I agree with the basic premise of this piece that not all is rotten in GM. For example, I rather like some of their recent products — design and execution (Chevy Malibu/Saturn Aura, Solstice/Sky, Cadillac products). I won’t go so far as defending CEO Rick Wagoner, as the piece does.
The one detail that jumped out at me:
The company has made enormous strides in imitating and improving upon Toyota’s lean manufacturing system. At G.M. plants, gone are the mass assembly techniques pioneered by Henry Ford. Instead, workers are organized in small Japanese-style teams and encouraged to make sure problems are fixed on the spot rather than passed down the line. The quality gap between G.M. and Toyota has been closed.
GM has been copying Toyota on the shopfloor (or trying) for decades. That was part of my work at a GM plant in the mid-90’s. Even if a lot of progress has been made, the shopfloor success alone won’t save the company.
I’m looking for comments from current or recent GM shopfloor folks (salaried or UAW). Do you believe or agree with the bolded statement about workers being empowered to stop the line and participate in quality improvement? Is the author of the NY Times piece reflecting reality or embellishing it? I’m certain they have andon cords in place, but how has the culture changed at the gemba? How do supervisors react when an employee suspects a problem (or admits making an error)?
It’s ironic, also, that Henry Ford is bashed as “mass production” when Toyota learned so much from Henry Ford (the man) and eventually Ford (the company) got away from Henry’s principles. So to say Henry Ford’s principles are “gone” doesn’t seem very accurate. Henry Ford was reputed to say something like “Why is it when I hire a pair of hands, a brain comes attached?” It that quote was accurate, that aspect of Henry Ford-ism is something I’d hope would be gone from a modern GM (or Ford Motor Company, for that matter…. or any workplace).
Some of my questioning/cynicism comes from this earlier story about a Ford plant where (due to the culture) the workers were afraid to pull the andon cord.
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