Posts Tagged ‘cars’
June 13th, 2011 at 7:22 pm
GM’s Misguided ‘Culture of Excellence’

If last week’s column about the cluelessness of General Motors’ management got you in the mood for some “how did we get here” info, former GM and Chrysler executive Bob Lutz has an app…er, book for that.

The book is titled Car Guys vs. Bean Counters: The Battle for the Soul of American Business.” Lutz’s experiences have been the subject of superb interviews in The Atlantic and the Wall Street Journal.  In both, Lutz describes how an overreliance on metrics – in particular, counting the wrong things like volume instead of profit – over time destroyed the creativity and dominance of the American auto industry.

All of the hyperlinks are worth reading, but here is the funniest – and saddest – story I’ve read so far:

The Outside Speaker Effective Analysis Group

A revealing window into GM’s misfiring “culture of excellence” in the second half of the 20th century came by way of my late friend David E. Davis Jr., dean of automotive writers, lecturer, author, pioneering writer at Car and Driver, and founder of Automobile magazine. A sought-after speaker highly knowledgeable about our industry, David told this anecdote in the mid-1980s when speaking about GM.

Sometime in the early ’80s, he’d accepted a gig as speaker to a large group of GM executives. The speech appeared to go well, and the applause felt genuine. David went home pleased and thought no more about it until he received the following letter:

Dear David:
You asked for feedback on your remarks at our recent conference. The data is just now available.

The rating scale was zero to ten with ten being “best.” The five non-GM speakers had scores ranging from zero to ten. Yours ranged from three to ten. The five “outside speakers'” average scores ranged from 5.25 to 8.25.

Your average was 7.35.

Two speakers had higher scores than yours. Your standard deviation from the mean was 1.719 and ranked second among the variances, showing that most people had a similar opinion about your remarks.

I personally enjoyed your remarks very much. Your refreshing candor, coupled with your broad understanding of people, product, and the market, gave us exactly what we asked you for—”widened competitive awareness.”

Thank you for your participation.

Outside Speaker Effective Analysis Group

An “outside speaker effective analysis group”? This was the result of too much money and too many overly educated, almost academically oriented people focusing their ray guns of unbridled excellence on targets of complete irrelevance.

That last paragraph almost sounds like a gaggle of bureaucrats, doesn’t it?  Of course, nobody in D.C. could be accused of wasting time and money on inappropriate expenditures, right?