Once again, we have ignition, but not the desired kind. General Motors has been in the process of responding to and recovering from a serious ignition-switch defect that has put its customers at risk of injury or death. As this blog post publishes, GM has agreed to create a compensation fund to provide financial recourse to victims and families. So far, over 50 accidents have been attributed to the faulty ignition switches.
The saddest part of this entire situation is of course the human toll. Injury and death are tragic events that no amount of money genuinely repairs. However, the runner-up in sadness is the quagmire of human and corporate-culture conditions that contributed to GM being in this horrible predicament. We have seen this script played out too many times in too many settings. Certain ill-fated dynamics demand our attention:
Organizational Isolationism. As organizations become larger, a tendency develops for each department to become its own silo. It becomes “us” and “them” instead of one corporate “we.” Communication channels slowly break down or completely disappear. When this happens, you have the classic condition of the right hand not knowing what the left hand is doing.
Faulty Leadership. Faultier than the ignition switches was the leadership. Quality leadership creates an environment in which problems are not just “issues” and people are empowered to speak what they know. At multiple points, among many people, a serious failure of leadership was occurring.
Profit Overpowers People. Every business is rightfully concerned about achieving financial goals. Without profit, you will not remain in business. However, when profit overpowers people, your business has a systemic disease because people—your employees, customers, and business partners—are the ultimate source of profit.
Groupthink Overwhelms Individual Ethics. Every organization must move forward united by a common vision, plan, and purpose. However, an unwanted side effect of that dynamic is groupthink. This is a bad thing because it suppresses individual initiative. The individual does not want to announce anything that might run counter to what the group seems to embrace. This happens when a technician is afraid to voice a technical defect to a manager who is afraid to share it with a higher-up because no one wants to be the bearer of bad news. Therefore, individuals compromise personal and professional ethics because they do not want to rock the boat.
Regardless of your position, title, or role, if you do not want an “ignition” debacle in your business, then it is up to you to combat these ill-fated dynamics. Unless you do that, then you become part of the problem. Let us focus on being part of the solution.