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My Skepticism about GM’s “Speak Up for Safety” Program

Screen Shot 2014-04-11 at 8.57.11 PMI have a new article posted on LinkedIn: “My New Program: Speak Up About “Speak Up for Safety” at GM.”

GM seems to continue their “blame the employees” game, as they’ve suspended two engineers (in my mind, blaming individuals for systemic cultural problems). CEO Mary Barra says that some executives may be punished, but starting from “the bottom up” with the punishments doesn’t sound like a new GM.

I’m skeptical that a “speak up” program will do anything. The problem wasn’t a lack of employees speaking up, but rather a lack of leaders actually listening. A funny commenter, Rod Barnett,  suggested that the new GM program should be called “Listen Up for Safety” and should be directed at executives, not engineers.

I recently shared a “speak up” story about quality and, in the new LinkedIn piece, I share a new personal story about speaking up about employee safety. It includes me having hands placed around my neck in a threatening way. Good times.


About LeanBlog.org: Mark Graban is a consultant, author, and speaker in the “lean healthcare” methodology. Mark is author of the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, as well as the new Executive Guide to Healthcare Kaizen. Mark is also the VP of Customer Success for the technology company KaiNexus.

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14 Comments on "My Skepticism about GM’s “Speak Up for Safety” Program"

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  1. Mark Graban
    Twitter:
    says:

    A comment by Zane Ferry on LinkedIn:

    It’s unfortunate that a quintessentially American company must deploy a program to encourage the most basic ethical thinking and behavior. When did “Don’t kill our customers” become a bad business decision, by the way? It is the duty of leadership to model that highest standard of ethical behavior, reiterate that message, and look quickly and deeply into any questionable issues. Plenty of good people have left GM (and, to be fair, other US automakers) in recent decades because there was no such leadership. I would like to believe we are finally witnessing the end of long, bad era of disregard for customers and quality-focused employees.

    Mark Graban recently posted..What Lean is Lacking: Disco Medallions?My Profile

  2. Jeromy says:

    I’m dubious of of GM’s Speak up for Safety plan, especially in light of them suspensing two engineers. The funny thing is that my hospital has a program called Speak up for Safety. But ours is combined with high reliability and lean training, and supports our continuous improvement efforts.

    Anyway, here’s a link to our Speak up for Safety video: http://youtu.be/rOlCMLbOm6c

    • Mark Graban
      Twitter:
      says:

      Thanks for sharing. When the CEO says, “You have my support,” how is that demonstrated? Do you think people really think they will be supported?

      It would be nice if the video included an example of what happened when somebody spoke up… a real example that shows management walks the talk.

      I could imagine many healthcare professionals in many organizations rolling their eyes at a video like this… but if the leadership support, action, and culture is really there, then a video like this is probably a good reminder to speak up.

      I’d guarantee that the first time a person speaks up and does NOT get the right response, word about that will spread very quickly.

      I wonder if GM leaders are sending the message that was in your video of “Nobody’s perfect, we all make mistakes”??
      Mark Graban recently posted..Learning Not to Blame: Baseball EditionMy Profile

      • Jeromy says:

        The “Speak up for Safety” video is just one piece of the high reliability and lean training. You’re right, by itself it wouldn’t have much impact, but we tie it to a set standard behaviors, train physicians and leaders to really listen when a colleague or staff have a concern, and we’re growing a lean culture that make continuous improvement part of our daily activities. Our culture isn’t perfect, but I’m glad to say the message in the video is sincere and backed up by the action of our leaders.

        I wonder if GM will be able to say the same.

  3. Mark Graban
    Twitter:
    says:

    Great comment from Gabe Offerman as part of our discussion in the comments:

    If a dangerous problem exists on the floor and the people there right now know about it and have the where-with-all to solve it then and there, I do not see how any organization should force employees to continue working in such an environment in good conscience while they file paperwork and leave messages for managers instead of taking the known action. Good managers implore their team-members that if they see a safety problem and can fix it that they go ahead and do so. If that’s not the culture, there’s a problem.

    So, perhaps an even better wording of the program would be “Speak up, Organize, and Take responsible and collaborative action for safety.”… Would you agree? … in the end, the best result is a culture where employees look out for the safety of their co-workers, the business itself, and their customers by nature and out of habit. Leadership, Critical thinking, and Initiative in problem solving are imperatives all company cultures should cultivate with complete devotion.

  4. Mark Graban
    Twitter:
    says:

    I think GM needs to have an extreme amount of transparency around this initiative if they are going to build trust with employees and the public.

    Virginia Mason Medical Center has shared data on the number of Patient Safety Alerts that have been called in their hospitals. I think GM could do the same.

