We’ve been asked by many of our customers for periodic, no-nonsense emails with just-in-time information for managers and knowledge workers on how organizations work. This is our 39th issue and we hope you enjoy it. Past editions are available on our website.
Paul Ingrassia is a former Wall Street Journal writer who covered Detroit for over 25 years. The book seems more like a collection of Journal articles than a cohesive story but it does provide a good review of what NOT to do if you want to avoid the fate of the auto industry. Unfortunately I doubt those lessons will be applied in either Detroit or other industries because "we" all have a history of forgetting bad times once the pressure is off.
The chapter titled, "Repentance, Rebirth and Relapse" summarizes our behavior. We panic when gas prices go up, vow to drive less and buy a car with better mileage. Then gas prices drop and we go right back to the actions that created a market for SUVs and big trucks. We accept that we have to give back wages or risk losing our jobs until the market turns and then we demand more to make up for lost time. Companies sell their corporate jets during the really bad years and buy even better models once they are out of danger. Unions give up some wage hikes or benefits only to find that management had increased their own bonuses or sweetened the retirement formula. The resulting anger creates long-term adversarial relationships that can't be overcome to create a collaborative partnership needed for a successful organizational future.
This paragraph sums up how and why the system failed:
"Detroit's disaster didn't have to happen. It occurred because the solutions were painful, requiring not just brains but courage. For too long neither UAW officials nor company executives had been able to muster that courage. As a result, many good people were caught in a bad system, and they couldn't escape its consequences." (pg. 276)
The lessons we can learn, if we choose, are:
Share as much information as you can. People are going to find out anyway and if it looks like you withheld information, trust erodes.
Take a look at how your system reflects status. Separate dining rooms, parking spaces, different equipment options and perks will create an us vs. them mindset. You might not actually see the resentments, but they will linger.
Learn how to reward the messengers who bring potentially bad news or just a contrarian view. Start with your own reaction. Ingrassia continually describes leaders going 'ballistic'. You can look at your own natural reaction to conflict in a style instrument such as DiSC Workplace which features coaching on "When Things Get Tense."
Listen, listen listen. People have the courage to speak up when they feel heard. Listening is a skill that can be learned, and frankly I do not think it comes naturally to most people. This book proves that repeatedly.
Stop looking for someone or something to blame. If Detroit had diverted even half of the energy they used to blame other into broadening their perspective on how they could improve their product and services, they would not be in the situation they are. Blaming others is also often a political tool, and playing politics was a huge brain and energy drain for both management and unions in Detroit. Ask How instead of Why.