I call it asleep at the wheel. It occurs when a company that once had a great run of luck and success fails to adjust to changing market forces.
I am going to use General Motors as the case study here because I can’t recall another situation in which leadership was so completely out of touch with reality.
It began back in 1963 when Ford came out with the Mustang. General Motors had the Corvair. The Corvair epitomizes a situation in which complacency provides the perfect storm demonstration of arrogance and ineptitude. Then along came Honda and the other Asian competitors. General Motors came out with the Camaro and later the Pontiac Firebird — too little too late. Its competitors were also out with spiffy sporty models.
The notion that GM management simply doesn’t have to care because they are, after all General Motors, and what could possibly happen to GM, seems to have pervaded their history over the last 40 years.
The last straw, the icing on the cake, is that in the face of the current bad guess about what kinds of cars to make, it is as plain as day that GM management is incapable of operating an automobile manufacturing company that can make and sell vehicles at a profit. When your yard man makes more money each year pre tax than General Motors, what is the one thing that GM management cannot truthfully say about themselves?
WE ARE PROFESSIONAL GRADE.
How long has that advertisement been running? What public statement could make GM executive management look more ridiculous than that? It is the single most obvious piece of evidence of a company being completely out of touch with reality.
It is highly unlikely that we will often be provided with a more graphic example of a company in distress cutting its own throat on the issue of credibility by making so absurd a public statement about itself.
On the other hand, what attention do companies give to their public pronouncements during hard times — and just about everyone is in hard times these days — regarding how those statements can be viewed/used to their detriment.
You can’t make public statements contrary to widely known facts without hurting your own cause. PR flacks that want to have you embark upon a course of misleading statements, thinking that saying things that aren’t so it will change the situation for the better are not helping you.
Few companies will go to the lengths that GM has done to make themselves look ridiculous, but that doesn’t mean that sufficient sensitivity to current reality is given sufficient weight to avoid cutting your throat in public.
Crises will arise much more frequently now than they have in a very long time. Our antennae have to be highly tuned to the need not to hurt our cause by making irresponsible statements about ourselves.