Kudos to GM CEO Mary Barra’s Initial Handling of GM Crisis ~ 27 Mar 2014


As a former elected Global / National President of the Public Affairs / Public Relations / Business Communications Industry’s professional society, I applaud HBR’s Lauren Leader-Chivee’s analysis re: “Crisis Ownership” Role assumed by GM CEO Mary Barra.

What “Ownership” in Crisis Management means here is that Ms. Barra effectively “owns the Crisis Solution,” not that she’s assuming some responsibility for the poor decisions and inactions that led to the Crisis. And, frankly, no other posture could be taken in any effective stewardship.

As a Democrat, however, I’m not as critical of Gov. Christie’s Crisis Management as Ms. Leader-Chivee seems to be, and I think that the Governor handled it appropriately.

Critics — of the Company, or the Politician — always will “pile on,” and in fact most have a self-interest that motivates and rewards “piling on.” So I’m less concerned that the reaction to both Ms. Barra and Gov. Christie and their respective handlings of these issues is less than unanimous in the accolades. But that criticism is largely irrelevant to “doing the right thing,” the responsibility in front of each right now!

What is a Crisis? What is the Goal of Crisis Management?

At its least, a Crisis interrupts the natural and routine functioning of the organization, and, at its worst, it imperils the survival of the organization in its present and its future. As a result, Crisis Management is about (1) “fixing the problem,” and (2) restoring the organizational homeostasis just as soon as possible. Each is equally important.

In Swimming Lifesaving, swimmers are taught to “save yourself” so you can save the other person. As a Strategy, the organization has to be saved in order to address and fix the issue.

I’ve provided Issues & Crisis Management Counsel to a variety of clients, from the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church on the euphemistic “priest issue” to CEOs of DuPont and other companies, and very senior elected Political / Government Leaders.

If I were counseling Ms. Barra here, I’d leverage two strategies as part of a longer-term approach.

As the Military did, when it was initially faced with the growing sexual assault issue in its ranks, I’d first suggest Ms. Barra order a “Corporate Stand Down” for a day, or two days, or even a week, for a focus on deconstructing and learning from the issue, and building a more ethical course into everything that happens from this point forward. To be meaningful and productive, of course, that must be well planned and executed.

Second, I’d take a page from competitor Ford’s response 30+ years ago to the decline in American auto-making quality in the face of the increases in Japanese auto-making quality. Ford adopted “Quality is Job One” as a motto. And certainly some similar objective / motto is out there for GM’s discovery, e.g., “We Treat Our Customers Right!” or something of that ilk that becomes a very tangible Corporate pledge.

As people look at our field, as represented by my professional society www.PRSA.org, they often look at PR as “spinning something that is not into something that is something else.”

Wrong! Altogether Wrong. Our profession, and my role as a Senior Counselor, is to represent the interests of ALL their Stakeholders at the Board Table, to advocate and counsel from OUTSIDE the organization on the “right decisions” that need to be made.

1 thought on “Kudos to GM CEO Mary Barra’s Initial Handling of GM Crisis ~ 27 Mar 2014

Comments are closed.