Memorandum for GM’s Upper Management
DATE: October 12, 2016
SUBJECT: GM Cobalt Recall
Through this memo, some recommendations are given towards improving safety in the company and avoiding such a situation in the future. The recommendations are imperative since they offer a solution for the current problem and chart a course for the future.
Following a decade of delay, GM eventually recalled Cobalt. However, it is apparent that the safety defect in GM cars was a result of structural weaknesses, incompetence, and unethical practices. The approval of a below average ignition switch by GM personnel was dangerous, unethical, and an unacceptable business practice. Indeed, the company’s poor management and individual errors were of great consequence.
GM, through its engineering personnel, approved using an ignition switch that could become an accessory, thus leading to the loss of power to steering and power brakes, which was a great safety problem due to its faulty nature. In fact, the mistake was one engineer who single-handedly authorized the use of the below-standard ignition switch. To make matters worse, the engineer who caused the initial safety defect was unknown to the panel of engineers investigating the fault. The same engineer changed the ignition switch but not the part number. He further concealed this change from the company and investigators. During the investigations after his identity was discovered, the engineer denied ever making the modifications, yet it was apparent that he made them. As such, the safety fault in GMs cars was acute, yet the organization was slow in addressing the same. What was alarming was the disorganization in the company regarding the aspect of decision-making.
It is absurd to realize that the mistake of one engineer can cost the company such great discomfort and create a big safety problem. What compounds the problem is that a single engineer’s role in making decisions regarding the switch was never supervised or regulated at all. In fact, nobody else was aware of the activities of this single person, yet the decision made an impact on the entire organization. It appears that the structure of GM is weak in the sense that the activities of engineers or employees are never discussed, regulated, or approved. A single individual makes major decisions and activities without consulting anybody. Perhaps, the engineers operate in a free environment without regulation, provision, and authority. Consequently, one wonders the role assigned to the middle management.
The company seems to have no supervisors who ensure that every step, activity, or decision is documented. In the course of uncovering the mystery behind the Cobalt ignition switch, various organizational efficiencies have been recorded in GM. In essence, the cause of this problem is based on the mistake of a single engineer. Although individuals are prone to errors, it is evident that the mistake made by the individual cannot be blamed entirely on him but on the existing structure and culture of general motors. It dawns that the company does not have an enabling environment for making decisions, consulting, and documenting activities. As such, it became difficult for the committee investigating the defect on the ignition switch safety to pinpoint or identify the engineer behind the fault. There were no structures or documents indicating who made which decisions and on what basis.
Initially, the committee was unaware that this fault resulted from one individual engineer’s mistake. Secondly, the engineer was not sincere with the committee regarding the choice he made, particularly the changes made in the switch. He denied having made the modifications, thus complicating the investigation. General Motors took more time to address the problem and to recall the cars. Indeed, it was devastating for the users, particularly after identifying the problem. General Motors initially breached all ethical and moral principles at an individual level when the engineer sanctioned a faulty ignition switch. Secondly, at the organizational level, the company took a very long time to recall the vehicles when it was aware that they were faulty.
Given the situation, I at this moment recommend the following:
GM should change its organizational structure to accommodate more controls and inculcate accountability, consultation, and corporate responsibility among all employees. Changing the organization’s structure will increase the company’s quality and safety considerations, thus avoiding safety flaws in products.
They should invest more in quality assurance to avoid similar situations like the Cobalt ignition switch. Quality assurance will increase the eminence of company products, hence avoiding a situation involving safety defects in cars.
The company should penalize the engineer who single-handedly authorized the faulty ignition switch. By punishing the engineer, the company will lead to responsibility among the other engineers by sending a message that the organization will not own personal mistakes.
The firm should apologize to the public, particularly the affected clients and the government, for the faulty ignition switch. A public apology will result in good public relations and corporate image amid the market and society. The company will redeem its reputation through apologizing.
GM should compensate all people affected in any way by the faulty ignition switch. Through compensation, the company will have restored its image and customer base. Furthermore, it will indicate a sign of responsibility by the company.
The company should take a keen interest in safety guidelines by conducting a safety audit of all its cars before launching them. Safety guidelines will help the company avoid the mistakes made by engineers that led to the danger in cars.
The activities of engineers should be monitored, regulated, and subjected to scrutiny by middle and upper management. Through monitoring engineers, it will be possible to track their activities and correct their mistakes before launching a product.
The company should hire independent safety specialists to advise them of protection parameters before launching cars. The independent specialists will play an important role in ensuring that the company’s products meet the safety thresholds by offering expert services on the best methods to use for production purposes.
GM should embark on a process of redeeming its image after this safety defect that dented its reputation as a respected car manufacturer. A comprehensive public relations exercise will help the company regain its lost reputation among customers and members of the society. Therefore, this will increase its chances of regaining lost ground.
GM should redefine its corporate ethical principles to ensure that they align with the society’s ethical requirements and expectations. Ethical values will be important in guiding the reduction arm of the organization to create products that do not endanger the workers.