Management and Quality Lessons in the Airbag Recall

qualityWith clear acknowledgement that I am just one of millions of consumers impacted by the Takata Airbag disaster (recall), I feel compelled to vent. I of course vent not by screaming, but by looking for the management lessons in the mess. There are more than a few marketing and management lessons embedded in the industry’s handling of this potentially life-threatening problem.

When Your Safety System Can Hurt You:

I received a note from BMW yesterday indicating that my automobile includes the problematic airbag inflator on the driver’s side. This comes six months after I asked my dealer whether my car was involved. Their response: the manufacturer has not yet indicated whether your car is affected. I understand that the dealer was simply sharing their view of the facts at that point in time. Nonetheless, their response: “the manufacturer has not yet informed us,” was incomplete and unsatisfying. The implication for me as the consumer was either: “Whew, I dodged that one,” to “Hmmm, I wonder if this is a problem.”

I opted to focus on the potential problem, and at that point, I started sizing up my car before driving it with the care of someone scanning the occupants of a Chicago Elevated Train late at night. This change in relationship with my car is particularly troubling given our long love affair. You see, I only enter into long-term relationships with my automobiles, and until now, this has been a great one. At ten years and 50,000 miles, we are just getting started. Unless of course, the car turns on me, which is now a distinct possibility.

System Responsibility—An Anachronism?

Graphic with the words of Art of Managing and other management termsBefore describing BMW’s response to my particular situation, a bit of background is in order. I grew up in my career working in and leading systems businesses. We wrote software and in some cases developed and manufactured hardware, and we married the pieces together plus many third party technologies to deliver a complete system to our customers. Our systems were material to the minute-to-minute operation of the businesses of our customers.

We also took complete responsibility for the integrity and quality of our systems. That’s code for it did not matter whether there was a problem with something we had created or something we had integrated, it was OUR problem and we owned the fix. This was called in our vernacular: system responsibility.

Part of the process of ensuring system responsibility was working with approved third-party suppliers to establish quality standards and to plan and prepare together for the worst. We did not just hope everything would work out; we evaluated options and issues and made plans for catastrophes known and unknown.

When the worst happened, as it occasionally did, we always opted for the solution that reduced adverse consequences for our customers. In some cases, there was a short-term and long-term fix, but there was never a “We’ll get back to you at some point in time, but please suffer for now.”

These businesses moved heaven and hell to support their customers.

In today’s world, perhaps Apple comes the closest for ensuring system integrity with its very rigid approval process for the App store and for other related third-party products. However, having experienced some quality challenges with offering in the Apple ecosystem, it appears their response stops far short of our historic moving heaven and earth approach.

Contrast the system responsibility approach with BMW’s, which to my ears mostly has the odor of dodge, deflect and prepare for our future legal defense about it.

Here’s what they offered:

  • They sent a letter outlining the problem and indicating that they would fix it. Good.
  • At this time, there are no parts available. Bad.
  • They are not certain when parts will become available. Very bad.
  • Once parts were available, I would be notified via mail that I could call my dealer and schedule the update. Huh? Mail? Very bad. I might expect a text notice complete with timing options at my servicing dealer and the promise of a loaner car.
  • There were no countermeasures in the short-term. They could not recommend disconnecting the potential killing machine known as an airbag and they are not offering a repair, just a replacement at some unknown date. Miserable.
  • In calling the BMW Airbag Recall Hotline, they did their duty and acknowledged the facts and offered no solutions. No short-term countermeasures. No workarounds. And while they did not state it, the gentleman on the line did not disagree with my statement: “It sounds like the safest strategy is to park the car.” Abysmal.
  • The hotline offered: “At this point, there are no known injuries caused by this airbag issue for your model.” Is that really supposed to put me at ease? Poor form.

The implication of all of this is obviously that I drive the car at my own risk—something we all do every single day of course. The difference now is that I have to drive my car with the knowledge that my safety system is capable of hurting me. Yes, I get that cars are dangerous objects, but none of us signed up for this particular risk. In fact, I purchased this car because of its alleged remarkable safety ratings and features.

Just a Very Little Bit of Empathy with the Manufacturer:

Having been on the other side of quality issues at the manufacturer’s level, I can only imagine the nightmare this has created for every car company. And while the root cause of the quality issues is focused on Takata, the firms integrating their parts owe their customers something more than what they are providing. They failed to prepare for the worst. This is a failure of risk management and it seems a complete abrogation of their responsibility to their customers.

