By on November 13, 2009

Zen and the art of gritting your teeth. (courtesy

You know how terrorism experts talk about increased “internet chatter” as foretelling some kind of attack? On Monday, GM will release its post-C11 financial results which, thanks to dubious accounting, could very well mean nothing. Even so, I’m getting the feeling that there’s some bad news a brewin’, ’cause the MSM is kissing some major GM butt today. First, the Freep shows GM’s Chairman of the Board the love that dare not grant it an interview. Now the Times’ Bill Vlasic, late of the Detroit News, shows up with a piece that supposedly reveals the depth and breadth of GM’s much ballyhooed “cultural change.” Mea culpa comes in the form of “After bankruptcy, G.M. Struggles to Shed a Legacy of Bureaucracy.” While I’m a firm believer that cultural change starts at the top—such as, I dunno, firing the ancien regime that led to GM’s nationalization—I’m all ears, Bill. Where’s the evidence that la plus ca change, la plus ce n’est pas la même chose?

In the old General Motors, employees were evaluated according to a “performance measurement process” that could fill a three-ring binder.

In Terry Woychowski’s case, for example, his job as director of G.M.’s vehicle engineers was spelled out in exhaustive detail, and evaluated every three months.

But in his new job as vice president — a promotion he was given 20 days after G.M. emerged from bankruptcy — his performance review will be boiled down to a single page, something he had never seen in his 29 years with the company.

Mr. Woychowski said he felt the grip of G.M.’s legendary bureaucracy start to loosen, something he never imagined possible. Now, such reviews are being scaled down and simplified across the company.

“We measured ourselves ten ways from Sunday,” he said. “But as soon as everything is important, nothing is important.”

So, a shorter evaluation form. Uh-huh. OK. That’s great! So what happens to the new, shorter evaluation forms then? Bill? Hello? Nine paragraphs later . . . we still don’t know.

Replacing a binder full of job expectations with a one-page set of goals is just one sign of the fresh start, said Mr. Woychowski.

And the other sign? The delayed debut of the Chevrolet Cruze, to fix the vehicle’s six-speed gearbox for unspecified problems. Oh wait, that was yesterday’s excuse. (After the original generic excuse about a ensuring a “flawless launch.”) Today we learn that “The delay . . . was needed to improve engine performance and the quietness of the Cruze’s ride — important areas of comparison with the segment-leading Honda Civic.”

Anyway, point taken, although citing a failure to launch as a sign of success is a pretty twisted way of looking at things. And Vlasic might have mentioned that the delay is to a timetable set for Chevy by the . . . the Chairman of the Board. You know, the former telecoms guy. Whitacre.

Bill finishes with an odd anecdote, if ever there was one.

“There has been fear in the organization, and people have been afraid for their jobs,” he said. “But now we need to be open and transparent and trust each other, and be honest about our strengths and weaknesses.”

As he drove north, Mr. Reuss, 45, reflected on his own career at G.M. He started as a student intern in 1983, and worked his way up the engineering ranks. One of his biggest assignments was serving as the executive in charge of one of the most ridiculed cars in G.M. history, the Pontiac Aztek.

The Aztek was half-car, half-van, and universally branded as one of the ugliest vehicles to ever hit the market. Mr. Reuss had little to do with the design, but his job required him to defend it as if it were a thing of beauty.

It was brutal, he said during an interview as he drove, to grit his teeth and pretend that the Aztek was something to be proud of.

“It was something that flame-hardened me personally,” he said. “I’m in the ‘never again’ business. I wouldn’t wish that experience on anybody.”

And there you have it. In the new GM, everyone tells the truth and does their best because they’re not afraid of losing their job like they used to be–even though the lifer responsible for the Aztek is now in charge of GM’s global engineering. Who knew?

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8 Comments on “NYT: GM Tries Harder...”

  • avatar

    So…he wasn’t allowed to speak his mind on the car he was working on…Hummm. If he’d just use his experience, something might just come out of it. Or not..

  • avatar

    You can’t blame engineering for the design of the vehicle nor can you blame him for defending it by the order of his superiors. Who exactly was it that was responsible for signing off on the design?

  • avatar
    Mike Kelley

    I have found that the best way to deal with any remotely political article in the New York Times is to just doubt it.  I have seen retraction pieces there that were almost as long as the original articles.

  • avatar

    Rattner strikes again!

    Not exactly a vote of confidence for Fritz….

  • avatar
    Kristjan Ambroz

    It looks like someone at GM bought themselves a copy of the One minute manager and is now urgently trying to implement it. With all the horrible potential for disaster, once a less than standard situation is encountered. So yes, in short, there are some good  points about the approach but it’s again a ‘if a hammer is the only tool one has, every problem looks like a nail’ approach.

  • avatar

    This site will always have anti-GM articles no matter what.  In their eyes, GM will and can never do right!!  I sort of wonder who pays them.

    • 0 avatar

      If you’re going to say a company has changed, it’s not a good idea to use as the best example of the change as “well, there’s new employee evaluation forms”.   I’ve worked at my current employer for about 10 years.  Every year, there is a new way to evaluate employees.

  • avatar


    Last time I checked.. there are A DOZEN gutless, horribly styled, obese and style-less vehicles in GM’s FLEET NOW!

    I can begin with GMC and end with the interior.. of one of the best CARS Gm makes.. the Vette.

    Wish it on no one. It got wished on you, and Im sure a couple thousand other little fruitless bastards over there have the same horrible job.

    How bout this.
    How bout ya start designing 3BOX cars people give a shit about, like the SPARK and the EL Camino. And STOP SHOVING obese and gutless CRAP down the throats who HAVE TO BUY DOMESTIC.. like the Lambdas AND the VUE COPIES!

    How bout ya start designing cars smaller than the Malibu that are actually midsized (for once FUSION is PERFECT!)

    Theyd lie to their own mother.. and say they were forced to all for a GM paycheck err MY MONEY!!

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