It’s been a rough year for General Motors. The company has recalled more than 28 million vehicles worldwide and is liable for billions of dollars in automotive repairs and victim compensation. It suffered an 85% drop in its second-quarter earnings and faces multiple state investigations, not to mention class-action lawsuits related to safety issues. Can GM recover from this massive crisis?
It can make a comeback, but the recovery hinges on changing the organization’s culture. For years, GM focused on cost-effectiveness and the bottom line, creating what the new CEO Mary Barra calls “a pattern of incompetence and neglect.” To address the current crisis, she of course needs to fix the safety problems, but she also needs to create a new company culture. Safety must become the priority over cost savings in order to regain consumer and market trust, and GM’s focus needs to be on the customer.
So far, Barra, who inherited the crisis when she was promoted to CEO this past January, is moving in the right direction. By firing 15 employees who were involved in the lack of communication about safety issues, she sent a powerful message both within and outside of the company about the company’s changing priorities.
Think back to your last project. Was it set up to maximize learning? Did you uncover valuable insights along the way? Did you deliver what you set out to? And once it was over, did your team reflect, or did you move straight to the next thing?
A systematic method for managing your projects can set up your team for useful epiphanies at every step. In the end, it can help you to create better deliverables with more lasting and further-reaching impact.
General Motors CEO Mary Barra appeared before a Senate panel once again Thursday to discuss the company’s flawed ignition switches and vowed that GM will “do all it can to make certain that this does not happen again.”
In terms of damage control, much of what Barra and GM appear to be doing right now is positive: fessing up about product failures, bringing in outside investigators and firing employees that failed to take appropriate measures.
And while these are important steps, they amount only to a good, if somewhat belated, crisis management strategy. In fact, these efforts pale against the very real organizational challenges that lay ahead for GM and Barra. In order make good on her promise to Congress, Barra must prevent the kinds of engineering failures that caused the ignition problems in the first place and the organizational failures that propelled the problem to its current tragic magnitude. And that will mean changing the culture at GM.
Engineers like to be right. They like to prove that they have the correct answer.
Highly trained and highly motivated to solve problems, at the point of releasing a design or demonstrating a model or a prototype, everything in them is wired to prove that they’ve arrived at the right answer. The premium is so high on being “right” that even when data starts proving them wrong, they work to show that they are right somehow. They seek to explain what is happening is an exceptional outlier or an aberration; not that it is a sign of a problem. Read More »
It’s an old business rubric: What gets measured, gets managed.
In the age of big data, the very basic set of measurements that managers used to rely on is expanding to a robust set of 24/7 sensor inputs from factory floors to off-shore petroleum platforms – all of it accessible across a wide variety of mobile devices to employees at many levels.
Management is now able to access data from varied locations, crunch it at headquarters and then return the enhanced data to managers out in the field, on the factory floor or on the oil fields. These new, more robust data sets will allow managers to make better decisions in a shorter amount of time than ever before. For companies in complex industries, such as Shell where I work, the potential for increased performance, efficiency and safety is enormous. Read More »
In the last 20 years, we’ve seen a massive wave of manufacturing jobs move to low-labour-cost countries. Now, many companies are beginning to question whether the cost differential offered by distant suppliers compensates for the cost of working with an extended supply chain. These companies find themselves with massive inventories, yet in spite of those inventories they frequently are not able to meet all demand.
It has been difficult for managers to analyse the cost differential mismatch trade-off because mismatch costs are difficult to quantify. The intuition is that the mismatch costs are high, but the managers I discuss with have difficulty believing that overstocks and stockout costs are high enough to wipe out the cost advantage enjoyed by their offshore supplier. Without solid numbers, it’s difficult for managers to incorporate these costs into decision-making.