Unguarded: GM Is Happy To Be Giving Away Its Covid-19 Playbook
In football, a team’s playbook is guarded with nearly manic effort by everyone in the organization, and woe be to any coach or player who loses one — much less the Benedict Arnold who for some reason might give a copy to the opposition.
But in today’s U.S. auto industry, playbooks are like the gospel: They’re meant to be given away and shared as widely as possible, with the more readers, the better.
That’s because the playbooks in question these days are the detailed, voluminous guides to how auto manufacturers are re-opening their plants with Covid-19 health and safety protocols. And in that regard, General Motors CEO Mary Barra and Jim Glynn, the company’s vice president of worker safety, are hoping their jointly authored, 48-page guide, “Returning to the Workplace with Confidence: Covid-19 Employee Guide,” reaches every corner of the industry.
It’s free to all, but that’s not the reason GM’s playbook seems destined to become a best-seller. Every company in the vast, deep network of the U.S. and global automotive supply chain is eager to rejoin the working economy again, but to do so their leaders must not only be careful in restarting but also take great pains to avoid any early misstep. Expertise like that provided by GM’s guidebook — and by those also produced by other companies, such as Tier One supplier Lear — can be invaluable not only to automotive manufacturers but also to thousands of other factory operators across the country.
“We knew we had to get this right ourselves and clearly articulate our requirements and what to do at every site,” Glynn told me. “Then we had to think about our supply base to help make them equally successful; we’ve had several seminars for a total of literally hundreds of suppliers wondering what we were doing to prepare for restart.” GM also, he said, has “shared our ideas with other companies and with competitors and with industry councils so we can learn from them as well and incorporate all the best practices into our documents.”
General Motors is re-starting its U.S. factories this week, so the company is taking every step leaders can think of to ensure that managers enact and follow the protocols, that employees and the United Auto Workers are comfortable with their requirements, and that everyone embrace the guides as a significant enabler for the company and the industry to restore production, sales, profits and renewed prosperity as quickly as possible.
To that end, Barra even directed a “care package” be sent to every GM employee last week that included a flyer with the highlights of the playbook, a letter signed by her, and five face masks that were manufactured at a company facility in Warren, Michigan. Her personal touch was reinforced by the fact that the package contained not just a single medical-grade mask but enough for a typical family.
Barra “wanted to make sure early on in this pandemic that every people leader in GM understood the protocol intimately,” Glynn explained. “And she recognized right away that, whether someone works in a plant or in a lab or in our technical center [in Michigan], or at an office in the Renaissance Center” headquarters of GM in downtown Detroit, “they are going to have some apprehensions about the virus and whether they’ll be safe. That was her focus.”
So the playbook is “meant to very comprehensively, and in as much detail as we could, provide help so that our people leaders can be as knowledgeable about our protocols as any medical or safety professional,” Glynn said. “Because they’re who people are going to turn to.”
GM’s protocols themselves demonstrate two advantages over much of the other information out there. One is an attribute enjoyed by some other OEMs and major suppliers: They’ve already learned and applied health and safety lessons from the restarting of their Asian plants a few weeks ago. Another edge is enjoyed by only GM and Ford, which is the fact that each of them reopened a U.S. plant a few weeks ago to shift quickly to production of pandemic-fighting medical equipment.
“Some of the ‘whats’ applied pretty well for the couple hundred people entering the site” at GM’s Kokomo, Indiana, electronics plant, which it refitted to produce ventilators, Glynn said. “But it gets more difficult when you’ve got 1,000 people coming into a [different] plant for a shift. So we are scaling up our approach so that, instead of just one entrance, we are duplicating our [screening] efforts at two or three entrances to the plant.”
The needs for new protocols, redesign of many plant-floor processes, and an overall abundance of caution can be counted on to slash productivity that most auto plants enjoyed pre-Covid 19. Yet at first, that shouldn’t be an issue because auto sales, and the entire manufacturing supply chain, will take a while to creak back to life.
And Glynn said that he expects factory productivity to rise rapidly anyway, after an initial orientation period. Even something as simple as donning a mask can pose a complication to an auto worker who wears glasses – or, as many do, safety glasses – by fogging them, for example.
“But we’ve learned tips and tricks to prevent that from happening,” he said. “We’re doing all of these things to protect people and help them be comfortable in the workplace. Once they understand that, productivity takes care of itself pretty quickly.
“Everywhere we’ve put this into place,” such as plants in Asia, Glynn said, “people get on it it and get back to normal productivity. They like the routine; they have a sense of accomplishment; and it feels comfortable for them to be back at work.”
Source: Dale Buss
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