DATE: October 12, 2016
SUBJECT: GM Cobalt Recall
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 unacceptable business practice. Indeed, the company’s poor management and individual errors were of great consequence.
GM through its engineering personnel approved the use of an ignition switch that could become accessory, thus leading to the loss of power steering and power brakes, which was a great safety problem on account of its faulty nature. In fact, this was a mistake of one engineer who single-handedly authorized the use of the bellow-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 made changes to 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 very acute, yet the organization was very slow to address the same. What was very alarming was the rate of 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 the fact that the role of a single engineer in making decision 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 else. 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 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 so 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 not even aware that this fault was a result of the mistake of one individual engineer. 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 very devastating for the users, particularly after identifying the problem. General Motors breached all ethical and moral principles first at an individual level when the engineer sanctioned a faulty ignition switch and at the organizational level when the company took a very long time to recall the cars 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 as well as inculcate accountability, consultation, and corporate responsibility among all employees.
- They should invest more in quality assurance as a way of avoiding similar situations like the Cobalt ignition switch.
- The company should penalize the engineer who single-handedly authorized the faulty ignition switch.
- The firm should apologize to the public, particularly the affected clients, as well as the government for the faulty ignition switch.
- GM should compensate all people affected in any way by the faulty ignition switch.
- The company should take a keen interest in safety guidelines by conducting a safety audit of all its cars before launching them.
- The activities of engineers should be monitored, regulated, and subjected to scrutiny by middle and upper management.
- The company should hire independent safety specialists to advise them of safety parameters before launching any cars.
- GM should embark on a process of redeeming its image after this safety defect that dented its reputation as a respected car manufacturer.
- GM should redefine its corporate ethical principles to ensure that they are in line with ethical requirements and expectation of the society.