why the GM congressional hearings are premature
When you’re having a bad day, be glad your name isn’t Mary Barra. Can you imagine inheriting the problem that GM is facing? It’s beyond any work stress we can imagine. Here you are, three months into a new job and smack-dab in the middle of a Congressional Hearing answering questions on why the actions, or lack thereof, by employees in your organization caused 13 deaths and an unknown amount of injuries.
The media is being critical of Barra and how she’s answering some of the questions with “that’s unacceptable,” to “that’s inconceivable,” to “we’re still investigating.” I even read a news title that said she’s “dodging responsibility for recall flaws.”
One can argue that Barra has been with GM for years so she should have known — especially since one of her roles since 2011 was a Sr. Vice President responsible for the design, engineering, program management and quality of GM vehicles around the world. Perhaps. For now, Barra will not be able to answer these questions with any fact or substance and here’s why:
1. Delegation and autonomy
Work and projects are delegated through layers of org charts to corporate soldiers who are expected to get the work done. So unless a leader is a micro-manager in a tiny company, it’s literally impossible for CEOs and high level execs, especially in a company the size of GM, to be aware of every decision being made by employees.
Since leaders are human and different, some give more autonomy than others to their teams. And yes, someone, somewhere dropped the ball in a big way. What if there was a decision made by a front-line engineering manager that caused this mess and now that manager is no longer with the company? That takes me to point #2.
2. Investigations take time
As I was listening to the hearing and reading about it, I was comparing it to the process of workplace investigations I’ve been involved in. My experiences are microscopic compared to the gravity of this tragedy, but I’m all too familiar with the time, patience and diligence involved in drilling down for the truth, or the semblance thereof, in an investigation.
Barra isn’t dodging responsibility or being vague — she’s telling the truth when she’s says, “I don’t know.” Frankly, they need to bring Dan Akers, the former GM leader, into this investigation.
It’s an unreasonable waste of time to put Barra in the hot seat now. Without the time to do an investigation, no one will be satisfied with her answers.
3. Identify the flaws to focus on prevention
GM needs to figure out how this happened with hard facts. Whether it was a process failure, communication failure or blatantly downplaying the significance of faulty equipment, they need to identify how this happened and why — all the way down to the manufacturing floor. After knowing these details and the potential chain of events, only then will they be able to implement an improved quality control tool or process that will (hopefully) prevent a repeat of this event.
Just to reiterate, I am in no way saying that Barra and the GM employees are not accountable for putting faulty vehicles on the road — they certainly are. And my heart goes out to the families who have lost loved ones in what now seems like an all too preventable fix.