By on September 2, 2009

“Culture change is not simple to do,” GM CEO Fritz Henderson tells Bloomberg. “In the end, if you reinforce what you want in how you behave and how you act, the organization picks it up.” But Fritz isn’t merely turning GM around by example. “You’ve got to get your people involved,” he explains. “You’ve got to get your leadership involved, you have to be consistent, you have to be simple and have everyone understand what you’re trying to get accomplished.” And just what is Henderson trying to accomplish? Nothing less than a total change in perspective . . . in 50 employees.

Bloomberg breaks down Fritz’s plan to empower its “change agents” thusly:

The 50 to 60 participants in the change program first met last week, Henderson said. Their role is to reinforce with peers and subordinates the importance of Henderson’s “four pillars” of the new GM: speed, product and customer focus, accountability and risk taking.

Managers and executives were chosen for the role because they embody the behaviors sought from all employees, said Henderson, a 25-year GM veteran who previously served as chief financial officer and chief operating officer.

In short, GM is stigmatizing change by placing full responsibility on the shoulders of 50 hand-picked “change agents,” and empowering them to annoy and condescend to their co-workers. Oh, and there’s one more element to Fritz Henderson’s si se puede initiative . . .

GM has accelerated top-level decisions, with a nine-member executive team now meeting weekly instead of once a month, Henderson said. The group scrapped a planned Buick sport-utility vehicle on Aug. 14, eight days after the auto was unveiled to criticism from consumers, analysts and journalists.

Twitter-obsessed knee-jerkers and their “change agent” vanguard thrashing New GM into a deeper, harder frenzy absolutely sounds like a recipe for restoring GM’s lost focus. The fact that the social media-inspired Vuick-slaying did not elicit any reflection on GM’s larger CUV bloat problem proves it. Speeding up a twitchy, directionless organization yields more vigorous thrashing, as well as a genuine purpose and direction. Who can’t wait for GM’s planned IPO?

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18 Comments on “Positive Post of the Day: GM Changes Its Culture Edition...”


  • avatar
    lahru

    Fritz! I’ve met Alan Mullaley and your no Alan Mullaley!

  • avatar
    Logans_Run

    I find this interesting. One of the 50 new golden children is one of the most miserable SOBs to occupy GM’s financial ranks. He is characterized by his condescending attitude toward anyone below his pay grade and has established a long standing reputation as having built his career on the backs of others by claiming their ideas as his. He is also just a flat out mean individual. When I saw that he was promoted to yet more responsibility a month or so ago I realized that GM is not changing for the better. And this guy could be CFO some day!

  • avatar
    jet_silver

    This is right on the money. A place I worked had a similar “change agent” roll-out and the word got to be “oh, feces, there’s one of those change agents. Let’s go to the lab.” Of course, this company also announced a policy of “management by fact” which called into question what they’d been managing by before.

  • avatar
    Juniper

    You give “Positive Post of the Day” a whole new meaning. And I don’t mean that in a positive way.

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    How about this as a change agent:

    “OK, take a look at the guy at your right. Now take a look at the guy on your left. If we don’t turn things around right now, all of you will be gone in a year.”

  • avatar
    Sutures

    “…Henderson’s “four pillars” of the new GM: speed, product and customer focus, accountability and risk taking.”

    1, 2, 3, 4, 5… wait, what?

  • avatar
    npbheights

    It seems so fitting that GM be run by someone named “Fritz”

  • avatar
    newfdawg

    Here’s “Fritz the Cat’s” Four Pillars of Accountability: 1. Speed 2. Product 3. Customer focus 4. Accountability 5. Risk taking; wait a minute-that’s five! This guy spent twenty five years in the financial trenches at GM and he can’t even count. If he’s going to change GM’s culture he’s going to have everybody involved and I mean every body. I can’t wait to see how long this plan lasts before another press conference is called announcing a new plan to speed GM’s turnaround.

  • avatar
    pnnyj

    If this qualifies as a “positive post of the day” TTAC must have a different definition of positive than the one I go by. Apparently GM doesn’t hold a monopoly on spin and mutilation of language to suit their own ends.