    Better yet is Alcoa publishing REAL-TIME employee safety data on their website. GM could do the same in regards to the number of Speak Up For Safety instances they have, without necessarily sharing details of each one.
    Mark Graban recently posted..Learning Not to Blame: Baseball EditionMy Profile

  5. Paul Everett says:

    It’s beyond belief that many folks in top management, including Mary Barra, didn’t know about the defect that cost 13 lives and it will cost millions of dollars. They have certainly failed the basic test of personal integrity. And, of course, GM’s integrity as an organization must be severely called into question.

    Reminds me of “Unsafe At Any Speed” by Ralph Nader calling GM out on the rear-engined car that would over steer because it didn’t have the proper engineering. (the Chevrolet Corvair). From Wikipedia:

    “George Caramagna, the Chevrolet suspension mechanic (who, Nader learned, had fought management over omission of the vital anti-sway bar that they were forced to install in later models) was vital to this issue. The missing bar had caused many crashes and it was Caramagna who precipitated the whole controversy by staying his ground on the issue.”

    So, there are people of integrity who will speak up but there aren’t many. I have a family member who spoke up, repeatedly, about a well-known plan in a major company that has been a disaster. Multi-billion dollar disaster. He was told that he had to either shut up or leave. He was proven right and even had a meeting with upper management where they admitted they “Should have listened to you earlier”. So, you can do it (call out bad plans) and survive, but it isn’t easy.

  6. Mark Graban
    Twitter:
    says:

    The British NHS has a program called “Speak Out Safely.”

    I wonder how that’s working for them.

    Our Speak Out Safely (SOS) campaign aims to encourage NHS organisations and independent healthcare providers to develop cultures that are honest and transparent, to actively encourage staff to raise the alarm when they see poor practice, and to protect them when they do so.

    We want:

    The government to introduce a statutory duty of candour compelling health professionals and managers to be open about care failings

    Trusts to sign up to our campaign, making a public commitment to supporting staff who raise concerns

    The government to undertake a wholesale review of the Public Interest Disclosure Act, to ensure whistleblowers who take concerns outside their organisation if they are not taken seriously internally are fully protected.

    Mark Graban recently posted..New @KaiNexus Website, New Blog, & Free Improvement WebinarsMy Profile

  7. Mark Graban
    Twitter:
    says:

    From today’s WSJ:

    GM Officials Ignored Alert on Car Stalling
    Switch Engineer, Others Were Sent 2005 Warning Over Bump Disabling Engine

    1) There’s new allegations that somebody warned about a vehicle safety problem… back in 2005 and a recall was just issued this week (vehicles stalling because the ignition switch would get out of position if the car hit a pothole). What happened to that engineer who spoke up for safety? She is still employed there.

    2) Barra says, of the “speak up for safety” program: “I am personally getting information from employees,” she said.”

    Hmmm. What will they do with that information?
    Mark Graban recently posted..Dilbert Gets Called “Resistant to Change”My Profile

  8. Mark Graban
    Twitter:
    says:

    Here’s a story about a GM co-op student speaking up for safety:

    GM co-op student report leads to safety recall

    Sounds like the process worked well here.
    Mark Graban recently posted..Reflections: If I Hadn’t Moved From Lean Manufacturing to Lean HealthcareMy Profile

  9. Dick Danjin says:

    To this ” program ” Deming at his seminars would say ” get rid of the inspectors “,I think Deming would say the same.

  10. Dick Danjin says:

    I gave you a rushed answer Mark.Early 1982 Windsor Ontario my first Deming seminar,his first book was released that month.He was obviously very proud of it ,there were over 500 people there.I aaas there because my plant manager sent me as a result of him calling me to his office and giving me an article by Deming,I had not heard of D at that time.,The article was about 3 pages and I was drawn to the 14 points as he was speaking after scanning the 14 points for about 15 seconds I told the plant manager “we are going to do Deming at the GEAR ‘

    To your point the 14 th point said ” Management shall on a day by day basis reinforce the above 13 points ” as to statistics and variation I had very little knowledge but as to who does what in the work place I knew of my experience and the GM contract ” management manages and workers work ” ” PERIOD ”

    Around 1985/6 in a conversation with Deming I told him that 80/20 was wrong and that it was more like 99% plus management,he eventually came pretty close to that

    In the event that there is some doubt about managements ” property rights ” in any organization,which by the way they will fight to the death about I offer up an explicit example of what it looks like in a legal document/contract

    this type of language is to bee found in just about all labor agreements with few exceptions : Saturn vein g one of them

    (8) The4 right to hire : promote: discharger discipline for cause : and to maintain discipline and efficiency of employees, is the sole responsibility of the Corporation except that Union members shall not bed discriminated against as such. In addition, the products to be manufactured,the location of the plants,the schedules of production,the methods,processes and means of manufacturing are solely and exclusively the responsibility of the Corporation.

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