When it comes to reinventing itself,Corp. is quite familiar with consultants. Kinsey & Co., A.T. Kearney Inc., you name it, any major consulting firm worth its fees, has taken a whack at the organizational thicket enshrouding the world's largest automaker.
But for guiding the training of GM's 13 vehicle line executives, GM has linked up with Alfredo (Fred) M. Kofman, an Argentine-born, Berkeley-educated economist who left a prestigious professorship at MIT's Sloan School of Management to start his own company, Leading Learning Communities Inc., in Boulder, CO.
"I love skiing, plus I found that when I held some of my more intensive training sessions few people wanted to come to Boston, but they were happy to come out here," Mr. Kofman says.
He linked up with GM in early 1995 at the behest of Arvin F. Mueller, GM vice president and group executive for North American Operations Vehicle Development.
"I went in there bracing myself for being pushed out the door in five minutes. I had heard a lot of stories," Mr. Kofman says. "I figured they'd look at this as a bunch of touchy-feely stuff that didn't mean anything to them. But I was very surprised. They're very committed to working in a different way."
The thrust of his approach comes from an exercise called "the left-hand column."
VLEs are asked to remember a difficult conversation with a supervisor or colleague that did not lead to the desired results. Taking a sheet of paper, they list on the right side what was actually said by both parties, and what each person did after the conversation.
In the left-hand column they list what they were thinking and feeling, but did not say. Mr. Kofman's premise is that failure to speak candidly ultimately damages the company because crucial issues remain unresolved.
"My goal is to give them the tools for processing and communicating the left-hand column without offending the other person," Mr. Kofman says.
So far, the training has been conducted mostly at the GM Technical Center in Warren, MI. But later this year, the chosen 13 will spend a week or longer in an intensive outdoor course that involves finding remote mountain trails with only a map and compass. It's certainly one way to take your management team to a higher level.