Category Archives: leadership development

Lutz on Leaders: Why So Nice?

happy leaderRetired automotive executive, former Marine and best-selling author Bob Lutz is also fluent in several languages. And he’s probably pretty outspoken in all of them.

Never known for holding his tongue, the former vice chairman of General Motors took part in a Q & A with the Washington Post earlier this week. And he offered up his usual, unvarnished take on subjects ranging from Mary Barra’s performance as GM’s chief executive so far (“too early to tell,” but “the early signs are outstanding”) to the increasingly guarded stance taken by executives when addressing the public (“nobody is speaking clearly anymore”).

Lutz also spoke at length about what makes for a great leader. While he praised the “quiet, somewhat low-key, persuasive and very effective” style that Barra has displayed at the helm of GM, Lutz seemed to suggest the leadership model prevailing at many organizations in 2014 is, well, a little soft.

When asked to name the best leader he’s ever worked for, Lutz went all the way back to his high school days in Switzerland, calling teacher—and future member of the Swiss National Council—Georges-Andre Chevallaz “an extremely effective individual” who could “convince intellectually, and … had the ability to motivate positively. You never wanted to let him down.”

The corporate community could use a few more like Georges-Andre Chevallaz, according to Lutz.

Today’s leaders “follow a politically correct line and listen to all the 1980s Total Quality Management consultants who say you should always respect everyone, that there’s no such thing as a bad idea,” he told the Post. “Of course we all know that’s hogwash. Good leaders have to be able to criticize constructively. We just have too little of that in American business now. Everybody is way too nice to everybody.”

A dearth of constructive criticism aside, Lutz sees something else lacking in the workplace: Fear.

“I can’t tell you how essential that is: a fear of consequences, of messing up, of letting the team down, of doing something unauthorized,” said Lutz. “That fear has to be there; otherwise the place is out of control. All of the consultants who say you’ve got to take fear away in a corporation don’t know what they’re talking about.”

While he may espouse some old-school ideals when it comes to leadership style, Lutz also warned that too much of the same old, same old can actually damage an organization’s culture; a lesson he says he learned decades ago.

Looking back at his stint as head of product development with Chrysler in the 1970s and ’80s—when the company was integrating an influx of talent from Ford and GM to go along with “the old Chrysler guys”—the culture at Chrysler “was a ragtag bunch of misfits,” he said. “At Chrysler, everybody was from somewhere else. It made for a very interesting environment, because there was no dominant culture. What you rarely heard in meetings was, ‘You can’t do that, because we’ve always done it this way.’

“It was messy,” he continued. “But it was very effective and everybody had a lot of fun. The nice thing about an enduring culture is that you have stability. But stability in a rapidly changing environment can be a very bad thing.”

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You Can Keep the Corner Office

AA049404HR leaders are always on the lookout for the organization’s next generation of leaders. A new survey, however, finds the majority of workers aren’t particularly interested in ever taking the reins.

A recent poll of 3,625 workers age 18 and up, conducted by Harris on behalf of CareerBuilder, found just one-third (34 percent) of these employees aspire to leadership positions. Just 7 percent indicated an interest in shooting for senior- or C-level management.

Why are these workers indifferent toward reaching the top levels of the organization? Most (52 percent) said they are simply satisfied in their current positions. Another 34 percent of this group indicated they don’t want to sacrifice work/life balance at the expense of advancement, while 17 percent said they don’t have the necessary education.

The survey did find the desire for leadership roles to be greater among men than women, by an 11 percent margin (40 percent versus 29 percent). At 44 percent and 39 percent, respectively, African-Americans and LGBT workers were more likely to take aim at leadership positions than the national average. Thirty-two percent of workers with disabilities reported similar aspirations, as did 35 percent of Hispanics.

The poll also addressed the glass-ceiling issue, asking respondents to what extent they felt firms held female and minorities back in their career pursuits. Overall, 20 percent of those surveyed said they feel his or her organization has a glass ceiling preventing women and minorities from reaching higher job levels. Just 9 percent of non-diverse males said they think a glass ceiling is in place at their companies.

These figures spiked, however, among those with designs on management and senior management positions. For example, 33 percent of females in this category felt such barriers existed, while 34 percent of Hispanics, 50 percent of African-Americans and 59 percent of workers with disabilities said the same. Twenty-one percent of LGBT workers seeking leadership roles indicated as much, slightly less than the national average.

