General Motors CEO Mary Barra has been on a mission to repair the automaker’s notoriously flawed internal culture ever since its ignition switch recall crisis came to light in February. Automotive News recently sat down with Barra to discuss the company’s culture, where she revealed she’s asking employees to make “small changes” every day as they work towards cultural transformation.
These small changes could be anything from being more active and forthright in meetings, to reporting a possible vehicle problem through her new Speak Up For Safety program. “It’s changing behaviours,” Barra said, and it’s how she plans to completely overhaul the company’s culture in only five short years.
Crucial to changing the way the company handles safety defects is Global safety chief Jeff Boyer, who was moved to the position earlier this year in light of the ignition switch recalls. Boyer and his team of vehicle safety experts operate with the intention of identifying and resolving product safety concerns. Barra says they are “a beacon that the organization goes to with concerns. And they’re seeing it get resolved.”
Barra has laid out five areas where GM needs to make obvious improvements: candor, accountability, trust, winning and tenacity. She stressed that any execs who aren’t willing to work on these aspects don’t need to stay with the company.
“The people will change, or the people will change,” she told AN.
GM’s head of global product development, Mark Reuss, said he’s heard similar talk to Barra’s from other CEOs in the past. The difference with Barra, according to him, is she’s “holding people accountable to that mentality.”
GM North America President Alan Batey is also confident in Barra’s abilities. Her handling of the ignition switch recall crisis and her vow to “never put this (the recall) behind us,” was a defining moment for employees. Her upfront management style also helps “put people at ease,” Batey said, which results in more honest input from staff.
“What happens is, everyone starts to share. And guess what? When you get 10 people around a table actively engaged, you get a better decision than when two of them are telling everyone else what we’re going to do,” Batey said.
Barra and her team can carry this new positive mentality all they like, but that doesn’t mean it will trickle down through to the rest of the company. Former GM CEO Roger Smith referred to this as “the frozen middle.” Barra called the top 300 GM execs from around the country to a meeting in Detroit in September to discuss “what behaviours are getting in our way,” in an attempt to address the issue.
She’s not only looking for her employees to change, though. Barra wants to change with the company, too, and wants her employees to hold her accountable if she doesn’t meet the goals she’s set or act in a way that promotes change.
“If I don’t live up to what we all agree, they should call me out,” she said.