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

By | September 15, 2011

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?

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