General Motors’ “Positive Leadership” Program

The Problem – The entire GM work force was experiencing an unprecedented amount of change and uncertainty as a result of increased competition. GM needed to create a lean, competitive, and externally focused organization, a considerable shift from its past 20+ years. It was critical that every supervisor and manager feel comfortable, confident and competent in leading this change. This was pointedly not the case.

The management population was characterized as unable to:

What We Did- Developed a management system designed that focused attention and skills on creating a management group which was characterized by four critical aspects:

Trust – creating and maintaining an atmosphere in which people are honest and open with each other.

Empowerment – a feeling in management and, where appropriate, in employees that they feel they have the authority to take action.

Competitiveness – creating and maintaining a working environment in which people work together to assure that products and services meet customer expectations.

Personal Responsibility – where each supervisor and manager feels responsible for the products, services and welt-being of the organization.

Our Results – Grievances requiring corporate intervention dropped 20%. In an interview sample of 300 managers, 75% commented on instances of direct application of the principles in daily work. A detailed cost benefit analysis showed a program cost of $30,922,500 with an identifiable return of $337,500,000 for a cost-benefit ratio of 1/11. Areas of impact included reduced voluntary turnover, increased productivity, increased quality, reduced costs.

Some quotes from line managers which were typical of the results:

“It has inspired me to take a personal responsibility for making change work. I feel very positive and have a new attitude and perspective that I intend to share with my peers and employees.”

“‘Positive Leadership’ has changed me and my guys to take the positive high road. That’s the first step, but suddenly the walk doesn’t seem so far.”

“Let people know that in their given situation, no matter how big or small, they can make a difference.”