The Bottom-line for Now:

There is no sign of systems responsibility in this process. Heck, it feels like backpedaling mixed with a dodge and deflect strategy. The customers who are so important to giving life to the brand are suddenly made to feel ill at ease and even slightly adversarial. Instead of reinforcing their remarkable brand value and integrity, this firm has opted to risk it because they could not control or prepare for problems with a critical parts supplier.

I have enjoyed this car more than any I have ever owned, and at the purchase of one auto every two decades or so, I suspect I am lousy customer for BMW. Nonetheless, as Deming offered in his admonishment to focus on quality: What is the cost of a dissatisfied customer?

Now, I have to go plug in my trickle charger and spend some time detailing my car. It is in for a long sleep.

Get the latest e-book (free) from Art: “A Bold Cup of Leadership Caffeine: Ideas to Stimulate High Performance.” 

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Art Petty serves senior executives and management teams as a performance coach and strategy facilitator. Art is a popular keynote speaker focusing on helping professionals and organizations learn to survive and thrive in an era of change. Additionally, Art’s books are widely used in leadership development programs. To learn more or discuss a challenge, contact Art.

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Art’s Leadership & Management Writing for the Week Ending 1/9/16

Sign indicating "Brand New and Fresh"In case you missed it:

At the Management Excellence Blog:

Just One Thing: Don’t Fall Victim to Doom and Gloom. Spend too much time reading the headlines and you’re to be excused if you feel like crawling back into bed and pulling the covers over your head. Sometimes, you have to make your own good news.

Radical Candor: A Band-Aid for Lack of Accountability. Bolting a program of “radical candor” on top of a dysfunctional culture is likely to be a waste of time and filled with some fascinating exchanges. Lack of candor in a culture is a failure of the firm’s leadership.

Leadership Caffeine: Fight to Overcome Obstacles. How hard are you working at knocking down the obstacles in front of your team? Chances are, not hard enough.

At the Management and Leadership site:

8 Tips for Getting Started Successfully with Your New Team. You get one chance to make a first impression, and when it comes to your new team, you cannot afford to make it a bad one.

6 Tips to Help You Prepare for Difficult Conversations. You grow performance by taking on and tackling the tough conversations. Here are some practical and powerful ideas to prepare for your next one. 

6 Practical Exercises for Strengthening Your Critical Thinking Skills. In a world of uncertainty and ambiguity, your critical thinking skills are essential for success as a leader and manager. The good news is that great critical thinkers are made, not born. Here are 6 exercises to help you work on this core leadership skill set.

That’s it for this week. And remember, there’s a reason why most managers and leaders fail to produce great teams and great results. It’s darned hard work. Keep pushing!  

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It’s Your Career—Try Reframing the Problems to Stimulate Success

Graphic image with the words, It's Your Career and other related professional development wordsThe “It’s Your Career” series at Management Excellence is dedicated to offering ideas, guidance and inspiration for strengthening your performance and supporting your development as a professional. Use the ideas in great career health!

How we frame a situation guides our development of options and biases our decisions. In my coaching work, framing is almost always an issue with under-performing professionals. Here are five common situations that can benefit from some active, personal re-framing.

Framing Error 1—Professional Development: “My company isn’t supporting my development.”

Reframe: You own your own professional development, not your company. Now, more than ever, you must take responsibility to invest in yourself for education and training and the most valuable of all developmental activities…participating in a series of challenging assignments. Seeking out these new challenges must be a deliberate part of everyone’s career strategy.

Framing Error 2—Politics: “Getting ahead around here requires me to play the games. I’m not going to do it.”

Reframe: All human groups are political. Given that someone must choose us for success, ignoring the politics and power issues in your work environment is naïve and limiting. A good strategy is to focus on cultivating “clean power” (no backs stabbed, no games played), by identifying and resolving the thorny issues that reside in the gray-areas between functions. This is typically project/team effort and requires that you gain buy-in across functions and involve a network of resources to resolve the challenges. Place your team members in the spotlight of success with these initiatives and you’ll not only gain the support of higher-ups but of a growing network of your colleagues. Congratulations, you will have grown your power without playing any questionable games!

