GM’s Barra uses flipside of crisis to accelerate change


As crisis managers everywhere mourn the needless sacrifice of Target CEO Gregg Steinhafel on the altar of failed crisis management, let’s turn to the upside of a crisis: A change accelerator.

The Boston Globe spells out the inherent dangers to CEOs everywhere of the out-of-the-blue crisis like the one that brought down Steinhafel, which is probably why they get multi-million-dollar golden parachutes. But the flip side is that if you can endure and survive the initial hits, you can use a crisis to wake up your organization and use it as a raison d’etre  for more rapid change.

Therefore let’s turn to GM CEO Mary Barra, and a recent story in the Wall Street Journal, in which she says:

 “I see this as an opportunity to accelerate our culture change … We continue to face down every issue we have…and more aggressively pursue every opportunity in a way we haven’t always done.”

GM’s specific crisis was created by a dysfunctional ignition switch that led to the recall of more than one million vehicles, as well as allegations that a dozen people died in accidents as a result of the shoddy work.

There’s nothing like a crisis to force inward examination, re-evaluation of past procedures and decisions and creation of a resolve to fix things. Add to that GM’s emergence from bankruptcy in 2008 and a shiny new CEO and you have a formula for fixing it fast.

“The bankruptcy didn’t fix the silo problem that existed at GM, it didn’t go far enough and it didn’t go low enough to attack that compartmentalize thinking,” Thomas Stallkamp, principal of Detroit-based Collaborative Management LLC, told the Journal. “This [recall] may have had a perverse effect in that she has had to make changes on a faster timetable.”

Barra had to face angry Congress members, media criticism and stockholder anger. You can be sure she’s going to channel that into more changes at GM — in structure, personnel and strategy — than GM has seen in decades.

Crises can have upsides.

The content of this blog is about crisis management and mismanagement in a digital age. It originates with Steve Bell, who spent 30 years as a journalist for the Associated Press and in four top editor positions at The Buffalo News. He is now Partner/Director of Public Affairs and Crisis and Reputation Management at Eric Mower + Associates, one of the nation’s largest independent advertising, integrated marketing and public relations agencies, with seven offices in the East. Learn more about EMA at mowerpr.com/crisisready. Steve’s blog is based on his own opinions and does not represent the views or positions of Eric Mower + Associates.

 

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About steveoncrisis

The content is about crisis management and mismanagement in a digital age. It comes from Steve Bell, who spent 30 years as a journalist for the Associated Press and as managing editor and editorial page editor at The Buffalo News. He is now Partner/Director of Public Affairs at Eric Mower and Associates, one of the nation's largest independent advertising, integrated marketing and public relations agency with six offices in the Northeast and Southeast.
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