The Buck Stops


First job is fixing the problem
— not finding a scapegoat.

Mary Barra got it right. Barely two months into her job as General Motors’ CEO, she seized control of quality problems, ordered multiple recalls totaling nearly 3.5 million vehicles, apologized personally and on behalf the GM, and pledged changes in how the company operates.

In the parlance of Crisis & Reputation Management, she took ownership.

It’s rare for corporate chieftains to do that. A generation ago, Lee Iacocca did when Chrysler was being buffeted and needed someone to take a stand and defend it. But Barra, Iacocca and a few others are exceptions.

More often, bosses are quick to point the finger. That’s what subordinates are for, right?

It’s the same with mid-sized businesses and nonprofit organizations as it is with major corporations. The difference is some have more levels of hierarchy to shift the spotlight.

At the end of the day, this doesn’t solve the problem. Nor does it work as intended. The media and public recognize the blame game, give it little credence, and disdain those who resort to it.

There’s no shortage of PR nightmares. They happen all the time. Defective products. Tainted food. Financial shenanigans. Abuse by hospitals or nursing homes. The list is endless.

The trick isn’t just knowing what to do. It’s knowing how to do it, and that varies because circumstances vary. But a few things are constant:

Always act quickly. Define the issue. Pick the best path out. Take it.

Don’t equivocate or second-guess. That just gets you deeper in the hole.

Don’t do it piecemeal. Be comprehensive to get the pain over all at once.

Reaffirm your commitment to serving and protecting consumers.

Shift the spotlight from the problems of the past to what the cure means for the future. In other words, from the negative to the positive.

President Truman was right: “The Buck Stops Here.” Always remember: The most critical issue is fixing the problem, not fixing blame.


“Because Reputation Is Your Most Valuable Asset”

Gillott Communications is a Strategic PR firm. We’re Fixers. Crisis & Reputation Management. Litigation. Media Relations. Crisis Preparation & Training. You can reach Roger Gillott directly at 310-826-8696.

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For a deeper glimpse into our world, see our book on Amazon, “A Lawyer’s Guide to Crisis PR: Protecting Your Clients In & From the Media.”

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One thought on “The Buck Stops

  1. As always, Roger, your post is spot on! It seems far too often that people want to win the Blame Game. There are never winners when you point the finger at someone else. Take ownership and responsibility. That signals integrity. Thanks for the reminder! I hope more business leaders and politicians will follow this advice.

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