Corporate Social Responsibility, aka Sustainability, Corporate Citizenship et al, is neither temporary nor a bolt-on. It is now an intrinsic part of successful business practice (in-trin-sic : 1. belonging to the real nature of a thing – Webster’s New World Dictionary).
Rarely has there been a better example of the axiom that an organization’s strategic policy or performance has four fundamental outcomes: financial, operational, legal and reputational. In the case of the tragic G.M. vehicle recall, they are closely interwoven. Apparently, in recent years G.M. — after its decades-long response to the Ralph Nader-led successful auto safety campaign in the ‘seventies – took its eye off the ball both in its safety operations and in the related public relations principles of crisis management. It is proving costly, especially to the company reputation, i.e. “brand” that largely equates to soft assets on the balance sheet.
This is not the time or place for schadenfreude, especially among auto companies; too many have had similar safety problems. Nor have other industries been devoid of tragic safety failures. Instead, it’s fair warning to all to review and re-commit to the CSR derivative of medicine’s “do no harm” principle: “CSR 101 – Do Well What You Are Expected Do To”. Surely within that context, safety is a primary public expectation and a matching business obligation. (There is, of course, much more to the challenges and opportunities inherent in contemporary CSR.)
That said, crises happen. And they are usually complex and long-remembered for good or ill (Tylenol 1982; Exxon Valdez 1989). The cardinal public relations rule: respond primarily in the public interest as best as it can be determined; the private interest will follow. That requires courageous candor, transparency and credible resolve to address the cause of the crisis.
Many years after the fact, G.M. CEO Mary Barra is trying to set things right. Give her some space and time.