NUMMI was formed in 1984, from the ashes of a plant that GM had closed in 1982. General Motors reopened the plant, employing many of the same workers who had staffed, according to the United Auto Workers union, the former worst performing plant in the US. Employees of the defunct factory regularly drank on the job, had very high rates of absenteeism, and performed deliberate acts of ‘anti-QA’ sabotage, such as putting empty bottles inside car doors to annoy customers.
GM and Toyota had formed NUMMI as a joint venture to satisfy imperatives for both companies; GM needed to learn how to manufacture small cars cost effectively, with high quality standards, and Toyota to learn about producing cars in the US in ...view middle of the document...
“I believed that the system was bad, not the people” – Bruce Lee, union representative
Initially, the reemployed workers hated the idea of change, until they started going to Japan to view Toyota’s system at work. They were amazed at how empowered workers were in the Toyota Production System, and that people were expected to continuously improve, as a team.
“They had such a powerful and emotional experience, of learning a new way of working, a way that people could actually work together collaboratively, as a team” – John Shook, Toyota trainer.
What happens at NUMMI, stays at NUMMI
When GM tried to take the successes experienced at NUMMI to its other factories in the USA, it was generally a failure; at least for the first 10-15 years! Initially, GM sent 16 managers to California to start NUMMI, the ‘Commandos’, with the idea that they could go back to other parts of the company. However, there was no ‘master plan’ beyond that to extend this to other parts of such a large and complex organisation.
People at other plants didn’t have the same motivation to take on different ideas as the NUMMI workers had. “It’s a lot easier to get people to change if they have lost their jobs and then you offer them back”
To make real change, GM managers had to leave the US, and overhaul operations in Germany and Brazil, in the mid-90s. It took a decade and a half, a generational transformation, until there was a critical mass of people sufficient to change the whole of GM. To the point that by the early 2000′s, GM had what they called the “Global Manufacturing System”.