Results Through Leadership:


Culture Change at General Motors

“GM’s Plodding Culture Vexes Its Impatient CEO”

Ref:  Wall Street Journal, April 7, 2010, Marketplace

Is General Motors finally ‘getting it’?  The April 20, 2010 edition of The Wall Street Journal reports that General Motors plans to make an early repayment of it’s remaining $4.7 billion in U.S. government loans.  CEO Whitacre forecasts a “solid” first quarter and sales are up 17% from a year earlier.

Of course time will tell.  One thing that is certain is that GM is in need of a drastic change of culture …… i.e. how they go about doing things, including internal processes.

Changing organizational culture is not a simple task, though it must begin with thoughtful, specific actions taken at the top.  An example is outlined in the WSJ April 7, 2010 article noted in this blog’s title.

The example noted a recent meeting in which top management from the company’s technology centers was asked to present their plans for a new generation of cars and trucks to the CEO.  “But before the executuives could present the pictures, charts and financial projections they had prepared, Edward E. Whitacre Jr., CEO,  stopped them to ask why they were having the meeting in the first place.”

“Y’all have checked all this out pretty thoroughly, Mr. Whitacre said in his Texas drawl.  I imagine you’re not going to approve something that’s bad or unprofitable, so why don’t you make the final decisions?”

The article goes on to note that “pushing authority and decision-making down into GM’s multilayered organization and cutting bureaucracy are a big part of the change Mr. Whitacre is trying to bring to the car maker.”

Such change involves risk, trust and willingness to push an organization out of its prior comfort zone.  Many of these types of actions may not necessarily work the first time, because the organization is not accustomed to such ‘radical’ changes and it doesn’t yet trust the leader’s intent.  Part of this level of culture change involves sticking to changed behaviors at the top and expecting similar changes in leadership and management throughout the organization.

The newly appointed CEO of another global client of The Delphi Group, Inc. decided that the very first order of business was to clarify the intended culture that was necessary for the future of this organization.  After also solidifying a partially new senior management team, she embarked on a global tour of ‘walking the talk’, describing the intended culture and associated changes that were necessary.

Top management demonstrating this behavior is necessary, but not sufficient.  Organizations making drastic cultural change must be willing to look at (and change, if necessary) all of their systems and processes associated with day-to-day business so that they are aligned with the intended Vision and Culture.  Many large scale organizational culture change initiatives have not succeeded because they failed to do so.

Where is your organization’s culture relative to your long range strategic needs?

Our New Book

Dr. Dana Morris-Jones' book, The Power of Difference: From Conflict to Collaboration in Five Steps, has just been published. Learn more here.

Get your copy now!

Our Guarantee

Your work with The Delphi Group, Inc. will have a direct impact on your bottom line, however you measure it!

Ph: 207.883.2333