Saying you’ll clean up your act is one thing, backing it up is another
General Motors is the latest carmaker to come under fire for failure to address safety issues (and defending that decision) after it was revealed that it had swept reports of defective ignition switches, responsible for some 12 deaths, under the rug for more than a decade.
Facing a congressional investigation and the ire of stakeholders, GM CEO Mary Barra is talking the talk, delivering candid messages to both external and internal audiences and announcing sweeping changes in the company. Asked by The Fiscal Times to describe what GM needs to do next, Jonathan Bernstein explained a necessity many overlook – backing up all that talk with real-world action:
“At the end of the day, they need to walk their talk,” says Jonathan Bernstein, the head of Bernstein Crisis Management, a communications consultancy. “When they put profits ahead of safety, they forget that their most important asset isn’t their bank account. It’s their reputation.”
With 13 years of deception under its belt, GM has a big hole to dig out of. Those claims Berra’s making about a commitment to safety and a revision of systems absolutely must be followed up by not only actually putting the projects into motion, but also keeping stakeholders informed as to how these projects are helping to keep them safe, and GM engineers and leadership honest.
GM certainly has the assets to do crisis management for this situation right, but, as Jonathan explained, safety needs to actually and demonstrably be the highest priority if the brand is to recover.
For more resources, see the Free Management Library topic: Crisis Management
[Jonathan Bernstein is president of Bernstein Crisis Management, Inc., an international crisis management consultancy, author of Manager’s Guide to Crisis Management and Keeping the Wolves at Bay – Media Training. Erik Bernstein is Social Media Manager for the firm, and also editor of its newsletter, Crisis Manager]