A famous case study shows the answer to an oft-asked question, “Does management style and competence really make a difference in the workplace?” The answer is a resounding “yes”. One corroborating case study is that of NUMMI, the joint partnership between GM and Toyota in Hayward, California.

Before the partnership, GM considered this plant among its worst ever. Labor and management were at odds. Union grievances were numerous. Productivity was low. Quality was low. GM finally pulled the plug and closed the plant. Enter Toyota. The joint venture made sense to both parties. GM wanted to know the famous Toyota production system. Toyota needed to understand relations with US labor. The same people were hired back. Toyota managed the property.

What transpired has been studied as a landmark case study by organizational scholars such as Paul Adler of the Marshall School of Business at USC.

Without any huge programs changes, the labor issues disappeared. The same people who were instrumental in causing the unrest on the labor side (the management side was also complicit) were hired back.

On the surface, it might have been said that the layoff is what changed their attitudes. Research with this real-life laboratory shows it was much more about style.

For the first time, labor was listened to. A partnership was formed. Toyota brought a new style. Grievances were reduced to nearly nothing. Productivity went sky high, as well as quality. The NUMMI turnaround shows that style counts in leadership and management.

For more information on the NUMMI case, see Adler, P.S, & Cole, R. E., “Designed for Learning: A Tale of Two Auto Plants”, Sloan Mgt Review 1993, 34 )3) pp. 85+.