Framing Error 3—Lack of Advancement: Blaming everyone but the person in the mirror for your lack of advancement.

Reframe: If you’re not advancing in your career at a pace that you believe is proper, it’s time to look in the mirror, not at the boss or your coworkers. Much like the use of “swim buddies” in the Navy Seals (someone who watches, supports and challenges you), you need a “feedback buddy” who will share the hard truth on your presence, your weaknesses and your strengths. We’re notoriously poor at seeing ourselves as others do and cultivating a clear understanding of this view offers ammunition for improvement and for better managing the perceptions about you.

Framing Error 4—Blaming the team. “My team isn’t performing up to my expectations.”

Reframe: You’re likely the one not performing to expectations. Reassess your role. Ask your team what they need you to do to better help them succeed. And then do it. You’ll be amazed how much better you will feel about your team when you’re doing your part.

Framing Error 5—Blaming the strategy. “This strategy just isn’t working. What were they thinking?”

Reframe: While it is possible the strategy is flawed, more than likely, there are problems of coordination, communication and execution. Look closely at where the situation is breaking down and collaborate with co-workers to identify solutions and offer insights to senior leaders. No senior leader expects the strategic plan to unfold exactly as it was drawn up on paper. Strategy refinement is an iterative process based on real-world feedback. Be part of the solution here by sharing insights and offering suggestions for strengthening.

The Bottom-Line for Now:

It’s easy to sit back and view the world of challenges as other people’s problems or other people’s mistakes. The human tendency to take credit for successes and offer blame for failures combines with framing errors to create a cognitive stew of biases and poor thinking. Get out of your own way by reframing the issues and problems, and then take action. Get this right and you’ll be dealing with a whole new set of framing challenges as you gain responsibility and grow in your career.

Don’t miss the next Leadership Caffeine-Newsletter! (All new subscriber-only content!) Register herebook cover: shows title Leadership Caffeine-Ideas to Energize Your Professional Development by Art Petty. Includes image of a coffee cup.

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An ideal book for anyone starting out in leadership: Practical Lessons in Leadership by Art Petty and Rich Petro.


Ideas for Professional Growth for the Week of July 5, 2015

many small light bulbs equal big oneNote from Art: Every week, I provide a few simple (but not simplistic) ideas for you to Do/Experiment/Explore in support of your professional development. Use them in great professional health and personal gain.


Focus on tackling that big decision you’ve been putting off for too long. Whether it’s the “go” on a new initiative, a critical strategy decision or the resolution of an important personnel choice (hire, fire, promote), it’s essential to tee the decision up and execute on it. The big issues that we delay rent space in our minds and slow down the overall cadence of our decision-making.

Take the time to rethink the issue. Look at it from multiple frames (positive, negative, neutral) and develop approaches that match each respective frame.

Identify your expected outcome from making this decision. Review your assumptions and then seek some outside help. Invite an objective third party to evaluate your framing and assumptions and challenge you on whether you’ve completely thought through the issue.

And take a tip from the late, great management guru, Peter Drucker, and start and maintain a decision-log. Take the time to document the issue, your framing, your assumptions and your expected outcome(s) and establish a date to review the effectiveness of the decision. This simple but powerful tool offers you a great opportunity to both assess and strengthen your decision-making effectiveness over time.


Rethink your approach to establishing team or initiative leadership. Instead of defaulting to the most senior person or the technical expert, challenge your team to select the individual who is best at working with people.

The design firm IDEO is famous for bringing together groups of professionals with diverse backgrounds and forming them into highly creative groups focused on studying and solving the business challenges of a wide variety of clients. A core part of their process is selecting a leader for the initiative that has the attributes the team believes are most essential for success. Often, the selection focuses on, “Who’s best working with people?”


Comparing your firm or function to someone other than your competitors. Too often, we develop tunnel vision around our industry and competitors and end up in a battle of “me-too” that no one wins, especially the customers.

When Southwest Airlines wanted to better understand how to turn planes around in record time, they didn’t study other airlines, they studied Indy Pit Crews.

Restaurant operators from all sectors send their teams in to study at Pal’s Business Excellence Institute…an institution established by this modest sized but wildly successful fast-food firm to share the practices that have helped Pal’s achieve quality and performance levels that are truly remarkable.

