GM’s CEO ability to change company culture called into question

General Motors Co. Chief Executive Officer Mary Barra faced a hostile House of Representatives earlier this week while testifying about her company's recent recall of faulty ignition switches that have been linked to 13 deaths. 

Barra, the organization's most recent chief executive, took the position shortly before the defects in ignition switches came to light.  She submitted a report to the House regarding the organization's inquiry into how the incompetence of a handful of employees allowed the defects to go unnoticed so long. 

Barra pointed to the dismissal of 15 employees and the hiring of 40 new safety investigators as evidence that the organization's culture was changing, Bloomberg reports. However, House officials were not convinced that the changes were sufficient to address the cultural problems at the company of over 200,000 employees. 

"The failures at General Motors were ones of accountability and culture," said Rep. Tim Murphy, the Pennsylvania representative who chairs the Energy and Commerce subcommittee on oversight and investigations, as quoted by Bloomberg. "If you haven't changed the people, how do you change the culture?"

Ms. Barra and the GM Board have been previously absolved from knowing about the defects before a recall was made. However, Representative Diana DeGette from Colorado described the most senior GM executives not knowing about a defect that affected approximately 3.36 million cars as "frankly alarming."

The issues being faced by GM are extreme, but by no means unique. Companies that find their internal culture has degraded have been able to address critical issues through organizational development consulting. Often in these cases, an outside perspective that can operate outside of entrenched internal politics is able to address issues that may have been overlooked by current leadership. With the case of GM, where the culture of the entire organization must be addressed, change management consulting is also required to help transition the organization to a position of positive growth.