A good communication plan could have helped GM

ManagementLeaders know that a good communication plan is essential for success. Similarly, a poorly devised plan can hurt you.

Put another way, you can live by the word – or die by it.

A great example of the latter was General Motors’ decision to instruct employees not to use certain words like “defect,” “dangerous” or even “always” in describing design and vehicle problems.

Federal highway safety experts contend this kind of directive contributed to a culture in GM that discouraged honest and open communication on safety issues.

It turns out that a few years back, GM issued a confidential training directive on 68 words for its engineers to avoid — as well as acceptable alternatives.

You're Fired!
The directive was made public as part of the federal government’s investigation into GM’s use of faulty ignition switches.

Automakers – and most other companies – routinely instruct employees to be careful in writing emails and memos, but GM’s document stands out for how it directed employees against using specific words to describe problems.

When the word ‘problem’ is a problem

In fact, the word “problem” itself was a no-no on GM’s list. Folks were asked to use “issue,” “condition” or “matter.” Rather than “defect,” GM instructed employees to say something “does not perform to design.” And rather than saying a product was “good” or “bad,” they were told to say it was “above/below/exceeds specification.”

But wait, there’s more.

Less inflammatory words such as “safety,” “safety related,” “serious” and “failure” were also words to be avoided.
Such words and phrases were not to be used because they are “vague and non-descriptive” according to GM’s presentation.

Instead of “Safety,” an employee should write that something has “Has potential safety implications.”

GM insists it wasn’t trying to keep secrets from the public, or create of culture of denial.
“For anything you say or do,” the automaker told employees, ask yourself how you would react if it was reported in a major newspaper or on television.”

Employees were warned not to be “cute or clever,” something that might be “especially easy to do in an e-mail, when there might be a temptation to use a casual tone to describe a potentially serious safety risk.”

“Consider how documents will be interpreted by people outside of GM,” the automaker said.

Hmmmm. Indeed.

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  1. Really? Your article sounds a lot like what GM did. Instead of saying it outright you beat around the bush saying thee should have communicated better? They effectively communicated – and very well I might add- how NOT to say what was wrong.

    They were just downright dishonest and uncaring of their buyers’ lives. Keep defects hush hush to save money is what they did. And to what extent? Innocent lives. Hmmmm. Wonder what make of cars those GM big-wigs and their children were driving…………..likely not GM’s with the potential defects.

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