Can We Handle the Truth?

Our Michigan first gentleman, Dan Mulhern, lit up the pages of the Detroit press when he gave praise to Toyota’s culture in recent writings. Daniel Howes, a very good Detroit News columnist, took the Governor’s husband to task for “gushing over Toyota’s way.” He makes the point that the governor’s husband is sending the wrong message about Detroit and the auto companies that call it home. Mr. Mulhern wrote that at Toyota the predominant thought is that culture beats strategy every time. As a Michigan resident, and one who has benefited greatly from the auto industry, I question why stating this is being “disloyal.” It is the message that Big Detroit Auto has to hear. Loud and often!

Decades of success have deeply rooted a culture of entitlement at the Big Two. However, a culture built in the 60s doesn’t fit the business world today. They are talking the right talk about change at GM, Ford, and the UAW, but they may not be willing to abandon the old to make room for the new. GM and Ford executives continue to ask for the government to address trade policies and CAFE restrictions. The UAW has to understand that benefits gained in the glory days can’t be paid for in these difficult times. Employees, both blue- and white-collar, must abandon any notion that they are entitled to lifetime employment and lifetime benefits in retirement.

Organizations that have the passion and discipline necessary to change their culture rely on the truth. And they welcome the truth tellers. In today’s Detroit News, another fine columnist, Laura Berman, drives home the truth, that we become “enablers” of the current, and ineffective, domestic auto culture. I fear she may have a point.

I grow concerned that a new debate may break out on who is to blame if Ford cannot survive, or GM employment numbers continue to tumble. The question I would pose to our community here is this: Is it possible for large companies with a long history to change their culture? Examples? When people offer criticism are they being disloyal? I do hope we can discuss this without turning it into a “who is to blame” thing. Can the truth set the Big Two free?

Mike Neiss posted this on February 22, 2007, in Strategies.
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