Continuous Improvement: The Secret to Toyota’s Best Places to Work Win

Candidates often think that the best part about working at Toyota is access to the latest and greatest vehicles — but Terri Von Lehmden, General Manager of Talent Acquisition at Toyota Motor North America, makes it clear that that comes in second.

“The coolest part about working for Toyota is getting to work alongside some of the best, brightest and most diverse team members… their relentless quest to provide mobility for all is truly motivating,” Von Lehmden says. “Yes, we get to drive the best cars around and have an awesome perk with our employee vehicle lease/purchase program, but you can bet that the draw is bigger than that.”

Fueling that quest to provide mobility is kaizen — a Japanese word that means continuous improvement.

“We believe that good is never good enough,” Von Lehmden shares.

Perhaps that drive for continuous improvement is what earned them a 2018 Employees’ Choice Award, honoring the Best Places to Work. A glance at their rating over the past couple of years reveals a strong initial score that has only risen, ultimately earning them a 4.3 and solidifying their position as a 2018 Best Place to Work.

Glassdoor recently caught up with Von Lehmden to learn more about how Toyota Motor North America creates an excellent company culture, implements recruiting best practices and motivates employees — below are some of the highlights.

Glassdoor: Congrats on your Best Places to Work award. How does it feel to know your employees love working at Toyota?

Terri Von Lehmden: This award is a reflection of the team member experience, and the commitment our company makes to ensure we are living our values every day. At Toyota, our culture is an essential element of our organization. Our purpose, rewards, career, culture and of course, our people, are key components to the Team Toyota Experience. It’s gratifying that this recognition comes directly from the most important panel of judges we have — our team members.

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Glassdoor: How do you make this a great place to work day in and day out?

Terri Von Lehmden: Respect for people and continuous improvement are the two pillars of what we call The Toyota Way. And it’s how we approach everything we do. That includes being laser-focused on making our culture one where team members feel valued for their unique contributions and are encouraged to challenge what’s possible in both big and small ways. As a leader, providing that type of support — where people aren’t afraid to fail — I think that breeds confidence. It definitely fosters innovation and when team members believe they can do epic things, they usually do.

Glassdoor: How have you improved employee engagement over the past year? What strategies have worked and which have not?

Terri Von Lehmden: The past couple of years have been a time of enormous change for our company. Throughout this journey, we’ve been very intentional about creating an unrivaled team member experience. That means maintaining what makes Toyota special and using this as an opportunity to innovate and improve our culture and operations.

What I love most about Toyota is that we aren’t afraid to try new things, and we listen and learn along the way. What the Japanese call kaizen, or continuous improvement, is an essential part of our culture at Toyota — we believe that good is never good enough. This is true not just for our products but also for our team member experience. To achieve this, we needed to evolve our culture — driving more collaboration across the organization and challenging the status quo in ways we haven’t before. This Glassdoor Best Places to Work recognition tells me that our efforts to bring people together to innovate, improve and enhance employee engagement are working.

Glassdoor: What are some of the coolest or most unique perks and benefits you offer?

Terri Von Lehmden: The coolest part about working for Toyota is getting to work alongside some of the best, brightest and most diverse team members. It’s our team members who provide us a competitive advantage. Their relentless quest to provide mobility for all is truly motivating. Yes, we get to drive the best cars around and have an awesome perk with our employee vehicle lease/purchase program, but you can bet that the draw is bigger than that. Like any admired employer, we offer best-in-class benefits like healthcare, retirement savings programs and so on. Many of our manufacturing sites and our headquarters provide on-site amenities like fitness centers, convenience stores, health centers, pharmacy, bank and multiple dining options, which helps to create an environment where team members can reach their full potential.

I’m also proud of how we help our team members give back through Toyota4Good, our team member volunteer and giving program. We match team members’ monetary donations and reward their favorite charities by making a donation for every hour they volunteer. When you multiply that by the thousands of team members we have across the country, it has an enormous impact.

Glassdoor: What interview questions do you like to ask potential employees?

Terri Von Lehmden: We interview as much for attitude as we do for aptitude. I want to make sure that candidates understand and embrace our unique culture and are inspired by our vision for the future of mobility. Every hiring manager approaches the interview process in a way that’s authentic to them, but I think we are looking for lifelong learners as we are a culture of continuous improvement. All of us want to engage in conversations that help us identify those candidates who are really curious and want to know more about our business. I love it when a candidate asks me why we do what we do and challenges me to think about things in a new way.

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Glassdoor: What makes your company’s recruiting techniques different?

Terri Von Lehmden: Toyota’s mission is to delight our customers… to put a smile on their faces. We have a customer-first mindset. We approach recruiting the same way. We want to be the first choice for the best, brightest and most diverse talent in every market in which we operate. In order to accomplish that, we developed a candidate roadmap and identified every touchpoint we have with a candidate during the recruitment process. We then identified strategies to ensure that all of those touchpoints reflect our respect for people and inspire them to join us. Even though we won’t be the right fit for every candidate, if we do our jobs right, we may have created a Toyota fan for life.