Idea Prompters:

  • Study customer service at Nordstrom’s or Zappos.
  • Explore how SRC applies financial literacy and drives remarkable employee engagement and great financial results.
  • Study how the Mayo Clinic is able to remain at the head of the medical field year after year and decade after decade through the application of a few very powerful values.

It’s time for your and your team and your firm to break out of your industry and competitive rut and studying the approaches of other successful organizations is a great starting point.

OK, I’ve done my part. The rest is up to you. Have a great week as you Do/Experiment/Explore! -Art

Don’t miss the next Leadership Caffeine-Newsletter! (All new subscriber-only content!) Register herebook cover: shows title Leadership Caffeine-Ideas to Energize Your Professional Development by Art Petty. Includes image of a coffee cup.

For more ideas on professional development-one sound bite at a time, check out: Leadership Caffeine-Ideas to Energize Your Professional Development.

New to leading or responsible for first time leaders on your team? Subscribe to Art’s New Leader’s e-News.

An ideal book for anyone starting out in leadership: Practical Lessons in Leadership by Art Petty and Rich Petro.


Introducing The Saturday Serial—An Ongoing Management & Leadership Case

A text slide reading: The Saturday Serial: A Management and Leadership Story Delivered One Post at a TimeA note from Art:

I’ve long believed serials are great ways to share stories. Dickens published many of his works in serial format and the dockworkers were reputed to shout from the shore as ships arrived with the latest installment of The Old Curiosity Shop, “Did little Nell live?” The Golden Age of Science Fiction was filled with stories told one chapter at a time from issue-to-issue and today’s Game of Thrones novels from George R.R. Martin are an excellent example of the serial on steroids, with fans (myself included) waiting impatiently to learn the fate of our favorite characters and hoping that Mr. Martin finishes the story. Who lives? Who dies? Who conquers?

Serials provide readers an opportunity to become invested in a story and the characters, and I believe the approach provides authors an opportunity to think and then create new twists and new approaches to challenge the characters and further engage the readers. As a child and teen I was addicted to the Encyclopedia Brown Mysteries because I appreciated the characters and I loved the ability to try and solve the cases. I’ve added that twist here in the form of discussion questions and I look forward to sharing my ideas and learning how readers might solve these business cases.

Welcome to my intent and attempt to share and cultivate management and leadership lessons beyond the format of a stale blog post and endless lists of “10 ideas to… .” While I love writing the Management Excellence blog and the first 1,025 posts are testament to my commitment, I’ve wanted to experiment with the serial and management fable format here for a long time. I’m emboldened by the reader appreciation for the short, fictional cases around my mythical APEX Corporation, inserted in front of the chapters in my book with Rich Petro, Practical Lessons in Leadership. Those mini-cases and their discussion questions and the author’s take on the cases have been a staple of this book and something many managers have leveraged to stimulate thinking around the issues we all face in growing as leaders. I’m grateful for the appreciation many of you have expressed for those cases.

Lencioni and Goldratt popularized the novelized or fable form of business lessons in their various writings and I understand that some of you love those and others don’t. For those who prefer their business and leadership lessons and questions with a taste of drama, The Saturday Serial is ideal for you.

Beginning with my first episode, “Welcome to ACME John Anderson,” you will meet a growing cast of characters facing a series of very real management, leadership and career challenges in this fictional high-tech, global conglomerate and its various units and divisions.

Yes, the issues are real. I see them every day and I’ve experienced and observed these dilemmas around strategy and execution and learning to lead and learning to manage in many flavors  for 30-years. And while the characters and firms are all fictional, I will wager a fair amount, you will recognize these issues and challenges…and many of you will be dealing with them in real time. Now, you get to see and hear them unfold here in this on-going series of stories and cases, and hopefully, we’ll all engage in sharing some ideas on how to navigate the challenges. After all, the intent of my work and this entire blog is to help those striving to grow their firms and grow in their careers find useful and creative ideas and answers to the vexing challenges we all face during our journeys.

Welcome to The Saturday Serial at Management Excellence I hope you’ll tune in and chime in as the story develops. After all, the beauty of this format is that you can help determine the outcomes. -Art

Check out Episode Number 1.

 All characters and firms are fictional and any resemblance to any person or any firm is purely coincidental. The Saturday Serial is a copyright (2015) of Art Petty, The Art Petty Group and The Management Excellence Blog.