Tag Archives: CEO communications

September 15, 2011 | cwinters | Tagged , , ,

CEO at the Negotiating Table: Sending a Message? Or Painting Yourself into a Corner?

To use your CEO, or not use your CEO?  A much debated topic in the crisis communications circles.  But an equally valid question when it comes to other high stakes situations, such as the contract negotiations between the UAW and GM, where GM’s CEO has been actively participating in the negotiations.

It’s not typical for the CEO to sit at the bargaining table, until the deal is pretty much done – when the leaders of both sides can come together for a nice photo opp and a few quotes about working together.  But then again, what has been typical about GM, or the automotive industry lately?

The automotive makers have struggled with remaining competitive; with the labor cost structure cited as a major driver of Detroit’s decline….and ultimate government bailout.  This is a mistake that the automakers can’t afford to repeat. 

As a general rule of thumb, it’s always smart to have an escalation plan.  An opportunity to bring in a bigger gun if communication, or in this case, negotiations, start to go south.  Once you’ve engaged your CEO – you can’t “downgrade” to another executive.  On the flip side, leading with your CEO sends a strong message that the situation is serious, and that all resources are being deployed to resolve this issue.

In the case of GM, this contract (the first that’s been negotiated since the bailout agreements) is the pace car for the rest of the industry for the foreseeable future.  If that isn’t important enough to warrant CEO attention, what is?

August 10, 2010 | cwinters | Tagged , ,

CEO’s must prepare for crisis, in the broadest sense of the word, or prepare to find a new job

Over the past 20 years, I’ve done countless crisis audits and managed more crisis issues than I care to count, and I’m still fascinated how clients define a crisis. Traditional scenarios – manufacturing issues, product recalls, and physical events such as explosions, fires and crashes – have been in sharp focus during our summer of automobile recalls and oil spills.

Terrorism and natural disasters joined the list following 9-11 and Hurricane Katrina, and occasionally I hear about investigative journalism or Attorney General activism. One client even listed CEO kidnapping as his biggest fear.

But events of this past week should give us all pause and remind us that a crisis is anything that threatens a company’s reputation or undermines the trust and confidence of your stakeholders.

At Hewlett-Packard, allegations of sexual harassment forced the resignation of CEO Mark Hurd despite solid company performance during his tenure. Now some news reports suggest the claim was baseless, citing a “breach of trust” related to improper expense reporting to conceal the Hurd’s relationship with a company contractor. (In some circles, that would be called fraud, or theft – but that, along with Larry Ellison’s comments about the HP Board, may be another post for another day). And at Sara Lee, Brenda Barnes voluntarily stepped down after a medical leave of absence.

CEO illness, litigation, investigative journalism, and sometimes corporate or executive malfeasance – all of these things can generate a crisis. And all of them warrant a response, regardless of whether a company and its leaders decide on the response or whether it is decided for them.

My advice to clients: As you think about your own organization’s crisis protocols, are you prepared for the kinds of Crisis 2.0 issues that are making headlines? Is your crisis response team prepared to deal with the multitude of issues that could trigger a breach of confidence, and are they prepared to do it in the lightning speed now necessary due to social media?

If the answer is no, it’s time to refresh, reboot or otherwise re-align your crisis plan. Someone’s job may depend on it.

August 2, 2010 | cwinters | Tagged , , , , ,

CEO is the Jedi-Master of Culture

I read this piece in HBR last week about the role of the CEO in creating and advancing culture. And I agree wholeheartedly with much of what Robbins says about the CEO’s involvement being the single biggest driver of culture, particularly for entrepreneurial organizations.

But I don’t agree at ALL with his premise that once formed, cultures can’t be changed.

I do a lot of work with companies in turnaround mode….where loss of culture or change of culture is often a key factor in the decline of a business….and where changing culture positively enables the success and in some cases, the very future of the organization.

If you read about the textbook turnarounds – Continental Airlines, Nissan, ODSI – all credit culture change as critical drivers of their success.

I often say that the CEO is like the Jedi Master of Reputation. The same is true for culture.

November 9, 2009 | msacks | Tagged , ,

Reputation Must Outlast CEOs

Fortune has breathlessly declared Steve Jobs the “CEO of the Decade.” Quite an honorific. And certainly not undeserved – Fortune makes a persuasive case and few would dismiss Jobs’ eye for design, commitment to innovation and the customer experience, vision, and mastery of the message. No question he was the driving force behind the Apple of today and has, along the way, reshaped the technology biz.

But that might also be a problem. The article asks, When he’s gone, how long will the company thrive without him? It’s a valid and important question; one that companies – particularly those run by a founder or someone else who was “there at the beginning” – struggle with.

I wonder if Apple’s and Jobs’ reputation might be too tangled up in one another. Can we imagine Apple without him? The same words you’d toss out to describe Apple can be ascribed to Jobs, and vice versa. That’s not inherently a bad thing, just a fact that makes Apple’s corporate reputation unique and more challenging to manage. Berkshire Hathaway is in a similar spot with the venerated Mr. Buffet, as was Microsoft as Gates handed off the baton.

Corporate reputation has to outlast management changes. A great leader is focused on what comes after him or her, and making sure the organization is set up for success. No one should be irreplaceable. In fact, part of strong corporate reputation is how well that corporation handles major management and leadership changes. Succession is an emulsifying ingredient to corporate reputation – but perhaps a post for another day.

It’ll be interesting to see how Apple’s reputation evolves in the post-Jobs era.

Mike Sacks can be reached at msacks@mww.com