While it seems many employees are content to forego the executive career track, “it is important … to promote a culture of meritocracy in which all workers, regardless of gender, race or sexual orientation, are able to reach senior-level roles based on their skills and past contributions alone,” said Rosemary Haefner, vice president of human resources at CareerBuilder, in a statement. “The survey found that employees at companies that have initiatives to support aspiring female and minority leaders are far less likely to say a glass ceiling holds individuals back.”

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A Leadership Guru’s Legacy

As an infantry officer during World War II, leading a platoon of soldiers through harrowing combat during the Battle of the Bulge, Warren G. Bennis learned firsthand what it took to become an effective leader. Following his service (during which he was awarded a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart), Bennis began his academic career, in which he became one of the world’s foremost authorities on leadership and organizational development. Late last week, Bennis passed away in Los Angeles at the age of 89.

Yesterday the University of Southern California, where Bennis spent 35 years on the faculty of its Marshall School of Business, released a statement from USC President C.L. Max Niklas commemorating his many accomplishments:

Warren Bennis was a visionary whose transformational contributions to the business world have shaped the fundamental concepts of effective leadership. Professor Bennis was one of a rare and esteemed group of pioneers, able not only to anticipate the demands of a changing world, but also guide the direction of this change through his exceptional scholarship, teaching and mentoring.”

Bennis wrote nearly 30 books during his career, the most famous of which was On Becoming a Leader, a bestseller that is considered a veritable bible among leadership-development experts. His memoir, An Invented Life, was nominated for a Pulitzer prize. Bennis was notable for his belief that leaders are made, not born, writing that “the process of becoming a leader is similar, if not identical, to becoming a fully integrated human being.”

Leaders, he wrote, must be passionate, intensely curious, honest with themselves and be able to inspire hope and passion in others. They must have a guiding vision for the mission they’re responsible for and be willing to take risks and learn from mistakes. From On Becoming a Leader:

The leader never lies to himself, especially about himself, knows his flaws as well as his assets, and deals with them directly. … The leader wonders about everything, wants to learn as much as he can, is willing to take risks, experiment, try new things. He does not worry about his failures but embraces errors, knowing he will learn from them.”

Bennis was an adviser and mentor to many CEOs and U.S. Presidents, including Starbucks CEO Howard D. Schultz, according to the New York Times. He was well known for the adage that “leadership cannot be taught, but it can be ‘caught.’ ”

Although Bennis expressed dismay in On Becoming a Leader that corporate leadership appeared to be weakening due to extravagant executive compensation and a focus on the short-term at the expense of the long-term, he expressed more optimism in a piece he later wrote for Forbes in which he described the next generation of business leaders as “the Crucible Generation” who are less arrogant and more respectful than their predecessors:

The truth may be that history, in its kindness, gave this new generation a grand crucible challenge, as it did my own. … There are reasons enough for optimism. In just the past several years I have seen my classes of aspiring leaders move from an interest in endeavors characterized by self-interest toward a sense of shared responsibility for our society and world.”

 

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‘The 27 Challenges Managers Face’

Bruce Tulgan

Bruce Tulgan

I just came across an advance copy of a book due on shelves Sept. 15 that takes a pretty interesting stab at itemizing and enumerating every key challenge a manager will face in his or her profession. I’m sharing it here — “The 27 Challenges Managers Face” — because I’ve found the author, Bruce Tulgan, CEO and founder of New Haven, Conn.-based management consultancy RainmakerThinking Inc., to be pretty authoritative and sound over the years when it comes to manager-employee relationships.

HRE clearly concurs, as it will be featuring Tulgan in a webinar on Aug. 13, titled “Building a Better Boss: Engaging Managers to Inspire and Engage Workers.” In the webinar, he’ll discuss his latest research that finds “The Under-Management Epidemic,” first revealed in his company’s 2004 study, rages on 10 years later. According to the study, nine out of 10 leaders and managers are not providing their direct reports with sufficient guidance, support and coaching today. 

