GM is caught in two cultural binds—the need to change its own culture, and the challenge of getting Americans to buy their cars. I call it the double cultural whammy, just to be scientific.
Today we’ll talk about the first challenge. Tomorrow, we’ll talk about the American car culture and what it would take for it to change.
The bankruptcy of GM will help to solve once-intractable problems: getting out of a mountain of debt, reducing labor costs, cutting legacy costs, and severing dealers.
That’s the easy fix. The hard fix will be changing the GM corporate culture—the values, attitudes, beliefs, norms, and practices that govern how people think, what they think about, how they treat one another, how they see their work and get it done.
Culture is obdurate. It is almost impossible to change. GM has tried before to radically change its culture—putting a cadre of outsiders in executive roles, partnering with Toyota to learn from the Japanese master, creating Saturn to become a new model for GM, and so on—but not much really worked. Incremental change, maybe. Not radical change.
Obama has high hopes—as I do as well—for the new GM. “A new GM will emerge that can provide a new generation of Americans with a chance to live out their dreams,” he said in a statement this week, “that can out-compete automakers around the world, and that can once again be an integral part of America’s economic future.”
But if I put my hopes and wishes and fantasies aside, what would I say is the probability that the new GM will make the radical culture change necessary to out-compete automakers around the world?
Radical culture change is possible. From my vantage point in a business school, I have seen it happen—but it rarely does.
What do you think of my assessment? Am I too harsh – or right on the mark?
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