On the surface, the problem with the American car companies is that credit is hard to come by, people have too much debt, and people will hang on to their cars a bit longer before buying new. The same problem as “foreign” car companies.
But below the surface, American car company management is incompetent. Not the workers, though the union rules can be breathtaking. Even though the UAW has now set it up that new workers being hired will make significantly less than current workers.
* Go to Congress and ask for $25 billion and fly there in private corporate jets. Tone deaf just doesn’t begin to describe it. Security as an excuse is ridiculous – that’s why there is this organization called TSA for airlines.
* Total dependence on big trucks and SUV’s for all profits. Top management can’t figure out that there is an energy crisis in the making? Did we learn nothing from the 1970’s?
* Inability to go for the game-changing car. Sure, we’re hearing about the Volt, but what about fuel cells? Hybrids – but only for big SUV’s! If you want to be the leading car company in the world, innovation is a lot more than rounding the fenders and adding chrome.
* Management who believes only they have the top-down answers to the questions.
* A management culture isolated from the employee experience
* The only answers are beg for money and downsize the employee base – because there was no foresight to seeing the problems
This isn’t the first time the car industry has asked for a bailout; and, to be fair, the last one was successful – in a completely different competitive environment. In today’s global economy, what you have going on in Detroit is a horse and buggy competing against an Indy 500 race car. Management has demonstrated no ability to manage, foresee problems, or change the culture of isolation from employees and customers.
It is the culture of Detroit car company management. No one can apparently change it. Despite efforts to do so from the top down.
So bailing out Detroit is simply throwing taxpayer money against the wall and watching none of it stick. Good money going after bad. There will be no game-changing work coming out of Detroit, nor will there be any change to the culture of isolation from employees and customers. Even if there is a good plan given to Congress and they drive out there in their publicity-seeking car pools to ask for money.
The problem – failure will eviscerate the job market
But letting the car companies go under causes its own consequences. Not only is it the employees who will lose their jobs, but thousands and thousands more that supply Detroit – and others – with parts, inventory, and other needed services. It would kill the economy.
So bail out Detroit. But fire the management team. However big the management team is. The culture needs to change. The environment needs to change. Creativity needs to flow again. Game changing dynamics are needed when one week you fly to Washington on your own jet plane and think three weeks later driving in a car pool is change.
Your company just downsized 10%. Every department was affected, including yours. After handling the “survivors” syndrome, it’s time to get back to work. What is the work going to look like? Did your management team simply downsize? Or did your management team figure out what work is no longer going to get done because the management team determined the work was no longer valuable to the company?
The layoff trap
For those that survive the layoff, the trap is to continue to do all of the work – with fewer people. That means YOU get to do all of the additional work that the people laid off were doing. So you work more hours. More days. And drive yourself crazy with all of the work instead of focusing on your family, professional and personal support networks.
A true story
When I had to lay off a group of people that worked for me, we were eliminating a function that we no longer wanted to be doing. While that caused people to be gone from the business, it was clear that my management no longer thought the function was important to be doing. Agree or disagree, at least it was clear and there was comfort to me in that approach.
One month after the layoff, a different department approached me and asked if they could learn about the function that my department was no longer doing. I agreed and we had a two-hour meeting on the work that was done. At the end of the meeting, this department said that they could really help me and could support what I was doing in my department with the function.
When I told them that I would gladly hand over all of the documentation and they could take over the function because we were no longer doing the work, they were surprised.
“Why aren’t you doing this anymore,” they asked?
“Because my management team determined the function was no longer important, so I am no longer working on it,” was my reply. “If you want to work on something management has already determined is no longer important, be my guest.” (If they want to be set up to be laid off later, that’s not my problem…).
In the end, they took all of the documentation. I never offered them any additional help.
What needs to be done
If you accept the premise that the people who were laid off were productive and doing real work, then the management team needs to determine what work will no longer be done. Which reports? Which processes? Which meetings? Management must determine what the most important work is and assign people to do it. Not just keep doing what has always done. Do you think the 50,000+ people being laid off at Citigroup weren’t doing any work?
After the layoff, it is important for the people still working to specifically ask what will no longer be done. It is a critical, defining question for your management team. It will probably not be known the day of the layoff what will no longer be done – but don’t get a non-answer and then forget about it. Bring it up at the next team meeting. And then one more. If your management team can’t tell you after two team meetings, you have your answer.
If your management team can’t tell you what work will no longer be done, it is time to find a new job.
If you don’t, you’ll get stuck doing all the work that was done by additional staff. Work that doesn’t pertain to your goals. And if you don’t work the extra hours and get the extra work done, you’ll be rated poorly all because management wasn’t good enough to define what no longer would be done with less staff.