipating. Between the years in Saab and the role as senior Lean consultant in C2U, there is a little over ten years as a consultant in the Japanese company JMAC. When JMAC was to build a subsidiary in Scandinavia, it was natural to go to Saab, where it was rumored that there were several good Lean experts.

– Working in a Japanese company in Sweden was a new and exciting encounter with Japanese culture, even for me who grew up with it.

Went to JMAC Scandinavia- There were several of us who chose to throw ourselves into the consulting role when JMAC established itself in Scandinavia. Working in a Japanese company in Sweden was a new and exciting encounter with Japanese culture, even for me who grew up with it. We learned from the basics about the prerequisites for success in business development.

It was not just about Lean methodology, but about leadership, trust, learning and building a corporate culture. We were able to print out the prerequisites that must be present in order to succeed in transferring the competence to others, she says.

The combination of demanding but achievable expectations and great freedom to work independently, make your own decisions and make your own choices. That meeting employees in this way yields results was part of the lesson from JMAC.

Clear goals and clear follow-up
– When you know Japanese culture as well as you do, what do you want to say is what characterizes the culture best, and what do you think it has to say for the companies’ performance and results?

– For outsiders, it may be difficult to understand. But since I understand the language and know the values, this seems very clear to me. The corporate culture is built around the importance of clear goals and the importance of clarity in the way they follow up. No coincidences or distractions are allowed to derail. It is expected that you know what you want and why, she says.

– I noticed how prominent the respect for the elderly was. Is it special to Toyota or is it part of Japanese culture in a broader sense?

– It is probably correctly observed, even if respect does not apply so much to age as to knowledge, competence. The fact that you have competence that is worth learning gives a natural authority, says Mikako.

– In Toyota, trust is a very concrete value, not something you tamper with.
Opening for study trips to Toyota
In 2004, an opportunity opened up for JMAC Scandinavia to collaborate with one of Toyota’s fitness centers to allow foreign business leaders in Toyota’s internal training for corporate executives. Mikako became central in the collaboration, and has since led groups with approx. 750 students to one of Toyota’s gyms outside Nagoya. The collaboration is based on trust. If the partner does not live up to expectations, it is the hook on the door. No next trip.

– In Toyota, trust is a very concrete value, not something you tamper with. Each trip is like an exam for me as a leader. The requirement for us as a group applies to everything from meeting on time, complying with rules in the factories, call it folk customs, to actively participating in the teaching. The supervisors are among the company’s most experienced managers and used to being met with respect. Indifference, passivity or showing a lack of respect is not well received, says Mikako.

Strictly, you might think, but it sharpens. No one travels two days not to learn something significantly new. Toyota’s corporate culture is painstakingly built. It has a central place in teaching. For the company’s own employees, it starts already after a few days as an employee. As a participant in a “guest course”, you learn, among other things, how the individual employee’s learning is linked to the company’s goals and learning as an organization. You will be able to demonstrate how working methods and values ​​are trained, followed up in daily practice.

Goal: Employees should feel good
– Toyota’s goal is for employees to feel good. The philosophy is simple: If employees thrive and feel good, the company is doing well. For us, it may be unusual to think like that, but note that “having a good time” means contributing, doing your best, stretching a little further each day, using the opportunities you get to learn.

We are probably all so that we both want and enjoy contributing to the community, but we must also be seen. This part of the Toyota culture is really exciting. Not because it is so unique, but because the company makes it work so well, she says.

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