Saturday, May 29, 2010

What can HR learn from the new General Motors

I recently came across an interesting article that highlighted how some companies develop various strategies in a vacuum called the conference room.

This article highlighted how GM has now started a program that their top engineers now drive various newly designed vehicles for a period of time and complete a thorough assessment  based on their driving experience.  Fair enough you might say.

What I found mind-boggling was that this is a new methodology that came in with the new regime that is now in control.  In GM’s storied past, this type assessment was never done.  Their cars were basically designed in a conference room.  Here is a major manufacturing company that made and sold millions of cars and from all indication, never thought about trying their own product. There was never a process to drive and structurally assessed the cars.

It makes you wonder how GM never thought of that. Their foreign competitors thought of it and focused on quality and in the end they won out.

This insight was important to me because I have designed many human capital initiatives over the years.  But so many times in human resources, people strategy is conceived in HR meetings and executive meetings.  Designing the product with no discern-able insight from the people who it is designed for.  This is one of the major reasons that performance reviews, employee engagement and other initiatives are poorly received.

I had a meeting recently with a senior level HR executive discussing  a new talent management strategy in which they was in the planning stages.  He mentioned that they had just chosen a performance management system with all the bells and whistles.  He was so excited about this new system and marveled at how great this system was.  He could not wait for the impending roll-out.  So I politely asked the question “what do the employees think of the new system with all the bells and whistles.

His response was that no employees were involved, only senior management had seen it.  My next question was "Who was the system designed for senior management or the employees of the company"?  The look on his face told me everything.

While senior management is the most important stakeholder for any type human capital initiative, there must always be other levels of input.  A cross section of employees must always be involved in major human capital initiatives.  This can be done via steering committee, focus groups etc.  The advantage of these types of groups is that it allows you the opportunity to hone and polish the first and succeeding drafts of any strategy.  It also pushes forward a group of advocates for your system or strategy once it is developed. They will be your advocates during the roll-out period and beyond.

One techniques that I have always used is to identify a select group of individuals that I affectionately call  “COI’s”.  This is not to be confused with the c-suite by any stretch of the imagination.  The name for this acronym is “Center of Influence”.  These are the individual in every company that carry influence within their respective cliques.  They could be managers and in a lot of cases they are not, but they carry the juice within their group.  Engage them and they become a part of your new initiative.  Partner with them and they become your biggest ally.  Make them a part of your unofficial cabinet.  Never develop any type plan or strategy unless you can possibly include at least some members of this “esteemed” targeted group of individuals.  Make them an unofficial part of your counsel.

Another techniques is to build a strong network of peers in various industries in your field of discipline.  Look upon this group as your board of directors.  Use this group as a sounding board for your human capital initiatives.  My group in New York would meet once per quarter for a group luncheon to discuss, mentor and make new connections.  Many a techniques were drafted over those tables and in most cases implemented successfully because of advise and insight by the group.  They were also just a phone call away.

We were linked in before Linkedin.  So next time you are contemplating a new human capital initiative, don’t use the old GM model.  Try out the new GM model and you will be on your way to building a dynamic and engaged workforce.


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