Quick Reflexes

January 27th, 2010

Toyota instructed dealers yesterday to stop selling the Camry and seven other models due to the potential danger of accelerator pedals sticking. The company recalled more than two million vehicles – on top of the four million previously recalled because of the risk of a loose floor mat jamming accelerators.

Great move by Toyota to intervene before this issue leads to more accidents and perhaps tragedy. Engineers are working around the clock to determine the cause of the latest concern. Tough challenge for dealers who suddenly lost a significant part of their revenue stream and now have to deal with confused/angry customers. (I can only imagine how many calls their dealerships will take today with people asking, “Can I drive it or do I need to park it in my garage?”)

There is a great lesson here for all business leaders. You can’t wait until something happens to decide how you’ll react. Make contingency plans now for potential disaster later (think: weather-related disruptions; product delivery delays; bad publicity; sudden death of a key team member; etc.). While you won’t know the specific problem that will arise, you can decide how you will handle most situations.

Be sure you have in place procedures for knowing: a) Which essential employees need to be notified first; b) Who is authorized to speak for your organization and what consistent message will be delivered; c) How you will handle the inevitable media rush; d) What steps you will take to rectify the situation as quickly as possible; and e) When you will announce changes and provide status updates.

Since 1983, I have owned in succession three Toyotas and driven them a combined 350,000+ miles. They’ve been great cars – needing only minor repairs – and two of our children learned to drive on our current 2001 Camry. I’m guessing the smart folks at Toyota will figure this one out quickly… and get right back to work rebuilding trust in their highly respected brand.

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