Organizational barriers to change (from 1980s GM): Part 1

Organizational barriers to change (from 1980s GM): Part 1

This is Part 1 of a two-part series that explores barriers to organizational change. The examples I highlight were observed in the 1980s when GM tried to transition their manufacturing plants to the Japanese manufacturing process. Yet, these qualities can also be seen in companies today that resist organizational transformation. Read the final part of the series here.

My last post “Bad employees or bad system? Ask 1984 GM.” discussed the employee transformation that took place in the ‘80s when GM and Toyota created a joint partnership to manufacture small cars. Toyota trained GM’s workforce in the Toyota manufacturing process, which emphasized teamwork and collaboration. They opened the NUMMI manufacturing plant together using this method in 1984.

Despite using most of the same employees from the troubled (and eventually closed) GM Fremont plant, the problems that plagued GM Fremont were absent at the NUMMI plant. Workers helped each other. They fixed problems rather than accept them (even when that meant stopping production to do so). People became proud of their jobs and of what they were making. (The story of this transformation was told on This American Life. It’s a great listen.)

Yet, it wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows. Read more