"It helps to paint the picture of where you are positioned against the competitors," Weber says. "For us, that's a very good indicator that we need to speed up our own competitive analysis in this market to ensure that we're taking the next technological steps that we need to make."
That ranking is one component of GM's Strategic Supplier Engagement process. It was rolled out this spring as global purchasing chief Grace Lieblein's main strategy to smooth the long-contentious supplier relations that have kept GM from accessing the best of suppliers' technical innovations.
The program rates suppliers in two broad areas:
1. Business performance, which includes quality, cost containment and performance on new-vehicle launches.
2. Cultural performance, which assesses tougher-to-measure areas such as transparency and engineering innovation.
It covers 400 of GM's largest suppliers, which represent about 90 percent of GM's global spending.
Highly rated suppliers are rewarded with greater access to GM purchasing executives, joint planning on future product programs and other benefits.
Weber says that all automakers provide feedback on cost and launch performance. But he says GM's assessment of cultural intangibles is unusual. And he says GM's new system offers a level of specificity that allows the supplier to zero in on the reasons behind a rating that the automaker gave it for, say, launch quality.
"They make it much clearer now: 'This rating is coming from Korea,'" Weber says. "It allows you to learn from the concrete example, so you're not just dealing with an aggregate number."
In a recent interview, Lieblein said that a high level of transparency is critical to motivate suppliers to embrace the program.
That's especially true, she said, on the 40 or more cultural factors that GM assesses, which are more subjective than the business benchmarks. The feedback is broken out by region and component type, mostly to help larger suppliers that provide multiple parts in different subsystems.
GM even includes the names of purchasing staffers who provide subjective comments on the cultural ratings.
"We felt that being very transparent and having a consistent way of measuring was important," Lieblein said. "If our suppliers don't feel this is fair, this is all for naught."
Mike Martini, president of the original equipment division of tire maker Bridgestone Americas and a member of GM's supplier council, says the process also provides a formal mechanism for suppliers to raise specific issues with GM, something that was challenging in the past.