The Royal We

The Royal We

In the context of the GM report on org culture

Organisational culture isn’t an accident. It isn’t the result of serendipity, happenstance, or chance. For good or for ill, there is only one reason why the culture where you work is the way it is. It’s always a reaction to something else; and that something else is the managerial behaviour.

Managers set the tone. By example in everything, they determine way is acceptable and what isn’t; and it’s impossible for them to abdicate that responsibility. That’s because those who work in the company will always respond one way or the other according to how they act.

Disregarding the fact that everything appears backward, think of a mirror. It doesn’t matter what you do, that piece of glass will reflect your actions. It’s impossible for you to get the image you see to be something other than what you do. And the same thing happens in organisations. In fact, you could say that your employees will mirror your behaviour.

Consider, for example, what has happened at GM. They are in the midst of dealing with the recall of millions of cars because of a fault in the ignition switches that dates back more than 10 years – a decade: 25% of a career. That’s a long time on anyone’s calendar.

How is it possible that a problem, which caused more than 50 accidents and killed a dozen people, be allowed to go on inside a company of the size and influence of GM? The very idea is mind-boggling; and yet it happened. And they have a long way to go in order to correct that problem. That’s because the mechanical problem is not the problem. The real problem is the organisational culture that let it get this far. And that all the way to the top of the hierarchy.

There are some who would argue that more education is needed; indeed, this was one of the recommendations in the Volukas Report, the document that resulted from the investigation into this tragedy of errors. Education by itself, however, does nothing. It creates an awareness, to be sure; but it doesn’t guarantee that anything will be done as a result. This, too, was borne out by the investigation. Numerous committees had met over the years. The problem wasn’t that no one knew about it; rather it was that no one would take responsibility to fix it. That’s why it was allowed to go on for so long.

What does this have to do with managerial behaviour? Everything.

Mary Barra, the CEO of GM, held a global “town hall” in order to respond to the findings in the Report. Her comments are very revealing.

She said that it showed that they hadn’t met the fundamental needs of GM’s customers. While that is true, it completely misses the crux of the problem. It’s an outcome; not a cause.

She talked about people failed to own the problem, to provide pertinent information about it, and to act promptly to do anything about it. These, too, were the results; not the underlying reason.

The most basic problem, and it’s the one that she either hasn’t seen or is unwilling to admit, and that there’s no such thing as the “royal we”. It you baby. You are the one who is responsible.

It doesn’t matter if the engineers didn’t tell you. The report s out that hierarchy consisted of silos. Guess whose job it is to change that? And why didn’t key people in the company own the problem?Why did they hide information that could have corrected it, and why was there no urgency to deal with it at the beginning?

It’s because the person at the top failed to convey to those below her that that’s what she expected from those below her. The Board took their cue from her. Senior managers took their cue from the board, as did the managers further down the tree.

One thing the company has done to “fix” the problem is to make senior management aware of decisions made about safety. Pardon? You mean that this didn’t exist until now? What is the essence of the manufacturing of cars? Safe travel ought to be at the top of the agenda, don’t you think?

If the culture in your organisation isn’t what you’d like it to be, then take a week, a fortnight – as long as it takes – to figure out what you would like it to be, and then identify the changes you need to make in the way that you behave so that those watching you will know what is expected of them.

Be nice to them. This is not permission to become a tyrant. It is a call to action. Change your policies and procedures, create urgency to do the right thing, and then hold people accountable for doing it.

You’ll be amazed at the results. 

If you'd like to improve the organisational culture in your company, contact me today.

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