  • avatar
    Cicero

    Their role is to reinforce with peers and subordinates the importance of Henderson’s “four pillars” of the new GM: speed, product and customer focus, accountability and risk taking.

    Laugh if you will, but the Fritz Doctrine represents a revolutionary improvement over GM’s previous “four” pillars (give or take a pillar) of corporate culture: (1) sloth, (2) clever accounting tricks, (3) contempt for the customer, (4a) insularity, and (4b) resistance to innovation.

  • avatar

    Got to love an emphasis on both accountability AND risk taking.

    Logans_run: so who are you talking about? Feel free to email me if you don’t want to post a name.

  • avatar
    jpcavanaugh

    To rephrase, “To prove how serious we are about promoting accountability and risk taking, the corporate executive committee just second-guessed the eams of product people who had made decisions to bring that Buick to market.”

    Wow.

  • avatar
    CyCarConsulting

    So now in this new management style, Internet drones will be allowed to decide whether a GM product moves forward or not. Sooooooo, now will the sill plates say “body by Twitter” ?

  • avatar
    FloorIt

    I’ve always thought of the firing of Wagoner and putting Fritz in charge is like firing Moe and putting Larry in charge. I guess Lutz could be Curly as he gets the most laughs.

  • avatar
    Edward Niedermeyer

    Juniper, pnnyj:

    Upon re-reading, I have to agree. This post was nowhere near positive enough. I… I’m not sure what happened. I thought I was being positive. I was being positive. And then that ugliness just spilled out. Well, that’s not what Positive Post Of The Day is all about. Thank you for reminding me how important it is to stay positive. For at least one post.

    Text amended.

  • avatar
    folkdancer

    “How the Mighty Fall” by Jim Collins.

    Stage 4: grasping and thrashing about
    Stage 5: company disappears

  • avatar
    mach1

    Change a”corporate culture” with 50 “change agents” and 4 (or is it 5) “slogans” — you have got to be kidding!

    Ford started their culture change in the early ’80s – I know because I was there and involved. When we first raised the issue of the “Ford Culture” to management we were told that Ford did not even have a “corporate culture”. From that point on it was an up hill struggle with many false starts and backsliding to old ways of doing things, Even when things were going well, that old culture was lurking just below the surface and would break through given the slightest opportunity. Ford has made progress but there are still problems that aren’t totally resolved. WE also took a horrific detour under Jac’s reign of terror.

    To change a culture means changing the way people interact with each other and the way they think. This is very difficult and not possible for many people who have been successful within one set of paradigms and who now need to make fundamental changes. To change a culture requires a number of conditions:

    1) An honest and self incriminating assessment of what is wrong with the current culture. 85% of culture problems are systemic issues owned by senior management. It’s not OK to say “I am OK and if we could just fix the workers, everything would be great!”

    2) Management must agree that change is essential an come to a common vision for the new culture. If the leaders can’t agree on the destination, there is no way that is where they will end up.

    3) Management must commit a number of meaningful “uncharacteristic acts” to get the attention of the larger organization. This serves to reinforce the idea that this is not one of an endless series of corporate initiatives that flames brightly for a bit and then fades away yo make room for the next shooting star.

    4) Management must be visibly 100% consistent with the new cultural values. The first time they revert to form the battle is lost. This also means they can’t allow their underlings to do the dirty work for them.

    5) People throughout the leadership at all levels who can’t quickly adapt yo the new paradigms need to be moved aside. They need to be replaced by those with values more in line with the new direction. Most organizations have lots of these folks available but they are probably not the ones who have previously been on the corporate fast track. The worst thing would be to allow the old management to clone itself.

    If GM did these things, they could start the change process but it would take many years to fully implement and they may not have that much time left.

  • avatar
    Rix

    The 4 pillars of the new GM:
    1. Government money
    2. Lots of advertising to lipstick the pig
    3. Fundamental misunderstimation of consumer preferences.
    4. Replacing the old bean-counter CEO with a new bean-counter CEO
    5. Shoddy accounting.(Correction, shoddy accounting has now been moved into a VEBA. There are still only four pillars.)


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