Ge Workout

Topics: Problem solving, Management, Problem Pages: 19 (6465 words) Published: August 23, 2011
Name – Mamta Timane
Subject – Organization Development
Assignment – GE Workout

Three activities are generally mentioned as being keys to General Electric’s success: process mapping, “best practices” benchmarking, and “workout” (Stewart, 1991). Workout is GE’s approach to intensive team problem solving. An organization contacted us with a desire to adapt a GE workout-type process for use in their organization. We believe our efforts to respond to our client’s questions and concerns about the process, the workout template we developed for them, and the lessons we learned from helping them implement that template offer insights into the workout process that consultants, academics, and managers will find useful as they consider offering, studying, and/or implementing a workout-type program.

General Electric is often held up as an example of a well-run, highly successful company (e.g., Kanter, Stein, & Jick, 1992). Readers of the popular business press are constantly served up anecdotes of GE’s success stories (e.g., Cosco, 1994; Quinn, 1994a; Sherman, 1993; Tichy, 1989). Three activities are generally mentioned as being keys to GE’s success – process mapping, “best practices” benchmarking, and “workout” (Stewart, 1991). Naturally, other organizations have become very interested in adapting these activities for their own uses (Quinn, 1994b; Stewart, 1991). Such was the case for an organization that contacted us with a desire to implement a GE workout-type process in their organization. The executive team had read about Jack Welch and GE (Tichy & Sherman, 1994) and some members had even heard Jack Welch speak in person. Yet, they were unsure of what workout would mean for their organization or how it would be implemented. Like most organizations, it was not nearly as big as even a single GE division, did not have as many resources as GE, did not have a dedicated training facility for such endeavors, did not have a tradition of employee involvement in problem solving, and did not have a cadre of high-profile consultants available to it. Nevertheless, the team members’ vague impressions of workout were positive and they had a genuine desire to find a way to increase employee involvement and solve some vexing problems. 

Feeling relatively confident that we understood facilitating the processes of problem solving teams, we agreed to help them. Because they were still a bit uncertain if the process was exactly what they needed, the executive team members were particularly interested in the GE “template” of what workouts looked like and how they operated. We knew much had been written about GE’s workout efforts (e.g., Lowe, 1998; Kennedy, 1995; Tichy, 1993) so we assured them we could produce the template they so badly wanted to see. This was the beginning of a frustrating search.

We learned very quickly that workout, sometimes also referred to as town meetings (Cosco, 1994; Kennedy, 1995), was as much of a philosophy and approach to problem solving as it was a technique. We also discovered that much more had been written about the philosophy than had been written about the specific details of the technique. Almost all the descriptions of GE’s workout efforts available to the business and academic communities are anecdotal and somewhat vague regarding the details of the actual process (e.g., Hendricks & Kelbaugh, 1998; Sherman, 1993). Nowhere could we find the “template” our client desired. In fact, most descriptions of workout emphasized the need to modify the specifics for the setting and problem (Quinn, 1994a; Tichy & Charan, 1989). 

However, a general template for the process did emerge and had some central features that can be summarized as follows. First, a group of employees (and other key stakeholders as necessary) and their manager meet offsite. Second, the manager charges the group with solving a problem or set of problems shared by the group but which are ultimately the...
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