In his latest book, already listed on Amazon, Tulgan reiterates and underscores that fact, bringing together what he says are the 27 — not 26 or 28, mind you — challenges he’s heard repeatedly from managers over his 20 years of research. During that time, he says, he’s asked “hundreds of thousands of managers in organizations of all shapes and sizes, ‘What are the most difficult challenges you face when it comes to managing people?’ ” His finding:

Regardless of industry or job title, managers cite the same core issues — more than 90 percent of responses over the years refer to the same 27 challenges. The same cases come up over and over again — maybe it’s the superstar [who] the manager is afraid of losing, the slacker [who] the manager cannot figure out how to motivate or the two employees who cannot get along.”

As Tulgan says in a Q&A at the end of this link about the book, including excerpts:

It turns out that when things are going wrong in a management relationship, almost always, the common denominator is unstructured, low-substance, hit-or-miss communication. … Almost always, the ad-hoc manner in which most managers talk to their direct reports every day actually makes inevitable the most difficult employee situations that tend to vex managers. What is the key to avoiding most of these problems and the key to solving them quickly and with relative ease as soon as they appear? High-structure high-substance one-on-one dialogues with every direct report.”

For what it’s worth, I have talked to numerous experts over the years who have corroborated this need for more effective and authentic one-on-one business leadership, including folks at Bridgeville, Pa.-based Development Dimensions International, whose recent study finds a sorry lack of interactive-conversational skills among business leaders and managers worldwide. (I wrote about that study in this recent news analysis.)

As it is, and as Tulgan’s book lays them out — grouped in chapters according to stages of one’s management career and types of problems — here they are, all 27 of them:

1, when going from peer to leader; 2, when coming from the outside to take over leadership of an existing team; 3, when bringing together an entirely new team; 4, when you are welcoming a new member to your existing team; 5, when employees have a hard time managing time; 6, when an employee needs help with interpersonal communication; 7, when an employee needs to get organized; 8, when an employee needs to get better at problem-solving; 9, when you have an employee who needs to increase productivity; 10, when you have an employee who needs to improve quality; 11, when you need an employee to start “going the extra mile”; 12, when your employees are doing “creative” work; 13, when the employee you are managing knows more about the work than you do (I, Kris Frasch, suspect that might be something managers are experiencing more frequently these days, given our demographic shifts in the workplace); 14, when an employee needs an attitude adjustment; 15, when there is conflict between and among individuals on your team …

Breath …

16, when an employee has personal issues at home; 17, when there is a superstar you need to keep engaged; 18, when you have a superstar you really want to retain; 19, when you have a superstar you are going to lose for sure: how to lose that superstar very well; 20, when you need to move a superstar to the next level to develop as a new leader; 21, when managing in an environment of constant change and uncertainty; 22, when managing under resource constraints; 23, when managing through interdependency management challenges; 24, when managing around logistical hurdles; 25, when managing across differences in language and culture; 26, when you need to renew your management relationship with a disengaged employee; and 27, when you need to renew your own commitment to being a strong, highly engaged manager.

As Rainmaker puts it in one promotional, “The 27 Challenges are enumerated not in order of frequency or difficulty, but rather according to the bigger-picture human capital issues in which [they] fall. Like a guidebook through the real life of a manager — from the ‘new-manager’ challenges, through performance management, retention, and all the way to the latter career stage when so many managers face the challenges of ‘renewal.’ ”

Tulgan says he hopes readers will use this book like reference material, referring to the specific challenge one is encountering and his solution for overcoming it, maybe reading others to prepare a little, but then shelving it until it’s needed again.

Personally, I can’t imagine many other challenges than the ones listed above, but Tulgan assures me there are hundreds more. Solve these ones, he says, and you’ll have a pretty good handle on how to apply “the fundamentals of management to gain control of any situation.” People managing managers, he adds, should keep it on hand, too.

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Being a Better Boss

There’s been no shortages of stories about CEOs who have run amok. Business leaders who couldn’t care less what others think. Who believe they have all the answers — and fail to listen to what those much closer to the front lines are seeing and hearing.

475752015(1)At the same time, there’s been no shortage of books, written by the countless experts out there, on the key ingredients that go into what it takes to be great boss. I’m sure you’ve read a few.

But what do the masses think?

