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The Culture Conflict

Culture is something that I’m not going to believe because we have a good month, or a good two months, that the culture is back. I’m going to believe it when I see month after month for a long time that yes, those practices are now things that aren’t just being done because they have to be done, they are being done because the workforce says, ‘This is a product we deliver to the Air Force.” (

This is a quote from Dr. Will Roper, assistant secretary of the Air Force for acquisition, technology and logistics, to Boeing executives after trash and tools were found in brand-new KC-46 aircraft that were delivered. And his comment is spot on. Leaving trash and tools behind in any product or workplace is the symptom of a lax culture. And lax attitudes foster poor workmanship. These things don’t get fixed overnight, so he’s right to not expect to see lasting systemic change.

The challenge of poor culture can’t be fixed overnight. It will require detailed plans carried out by committed leadership (maybe new leadership) and a level of accountability by all stakeholders. It’s hard work – no doubt. And the root causes may not be obvious. But I believe installing and maintaining a strong, ethical and quality-conscious culture is essential to operating a lasting profitable business.

Consider the recent racial incidents at the General Motors plant in Toledo where nooses and other racist items have been documented. When I read this story, I was dumbfounded. This didn’t occur once – there was a history of it. And it was tolerated by management! But now that it was exposed in the media, suddenly there is a management response to do damage control.

I just read of an unscheduled visit by the GM CEO and Global Head of Manufacturing that occurred in mid-February.

One would think they came to start the process of culture change from the top. Here is what the local UAW had to say about the visit:

 “Dennis Earl, president of UAW Local 14, which represents workers at Toledo Transmission, confirmed that the racism issue was discussed.

‘They mentioned it. They said they have no tolerance, and if you see something, say something. They said they want to catch whoever is doing this so they can put a stop to it,’ Mr. Earl said.

‘But that was not the focus,’ he added. ‘[The visit] was just to get a sense of the plant and how things are going.’”

Racism and culture were not the focus of the visit?? This a quote from the leadership of the workforce that they understood the purpose of the visit was to “see how things are going.” To me (and I suspect them), this translates to – are you making your numbers?

I will never buy a GM product. Why? Because I can’t support a company that tolerates this type of work environment. It speaks to what they stand for and I feel that purchasing their product rewards this behavior. How many others feel this way? What has GM lost in loyalty and what does that equate to in numbers? How much will they be paying those affected by a hostile racist workplace?

In an economy where its hard to find quality employees, what has this culture done to promote a “come work for GM” interest?

There doesn’t need to be a “culture conflict”. Having a strong, diverse, sensitive and accountable culture in your business should just be your way of working. I believe business longevity depends on it.

Is your business culture in conflict?

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