If different is what Saturn (a corporate entity) aimed for, Saturn has definitely succeeded. It’s as different as it has ever been, said R Timothy Epps, vice president of people systems at Saturn. We are committed to an entirely different set of beliefs. One is to have UAW involvement in all aspects of the business. The other crucial principle is that we believe that those people affected by a decision should be involved in the decision.
One factor at the heart of Saturn’s success is its explicit mission statement:
The mission of Saturn is to market vehicles developed and manufactured in the United States that are world leaders in quality, cost and customer satisfaction through the integration of people, technology and business systems, and to transfer knowledge, technology and experience throughout General Motors.
This statement is more than mere words on paper at Saturn. Most people have it committed to memory, commented Jack O’Toole, UAW Local 1853 vice president of people systems. Everyone knows the mission. We explain it from the time we start them. The mission tells us what we exist for and what would not happen if we didn’t exist.
The three primary concerns underscored in the mission statement involve the people, technology, and business of the company. Saturn’s goal is to achieve a balance among the three. If you make a decision that is just good for people, but impacts the other two, you’ve got a contended workforce, but you go out of business, O’Toole pointed out. If you make a great business decision that alienates the workforce you go out of business. If you decide to use a technology that isn’t compatible with your people, you go out of business.
At Saturn, what this means is that assignments are not made. Rather options are proposed. In 1991, car sales climbed necessitating that, in order to meet demand, the workforce put in 10 hour days four out of five days per week. In planning how to meet 1992 demand, Saturn managers did not simply schedule five 10 hour days. According to O’Toole, Saturn instead let workers decide what to do: Here’s the scenario. Working four 10 hour days and an occasional Friday here’s the production we’ll get. Working five 10 hour days, here’s what we’ll get. It’s your company what do you want to do? And the employees made their choices. In the end 90 percent of the people did opt for the longer worksheet, but Saturn’s involving them in the decision making and empowering them to decide is the essence of the company’s management style.
Empowerment has resulted in increased feelings of accountability among employees. While absenteeism averages 10 percent to 14 percent at most GM plants, it hovers nearer to 2.5 percent at Saturn. The emphasis on teamwork, breeds team loyalty in addition to company loyalty and discourages team members from skipping out on work because it would mean that other team members would have to pick up the slack.
There’s level of excitement dedication and commitment at Saturn and that cannot be seen at any other [GM] division. It is because of the way we have approached how people fit into the organization and what they can contribute.
Training Saturn workers for success:
One key to the success of employee empowerment at Saturn is that employees are trained to take on responsibility. Employees spend 5 percent of their time about 92 hours a year in training, compared to 2 percent to 3 percent for the best of the competitors. Since our goal is to leapfrog the competition they figured they have to probably double the amount of time they dedicate to training. However, at Saturn training is not about learning and re-learning how to build car. Rather, it is about enabling employees to understand the concerns of people, technology, and business systems, in addition to the concerns of quality, cost, and customer satisfaction. According to O’Toole even when companies spend more than enough money on knowledge and skills, they often neglect the why. That is where the mission and philosophy come in at Saturn.
Training has played an integral role in the development of Saturn. Doing the right training in the right way at the right time really does leverage ability to build more cars and increase salary levels.
Through both centralized and decentralized efforts, Saturn emphasizes training. There are thirty people in the company’s training and organization development department who are responsible for guiding the strategic focus of Saturn’s training. They prepare and administer the company courses taken by most employees.
In addition, each of the three main Saturn plant buildings has a team of about five training coordinators who are responsible for handling daily training needs. For example, If a production team finds that a process does not work effectively a new process and equipment may be put in place, and the on-site coordinators help train workers to use the new process.
It is each team’s training champion who is responsible for determining the members’ needs and scheduling their training. In addition team members informally cross train other members to handle administrative duties as well as to perform assembly line tasks.
Training is actually linked to Saturn’s risk and reward compensation system. Employees earn a base salary set below the industry average, explained Bennett. They can earn additional compensation to meet or exceed industry or exceed industry parity by meeting or exceeding goals in quality, productivity and training. In general, the risk and reward compensation system places a certain portion of employee’s base wages at risk. This means that in order for employees to receive that portion, everyone must meet certain goals. If employees exceed their goals, then they will qualify for bonuses.
Training is grouped in the “Risk” portion of employee salaries. Saturn guarantees employees 95 percent of their base wages, but does not pay the remaining 5 percent unless all employees meet their training goal. In the first quarter of 1992, the goal was 155,687 hours; more than 300,000 hours were actually recorded. Employee thus received bonuses for that quarter. Success at Saturn is something that is shared.