By Kevin Meyer
There was a fantastic story in The New York Times yesterday on how Toyota is helping various charities in the New York City area. Most charities simply like donations, especially cash. Toyota decided to give something different: expertise.
The Food Bank for New York City is the country’s largest anti-hunger charity, feeding about 1.5 million people every year. It leans heavily, as other charities do, on the generosity of businesses, including Target, Bank of America, Delta Air Lines and the New York Yankees. Toyota was also a donor. But then Toyota had a different idea.
Instead of a check, it offered kaizen.
As you might expect, at first there was skepticism.
But Toyota’s initial offer to the charity in 2011 was met with apprehension. “They make cars; I run a kitchen,” said Daryl Foriest, director of distribution at the Food Bank’s pantry and soup kitchen in Harlem. “This won’t work.”
Probably sounds like several executives we know in business as well, eh? But Toyota kept at it, and prevailed. And since then the results have been astounding - or what those of us in the lean world would have expected.
Toyota’s engineers went to work. The kitchen, which can seat 50 people, typically opened for dinner at 4 p.m., and when all the chairs were filled, a line would form outside. Mr. Foriest would wait for enough space to open up to allow 10 people in. The average wait time could be up to an hour and a half.
Toyota made three changes. They eliminated the 10-at-a-time system, allowing diners to flow in one by one as soon as a chair was free. Next, a waiting area was set up inside where people lined up closer to where they would pick up food trays. Finally, an employee was assigned the sole duty of spotting empty seats so they could be filled quickly. The average wait time dropped to 18 minutes and more people were fed.
It didn't stop there.
At the Project Hospitality food pantry on Staten Island, which is part of the Food Bank network, Toyota engineers tried to expedite the pickup process. They drew a layout identifying spots where there were slowdowns. They reorganized the shelves by food groups and used colored tape to mark the grain, vegetable, fruit and protein sections. The time clients spent in the pantry was reduced nearly by half.
Lisa Anderson, an engineer with a background in manufacturing, watched as volunteers walked around a warehouse in Brooklyn and scrambled to pack boxes of food. So Ms. Anderson created an assembly line and volunteers dropped food items into boxes as they moved across a conveyor belt. The average time to pack one box shrank to 11 seconds from 3 minutes.
Imagine what would have been the result if Toyota had followed the traditional path and just donated cash. Which is the better long term solution, especially in the eyes of the end customer?
When your organization donates to charitable causes, are they just fueling an inefficient process, or are they actually trying to create improvements?