“. . . get everyone engaged, working together, and bringing the best ideas forward[.]”
“. . . I never accepted the GM nod. If somebody said in a meeting they were going to do something, I expect you to do it.”
“We've got to model [working across the organization].”
“[We have to] own each other's problems.”
“So our goal is to be the safety leader. We're really driving a zero-defect mentality.”
“If we can get in a room and really, you know, argue it out constructively and everybody's views get on the table, we'll make better decisions.”
“. . . we've got to earn the trust of every single employee by demonstrating the way we behave.”
We realize this was not some carefully crafted article for the Harvard Business Review but there are too many soft spots in this recipe for fixing the culture to let this interview slide by without comment.
Let’s begin with the positives. Barra promotes respect for ideas; that’s a positive feedback loop and a good thing. Senior management modeling desired behavior and working to earn employee trust are both essential for cultural change. Safety leadership is certainly a laudable goal.
The nod is a little more problematic. Maybe Barra never accepted the nod but plenty of other folks did. Is modeling the desired behavior sufficient to create change? How long will it take? What else might need to be done?
Shared ownership of problems is a good start but how does GM establish, model and inculcate a process that obtains permanent problem resolutions going forward?
Barra also believes an insider (like her) is better suited for changing the culture than an outsider. We agree an insider may have a better handle on recognizing when employees are trying to spin a situation in their favor but an outsider can bring a clear view of the performance gap between an organization’s current state (e.g., its characteristics, priorities and processes) and where it needs to be.
Some ingredients are missing. Most importantly, there is no mention of the powerful cost/finance feedback loop that contributed to GM’s quality problems. Wringing pennies out of product costs was a major goal for years. What roles will cost consciousness and management financial incentives play going forward?
In another area, how is the management decision making process changing other than arguing things out?
Bottom line: There are no lessons for nuclear in the GM CEO’s outline of her cultural change initiative. In fact, her proclamations sound just like nuclear managers’ braying when they try to convince regulators, the media and the public that something, anything is happening to address perceived cultural issues. But what usually isn’t happening is some in-depth analysis of how their organizational system functions.
* D. Roth, “Mary Barra's Got a Plan for Fixing GM's Culture (and Only an Insider Can Pull it Off),” LinkedIn interview (July 6, 2015). Safetymatters co-founder Bob Cudlin first spotted and called attention to this article.
** The “GM nod” was “where employees would commit to being on board with a decision, then ignore it [later.]”