Posted yesterday afternoon are the results of a recent CNNMoney poll, in which the website asked its readers to weigh in on what they think characterizes the best bosses. According to the site, the traits showing up most frequently in the responses were ….

1) Respect and appreciate their employees

They respect what you do, they respect your expertise and they respect the fact that you may have your own work style.

‘Great bosses earn respect by giving respect,’ said one reader.

Bosses who say ‘thank you’ came up a lot, too, as did bosses who publicly give credit where it’s due, who welcome employees’ input and feedback, and who recognize that employees are humans, not just ‘resources,’ as another reader put it.

2) Create trust and support

An excellent boss trusts you to do your job, has faith in your team, encourages your success, goes to bat for you and is always approachable.

Great bosses are also consistently ethical and fair, and they hire good people, readers said.

3) Give employees the backing and resources to do their jobs

A great boss provides clear guidance, coaching and structure, but also the leeway to develop a sense of ownership over your work.

And when something goes wrong … great bosses assess what happened and help you fix the situation rather than assign blame.”

There’s obviously much more to being a great boss than the items listed above. Just a few others that come to mind include first-rate listening skills, an extraordinary ability to inspire your workforce and one’s ability to lead by example.

But while the findings from the CNNMoney poll certainly just scratch the surface of what it takes to be a great boss in today’s environment, I would think the three most cited reasons — even though they’re not coming from the so-called “experts” — might be as good a place to start as any as we (both personally, as HR leaders, and as organizations) evaluate and further build on our ability to lead.

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Survey: Weak Leadership Pipelines a Big Concern

leaky pipesWho will be the business leaders of tomorrow? This is clearly on the minds of HR leaders around the world, judging from a new survey from Right Management titled Talent Management: Accelerating Business Performance. The survey of approximately 2,200 HR execs from 13 countries finds that 46 percent identified leadership development as the top priority for this year and that only 13 percent have confidence in the strength of their leadership pipelines to fill critical openings.

This lack of confidence stems from the de-prioritization of talent development in the wake of cost cuts, according to Ruediger Schaefer, Right Management’s global talent management chief:

Today’s optimism for growth is limited by a lack of organizational agility, and employers are seeing the impact of the financial cuts and cost reductions that placed talent development on the back burner. As a result, too man companies are facing talent shortages, skills mismatches and weak leadership pipelines that threaten business growth. Future success is dependent on a sustained strategic commitment to assessing, developing and activating talent.”

Other findings from the survey include:

  • The top three global talent management challenges are lack of skilled talent for key positions, shortage of talent at all levels and less-than-optimal employee engagement.
  • Forty-eight percent of global employers plan to broaden their employee engagement programs to keep top talent on staff.
  • Management succession planning ranks as a higher priority in the Americas (36 percent) than in Europe (17 percent) and Asia Pacific (31 percent).

 

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Leadership-Development Spend Up Again

Figure I might finish off the week with some positive news received a couple of days ago from Bersin by Deloitte.

New research from the Oakland-based consulting organization shows that U.S. organizations boosted leadership spending 14 percent on average for the second consecutive year. That translates to an estimated $15.5 billion in 2013. (Smaller organizations enjoyed the largest increase.)

466169293As I write this, we’re putting the finishing touches on our annual “What’s Keeping HR Up at Night” survey that we’ll be sending out soon. And if the findings of 2014 survey are similar to last year’s or the year before that, leadership development will end up somewhere near the top of our list of issues HR leaders are most worried about (in 2013, it was the second-most-cited issue).

Well, if the Bersin study (Leadership Development Factbook 2014: Benchmarks and Trends in U.S. Leadership Development) is any indication, HR leaders are busy translating some of that worry into actual initiatives.

In addition to a 14 percent rise in spend, the research found employers are beefing up their staffs in the area of leadership development, with a 12 percent overall increase at U.S. organizations. It also found emerging leaders are getting a healthy dose of the funding, with 17 percent of leadership-development budgets going to high-potential professionals who have not yet reached an official managerial role.

On a more sober note, the study also revealed first-level managers were receiving the lowest per-person funding in leadership development. For example, within large organizations, these leaders each receive, on average, $2,600, or 34 percent less than emerging leaders and half the amount of mid-level leaders.

Considering the impact this level can have on engagement and performance, it would be nice to see this group get a bigger piece of the T&D pie.

