Reverse Trajectory

Best practices, in corporate-speak, means borrowing a good idea and implementing it somewhere else.  So what’s the opposite?  Read it here.

From his insider perch, the brilliant auto journaliste Alex Taylor chronicles the methodology and mistakes of General Motors and the Detroit auto industry. It’s a what not to do guide for your company — or your life. (i.e., denial, oblivion, hubris, etc.)

I know Alex from the time we both lived in Michigan during the late ’70s. A vivid first impression was a chain of outdoor billboards dotting I-75 North for a Ford dealer promotion: “Help Stamp Out Foreign Matter.” Hmmm. Was this an ad campaign or a trade mission?

Indeed, it was an early indicator of Detroit’s response to the influx and influence of non-U.S. manufacturers. Designing superior products that consumers actually wanted was a too-late afterthought, as we all know now.

As documented by the author (whose C.V. includes Detroit Free Press, Time and Fortune),   GM’s collapse was caused, ”pure and simple, by bad management combined with ego and conceit.”

Some noteworthy and prescient comments from the book:

  • ”GM was the premier car company in the world for so long that it failed to see the need for change…so used to being leader that it couldn’t contemplate following others.” — from corporate governance experts Robert Monks and Nell Minow.
  • ”I have yet to see a CEO who says, Í went too fast, I should have moved slowly.”  – from Noel Tichy, Univ. of Michigan professor and advisor to GE’s Jack Welch
  • ”We never go to the outside for executives because that’s an admission that we didn’t build our people right.” – from Lee Iacocca on GM’s promote-from-within rationale.
  • ”One re-org per generation is enough” became the mantra, so Jack Smith and Rick Wagoner tried gradualism instead.  It was a big mistake.
  • ”There we were charging up the hill right on schedule, and I looked behind me and saw that many people were still at the bottom, trying to decide whether to come along.” — from former CEO and failed change agent Roger Smith.
  • ”GM employees were expected to display unwaverying loyalty and behave like team players.  This meant that they never questioned a decision [and] never contradicted a boss.  Decisions were shuttled higher and higher up in the organization so that if anything went wrong, nobody would every take the blame.”
  • ”These same men in a business amosphere, where everything is reduced to costs, profit goals and production deadlines, were able as a group to approve a product that most of them would not have considered approving as individuals.” — from industry maverick John DeLorean, on the Chevy Corvair safety debacle.

Pretty scary stuff.  And some excellent work/life lessons for all of us.

Listen!  Accept!  Adapt!  Propel!  And never wait for the market to bail you out.

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Copyright © 2012 Nancy Keene