Vlasic, After Bankruptcy, G.M Struggles, NYT, Dec. 2009.
“After Bankruptcy, G.M. Struggles to Shed a Legendary Bureaucracy.”
By Bill Vlasic
DETROIT — In the old
, employees were evaluated according to a “performance
measurement process” that could fill a three-ring binder.
In Terry Woychowski’s case, for example, his job as director of G.M.’s vehicle engineers was
spelled out in exhaustive detail, and evaluated every three months.
But in his new job as vice president — a promotion he was given 20 days after G.M. emerged
from bankruptcy — his performance review will be boiled down to a single page, something he
had never seen in his 29 years with the company.
Mr. Woychowski said he felt the grip of G.M.’s legendary bureaucracy start to loosen, something
he never imagined possible. Now, such reviews are being scaled down and simplified across the
“We measured ourselves ten ways from Sunday,” he said. “But as soon as everything is
important, nothing is important.”
For all its financial troubles and shortcomings as an automaker, no aspect of G.M. has
confounded its critics as much as its hidebound, command-and-control corporate culture.
When G.M. collapsed last year and turned to the government for an emergency bailout, its
century-old way of conducting business was laid bare, with all its flaws in plain sight. Decisions
were made, if at all, at a glacial pace, bogged down by endless committees, reports and reviews
that astonished members of
’s auto task force.
“Everyone knew Detroit’s reputation for insular, slow-moving cultures,”
, head of
the task force, wrote recently in Fortune magazine. “Even by that low standard, I was shocked by
the stunningly poor management that we found.”
G.M. will present its first postbankruptcy scorecard on Monday, when the company reports third-
quarter earnings and its cash reserves. The company said on Nov. 3 that its financial health had
“improved significantly” in recent months.
Even as it labors to change its culture, G.M. must convince consumers that it is building better
cars. One sign of its challenge: Fewer than a dozen of the company’s models were recommended
in a recent Consumer Reports survey.