Companies also continue to fall short when it comes to “priming the pump” as far as their leadership pipelines are concerned.

The research indicates that successors have been identified for just 10 percent of their first-level leaders and 19 percent of their mid-level leaders. The pipeline at higher levels also looks weak within these organizations, with successors identified for just 24 percent of senior-level positions and 36 percent of executive positions.

Further proof that companies still have a lot more work to do on this front.

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It Appears Leaders are STILL Behaving Badly

Despite the rhetoric, concern and attention paid to the need for more effective leaders and managers over the last decade — including in the pages of HRE and 467703295-- bad manageron its websites — the latest indication from Bruce Tulgan at Rainmaker Thinking Inc. is they’re about as ineffective as ever.

Tulgan calls it the “under-management epidemic” and says “today’s workplace is afflicted” with it. He defines the epidemic as “a condition in which a leader with supervisory authority fails to provide, regularly and consistently, any employee directly subject to that authority with the ‘management basics.’ ”

And those he defines as: 1) clear statements of broad performance requirements and specific expectations, 2) support and guidance regarding resources necessary to meet requirements and expectations, 3) accurate monitoring, measuring and documentation of the individual’s actual performance, 4) regular candid feedback about the individual’s actual performance, and 5) rewards and detriments allocated and distributed in proportion to actual performance.

Here’s a more detailed description from Tulgan, in The Stubborn and Persistent Under-Management Epidemic (linked above), of just how bad this “under-management” can be:

We find that the vast majority of managers spend an inordinate percentage of their ‘management time’ in what we call, ‘firefighting mode,’ solving one urgent problem after another — usually problems that could have been avoided with better planning or identified and solved more easily at an earlier point. When not in ‘firefighting mode,’ these managers prioritize ‘catching up’ on their other work and their management practices take a back seat, defaulting to a mode we call, ‘managing on autopilot,’ in which they communicate with their direct reports mostly in low-structure, low-substance conversations punctuated by way too many mediocre meetings and way too many emails. As a result of ‘managing on autopilot,’ unnecessary urgent problems occur or small problems go unnoticed and thus grow more serious or urgent. Then the manager gets pulled back into ‘firefighting mode.’ Most managers don’t realize they are stuck in a vicious cycle.”

Worse still, Rainmaker actually revealed this cycle 10 years ago in its inaugural study on the subject, yet “our ongoing research shows that under-management has not improved” since then, Tulgan writes. “One important and fascinating new finding shows that, while nine out of 10 managers are, in fact, under-managing, most of them don’t know it! Five out of 10 managers think they are doing an ‘excellent’ or ‘very good’ job … .”

Less than a year ago, I spoke with Richard Wellins, senior vice president of Bridgeville, Pa.-based Development Dimensions International, about a leadership report DDI had just put out with no more good news than Rainmaker’s. (Here’s that news analysis.)

That study, Driving Workplace Performance through High-Quality Conversations: What Leaders Must Do Every Day to Be Effective, taken from a meta-analysis of DDI’s assessment data from close to 4,000 leaders worldwide, found most front-line leaders lack the fundamental interaction skills and behaviors required to be effective leaders. And senior leaders, it found, are even worse

There too, business leadership seems to be way too knee-jerk, with 90 percent of executives acting before checking their understanding of an issue and being ineffective at inviting ideas from others and facilitating effective conversations to build relationships and get work done

“Leadership really is a series of conversations,” Wellins told me. “The quality of that interaction accounts for a large variance of good or bad leadership,” yet few employers really understand that and hire, develop and reward their leaders accordingly.

I wish I could sign off here with a solution to all this. Maybe next year. Hopefully not 10 years from now.

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Rough Road Ahead for HR?

rough roadFindings from a new study suggest HR departments aren’t ready to respond to the talent challenges facing them now and in the days to come.

The Deloitte Global Human Capital Trends 2014 report compiled data from a survey of 2,532 business and HR leaders at organizations from 94 countries around the world. In the poll, 86 percent of respondents cited leadership development as the biggest challenge for their organization, followed by employee retention and engagement (79 percent).

