Too many committees, scant accountability. A salute, and a nod.
The culture at General Motors allowed employees to easily pawn off of responsibility to colleagues, an internal investigation of GM’s long-delayed recall of millions of cars for faulty ignition switches has found.
A hallmark is “The GM Nod.” According to the report, CEO Mary Barra herself described the practice this way: “Everyone nods in agreement to a proposed plan of action, but then leaves the room with no intention to follow through, and the nod is an empty gesture.”
When they weren’t bobbing their heads, employees were executing “The GM Salute.” That’s “a crossing of the arms and pointing outward towards others, indicating that the responsibility belongs to someone else, not me,” the report said.
The ignition switch problem was taken up by “an astonishing number” of committees, but proposed solutions died and “no single person owned any decision,” the investigators found. With few written notes of the multiple meetings, it was hard to know who was on the committees and what they discussed.
And then there are “The Words.” In training on how to write about safety issues, GM employees were told not to use “judgmental adjectives and speculation.”
Don’t say “problem”; make it “issue,” “condition” or “matter.” Instead of “safety,” say “has potential safety implications.” And something isn’t a “defect”; it just “does not perform to design.”