Management culture

A recent article in The New York Times reported that when the board of directors of Volkswagen found out about the company’s emissions cheating (software that limited pollution from diesel cars when the cars were tested, but not when they were driven), “the automaker’s chief executive, Martin Winterkorn … was pushed out five days after the use of the cheating device became public, though he insisted he had known nothing about it.” How about “… because he insisted he had known nothing about it”?

What did they pay him $17 million a year for? To sit in his office and not know what the company was doing? Somebody in the company was cooking up a scheme that could cost Volkswagen more than $20 billion dollars, and he had no idea what was going on.

Managers of big companies think about people, not about processes. If a subordinate tells them something will take more time, or more resources, or is physically impossible, they blame the subordinate. So it’s embedded in corporate culture that middle managers treat their bosses like mushrooms: keep them in the dark and feed them horses–t.

Some executive told an engineering group that the next diesel car had to meet the emission standards without sacrificing performance. The engineers worked on it, came back and reported–without so much as a “wink wink”–that they had designed a car that would pass all the tests, for emissions and performance.

And then the s–t hit the fan. The rest is not yet history.

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