At 77 percent, “re-skilling the HR function” ranked as the third most-pressing issue, with many executives feeling their HR teams lack the skills and data they need “to understand today’s global business environment, local labor markets, evolving workforce demographics, shifts in technology and the changing nature of work itself,” according to a Deloitte press release.

For example, while 75 percent of respondents rated “workforce capability” as an “urgent” or “important” challenge, only 15 percent said they believe they are ready to address it. More than two-thirds of those polled (70 percent) see new learning methods such as free online and mobile learning platforms as urgent or important, but just 6 percent say they have mastered the content and capabilities necessary to make online learning accessible and digestible for employees.

Overall, more than one-third of the business leaders polled (34 percent) said their HR and talent programs are just “getting by” or even “underperforming,” with less than 8 percent of HR professionals expressing confidence that their teams have the requisite skills for today’s global environment.

While leadership may be underwhelmed with HR’s performance, it seems many organizations aren’t doing a great job of equipping HR teams with the tools they need to keep pace, either.

In the study, 43 percent of respondents described their organizations as “weak” in terms of providing HR with the appropriate training and experience, with 47 percent saying the same with respect to preparing HR to deliver programs aligned with business needs.

With “radical shifts in demographics and technology” occurring, “doubling down on the human capital practices of the past” won’t be enough to help HR teams do more than just get by in the future, said Josh Bersin, principal and founder of Bersin by Deloitte, in a statement.

“The research shows that organizations should re-imagine their approach to engaging people and move to re-engineer many of their HR practices,” according to Bersin. “Attracting top talent has become a serious competitive issue that demands attention at the highest levels of the organization.”

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A Couple of Firsts at GM

By  now, you probably have heard that Mary T. Barra will soon be the first woman to lead a major automaker, when she replaces Daniel F. Akerson when he retires as General Motors’ CEO in January. But while this wasn’t mentioned in any of the stories I read covering the announcement, my guess is Barra (pictured below with Akerson) is also probably the first woman or man to take the helm at one of the “Detroit 3” who has spent a stint (though admittedly a relatively short one) in the top HR job.

GMManagementChanges04-mediumBarra, 51, has worked for GM for 33 years, most recently as executive vice president of global product development. But before taking on that post, she served briefly (from 2009 to 2011) as vice president of global human resources at GM, taking over that role from Katy Barclay, now the top HR officer at Kroger.

As a New York Times story points out, Barra’s appointment represents something of the “changing of the guard” at GM, which now has four key positions filled by women, including Melissa Howell, GM’s current senior vice president of global human resources.

At some point, it might be interesting to learn directly from Barra how she feels her time in HR has shaped her thinking. Certainly, when she officially moves into her new role, she won’t be the first CEO who has made a stop along the way in HR, but there’s no denying it’s a fairly rare occurrence.

That said, Jason Hanold tells me this is changing, with more companies including HR as a key rotational assignment in order to occupy a C-Suite role. “This is a growing trend in succession planning and talent-management considerations,” says Hanold, managing partner at Hanold Associates LLC, an executive-search firm specializing in CHRO assignments. I certainly would have to put this in the category of a good thing.

Hanold says he’s never personally met Barra, but understands she has a reputation for being “a strong, smart leader who drives consensus-building versus being a consensus-driven leader.”

Jena Abernathy, senior partner of leading executive-search firm Witt/Kieffer, who focuses primarily on CEO searches, also chimed in on the appointment, noting that gender isn’t the only breakthrough here.  In many corporate cultures, she says, time in HR is “considered a non-starter for moving any further in the organization.”

Abernathy says she has “observed first-hand over the past two decades that very capable, competent women end up in support positions in senior leadership such as HR. What Barra was able to do was move into other roles that allowed her to have more operational experience and exposure, and ultimately positioned her for the top job at GM.”

Some of you may recall a little over a month ago I quoted former GM co-chair Robert Lutz (who’s worked closely with Barra during their time together at GM) here on this same blog saying …

If human resources was either outsourced or cut down, back to its basic function of keeping basic records and making sure people get paid and that the promotional increases take place, I think we’d all be a lot better off, because they create way more work than they actually alleviate.”

As someone who’s taken on the HR role for a even a short spell, I would like to think Barra doesn’t share Lutz’ views.

Here is a video introducing Barra as the CEO-elect to employees …

(Photo by Steve Fecht for General Motors.)

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