General Motors 2013 – 2014 Recall Crisis Communication Analysis

In 2013 and 2014, General Motors was engulfed in varied recall issues. It recalled many vehicles some of its vehicles were blamed for many deaths and injuries. The recalls had the potential of impacting on General Motors for many years according to Flashman (2014). The recalls made by the company injured own reputation markedly. After each of the recalls, the customers left comments expressing their disaffection with the company’s crisis communication approaches. Even though its representatives gave out many reassuring messages on varied media platforms, its reputation suffered marked challenge (Liker & Franz, 2011)Hemus, 2010). This paper explores the effectiveness of how General Motors communicated during the crisis typified by the recalls.

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Overview of the General Motors 2013 – 2014 Recall Crisis

Soon after Mary Barra had been appointed to be the General Motors CEO, it became apparent that the company had been concealing information for many years that a defect on the automobiles it produced. The defect was blamed for 13 deaths. The company had to recall many units already sold to clients. The CEO came off as unprepared or even incompetent in communicating during crises but she charged several representatives of the company with the role of communicating about the crisis. The representatives were effective in that role by and large. Notably, the CEO is now highly regarded for having been quick to admit responsibility for the defect publicly. The admission helped build marked goodwill towards the company in the public opinion court.

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The communications sent out by General Motors during the recall crisis had varied ethical implications. The communications projected the company as accepting responsibility for the defective automobiles promptly. In crisis communication, taking responsibility and accountability are critical elements. General Motors took responsibility for the defect in the recalled vehicles promptly, helping it build marked goodwill towards the company in the public opinion court as noted earlier. Company’s that accept responsibility for their defective products promptly establish procedures for assisting those making requests, complaints or claims. As well, they ensure that their stakeholders have easy access to relevant information. General Motors established an autonomous claim site for its clients keen on making related claims (Flashman, 2014).

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All in all, the crisis situation projected General Motors’ products as being of wanting quality and its practices as opaque. General Motors incurred considerable losses from the recalls, and its competitors were keen on capitalizing on its misfortune by wooing away its customers (Dietz & Gillespie, 2012). General Motors was afraid that its reputation would have been further eroded by potential class-action suits against it from discontented business analysts and investors. Like other automobile producers, traditionally, General Motors emphasizes on effectiveness. General Motors’ keenness on effectiveness has made it renowned for its efficient production systems for many years. General Motors has embraced effectiveness as its elementary management objective for long. General Motors projects itself as engaging every employee in persistent improvement. Even then, the crisis projected General Motors as having some inefficient systems and not being on staff engagement. The crisis projected it as having ineffective safety and quality systems and procedures (Colby, 2015).

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Regarding culture, the crisis situation was blamed on General Motors’ hierarchical management and bureaucratic approach. The approach was seen as impeding junior staff members from communicating the flaws that they noticed promptly. Consequently, numerous problems in the company went unnoticed and unresolved until the crisis situation. As well, regarding culture, General Motors’ representatives who issued communications regarding the crisis appeared to lack evidence to support own rhetoric at times. They appeared to have lack facts as to why the defect had remained undetected for many years. As well, they appeared to lack well-thought out information on what General Motors was set to do to eliminate the possibility of the defect in future.

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Effectiveness of General Motors’ Crisis Communication

When the crisis situation was underway, General Motors established many open communication lines for use especially by its clients. Even then, there were no such lines for its junior staff members owing to the company’s hierarchical management approach. As noted earlier, the approach and related traditions impede junior staff members from communicating the flaws that they notice promptly. The company received millions of comments from its clients and other people especially via Facebook. Most of the comments were negative but the representatives kept direct and clear lines and responded to the comments rather humanely according to Flashman (2014). In addition to its Facebook messaging platform, General Motors put in place an independent recall site to further facilitate the conveying of offline information regarding the crisis.

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General Motors accepted responsibility for the defect promptly as well as authentically. It was quick in making out of the situation initially, projecting the company as having been quick to address situation devoid of being compelled to act on it. The quick admission of the responsibility projects it as having been averse to engaging in corporate denial, it projected its organizational culture as having been defined by adequate vigilance for possible crises (Colby, 2015).

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The General Motors’ representatives expressed candor, or forthrightness, in their communication during the crisis situation. By and large, they responded directly and clearly. They were clear that the company’s reputation was not dependent on the recalls themselves but by how they addressed the situation in the succeeding days. The candor projected the company as swift to explain and respond. They communicated to their audiences directly, especially through video recordings, using a direct, simple, and personal language. Their tone was rather direct, moving the related discussions offline smoothly (Flashman, 2014). Even then, the CEO was reluctant to do interviews regarding the crisis, thus the company’s overall communication appeared to lack a leader’s voice.

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General Motors’ leaders came off as having been in control of the events and having been inclined towards taking decisive action in addressing the situation in a coordinated way. The actuality that the company recalled automobiles only once meant that the leaders were forthright in how they acted on the recall. They gave out infographics that showed that it knew how to go about fixing the defect simply and clearly (Flashman, 2014).

General Motors did not utilize the media adequately, as well as effectively, in delivering its principal messages during the crisis situation. Its executives were not readily available to the media most of the time. Even then, the representatives shared the related bad news and good news whenever they communicated through the media. The expressed considerably consistent, as well as believable, communication whenever the media engaged them and whenever they gave out communications via YouTube, Facebook, and varied blogs (Flashman, 2014).

The CEO and the representatives did not involve customers and employees in the company’s crisis situation-related communication effort. That possibly stemmed from the company’s hierarchical management approach. The approach impedes customers and employees from communicating the flaws that they notice promptly. As noted earlier, the approach meant that the defect went unnoticed and unresolved for many years.

The communication-related actions related to the crisis situation were not in agreement with its mission as well as values. Traditionally, General Motors emphasizes on effectiveness, which has made it renowned for efficient systems for many years. Even then, from the foregoing, it is clear that the company was devoid of efficient communication teams and strategies during the crisis situation. As noted earlier, the crisis projected it as having some inefficient systems. Even then, the actions projected the company as true to the value it attaches to responsibility. Especially, as noted earlier, the actions projected the company as quick in accepting responsibility for the faulty automobiles (Colby, 2015).

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Crisis Communication Recommendations

  1. General Motors should put in place measures to enable it to communicate effectively in crises before they happen. Particularly, the company should:
    1. Anticipate crises
    2. Carry out regular vulnerability audits
    3. Create communications and operational plans for responding to possible crises
    4. Make out its crisis communication officers or teams
    5. Make out, as well as train, crisis spokespersons
  2. Whenever a crisis happens, General Motors should gather the relevant facts promptly and communication them aggressively and promptly to avoid possible uncertainties.

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