Free Advice for GM #1

If you are interested in organization design, you should read Beyond Detroit in the 17.06 issue of Wired magazine. Chris Anderson offers a great introduction arguing that a new era of global business (long heralded) is really here.  The point is, that with the Big Three disintegrating, it’s time for the “little guys” to proliferate in a market of automotive technologies that includes many, many more players and will produce much better results.

Saturn WreckedDespite the deep malaise in the auto industry and the lackluster efforts by the federal government, articles like this show there is light at the end of the tunnel with practical ideas and solid advice. I thought I’d join the fray with an idea for how GM might move forward to a better place. I’m not claiming to be an auto industry expert, but my distance from it might be an advantage (at IDEO we call this the “naïve mind”).

Awhile back, I shared a framework for organization design inspired by the animal kingdom. Fundamental to that approach is the concept of biodiversity in an ecosystem.  Changing circumstances require entities within the system to evolve and adapt or they will die. And evolution is about letting an existing trait emerge and thrive when new conditions emerge and demand it. See this interesting blog post by Robert Patterson for more on this line of thinking.

While GM has had dozens of brands and even some difference in their range of businesses, they have sought to keep everything operating on the same model and use scale as a lever to create efficiencies. This “no variance” strategy crushed Saturn, one of their best hopes for survival.

So a mortal enemy of a sustainable organization is homogeneity, and GM is the poster child of homogeneity.  Using this framework, we can explore how GM might diversify their organizational structures to be more successful in four different consumer categories, with four different auto brands.  It’s likely that these different consumers want different things from their cars, so the organizations should operate differently to meet those needs.

Below you can see four GM brands plotted on the “organization ecosystem” model to guide our exploration.  Based on their unique brand attributes, and the demands of the market and consumers of those brands, each of the companies could be structured and operate quite differently. It’s funny to me that two of these brands are being jettisoned in the current restructuring actions.

Check back here for my next several posts and deeper descriptions of each example.

How could GM have an ecosystem of companies and brands?

How could GM have an ecosystem of companies and brands?