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Les McKeown's Predictable Success Blog

  • February 17, 2010
  • minute read

Toyota's wider problem: a broken axle. 

Toyota’s recent woes are symptomatic of a wider dysfunctional pattern that most every organization experiences – even yours. Here’s how it works:
your business rests on a 3-legged stool


Every organization rests on a 3-legged stool:

1. Sales (including the marketing function);
2. Ops (production, r&d, delivery, warehousing – whatever is involved in getting your product and service out the door), and
3. Admin (accounting, treasury, HR, IT, legal and anything else not in 1 or 2 above).

Part of the success in any business is to manage the innate tension between these three functions – if there is no tension, the business enters The Big Rut, becomes stagnant and will die.

However in extreme circumstances the tension can become uncontrollable with one of the functions ‘going rogue’, pulling itself out of the orbit of the other two and creating a wholly unstable business. At Toyota, the sales and marketing function pulled away from the orbit of the operations and admin functions (specifically, product quality control) causing its latest disaster:

this is what happens when the sales function goes rogue


But the sales function isn’t the only candidate for ‘going rogue’. We’ve all seen businesses become so infatuated with its product or service that an obsession on continually enhancing the product quality, product spec, and/or constant product ‘innovation’ takes over any compulsion to actually ‘ship’ something to customers. This is sometimes called ‘the inventor syndrome’, but big companies can fall prone to it, too (Wikipedia ‘Xerox PARC’ for a classic example):

this is what happens when the ops function goes rogue


And as you’ll know if you’ve ever had the joy of trying to interact with a utility company, there are many businesses in which the admin function has gone rogue, drowning everything it does in red tape and isolating the organization’s ability to successfully got to market, let alone provide a quality product or service:

this is what happens when the admin function goes rogue


Where’s your axle problem? Which leg of your stool is most likely to go rogue?

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