10 lessons to be learned from PSA's good reaction to Montebourg

Beyond the strategies, what counts above all is the sincerity and accuracy of the discourse of company leaders.

Companies, especially the 'big ones', are, and will no doubt continue to be, under pressure. The recent news of the PSA group provides us with some interesting lessons on the management of such situations.

1 - Show that the decision has been carefully considered

It must be shown that this was not a decision taken 'lightly', that a vast study of the different possible scenarios was carried out, that several hypotheses were possible. Recall these other hypotheses and the time taken for reflection, show that the decision taken is not a short-term or opportunistic one, or a 'stock market' decision as we say today. It is a responsible decision, with full knowledge of the social impacts, managed as best as possible. Therefore, if the hypothesis chosen, after much thought, is the least bad, it is in fact non-negotiable. At best, certain adjustments can be discussed, but any significant modification of the plan would call into question the fact that it had been the subject of all prior attention.   

2 - Taking responsibility

It is a question of subtly evoking the tangible elements of the context: globalisation, competition, the cost of labour, the crisis... all these elements are factors that are taken into account, partly explanatory, but they are not scapegoats, refuges that make people feel less responsible. The company lives in a restrictive, difficult environment, it is its daily lot, these are not excuses. Its share of responsibility is also to show that the company has not remained inert in the face of its market situation (without, however, re-arguing in detail the strategic choices of the past years). Its responsibility is also to show that decisions, even difficult ones, are always taken in perspective, to build or preserve the future.

3 - Not accepting the unacceptable

Like the more or less masked attacks on the brand, on the haphazard, unprofessional or unstrategic management of the company. Humility and modesty certainly, but also pride!

4 - Embodying the brand

Do not let others speak for you. Face up and speak out, at the highest level of the company. Don't let a company secretary or communications director (however talented they may be) speak for you, or else to relay the messages, but not instead. Nor should you let a sectoral or employers' union speak for you, as this would on the one hand create doubt about the brand (which would protect itself behind barricades), and on the other hand would create an atmosphere of corporatist struggle, of a gang of 'powerful' people. Embodying the company also means showing that it is human, that it may be fallible like everyone else, but that it faces up to it and tries to do its best. It also means showing that companies can have emotions, that decisions are not necessarily cold and mathematical as many would have us believe.

5 - Rely on the brand's "corporate capital

Rely on the brand's roots in public opinion, its history, including its industrial family history (which in cases such as Peugeot or Michelin are possible points of support, when it is more complicated for Bolloré or Wendel). It is not a question of revealing new information, but of relying on bases that do not need to be demonstrated: reasonable and responsible management, the no show off side of the directors, a brand that is not a "stock market brand", products that have been at the heart of the daily life of French families for decades ("my husband is Peugeot to death" cf "Les Bronzés"!), etc.

6 - React, but not too quickly

To show that we do not allow ourselves to be attacked, to be "smeared" with impunity, but to let "the others" deliver their weapons so that we can take them back point by point without responding blow for blow. It is indeed important not to follow the same rhythm. It is therefore a question of counter-rhythm and counter-tone, accepting the exchange on the basis of objective data and in a spirit that is certainly combative, but above all constructive. While trying to control the agenda, not to be too reactive, in order to react when you feel ready, possibly when the other person has emptied his or her magazine.

7 - Counter-attack without overbidding

Do not enter into dogmatic arguments (such as "what does the State have to do with it?"), nor into personal innuendo (such as "incompetent minister", "need for media spotlight"), nor into legal refuge (such as "in any case the State cannot impose anything"). But for all that, to take offence at the attacks, the nonsense, the approximations, the value judgements... without ever positioning oneself in the role of victim, which the "big company" will never be in the eyes of public opinion. To be surprised by the over-exposure and over-exploitation of the media ... without ever suggesting that such social issues do not deserve all the headlines.

8 - Show solidarity within the company

It is also important to show consultation and team spirit, as Christian Peugeot's support for Philippe Varin has shown. The crisis must not be the occasion for settling of scores or signs of dissension which will be as many asperities giving credibility and legitimising criticism.

9 - Don't forget the intern

Too often in this type of situation, we try to respond to the outside world, to the media, the cabinets and the ministers, forgetting a little about the inside world, which is informed after the others, which is very damaging and increasingly often criticised by employees. When a brand is attacked (in its good management, in the quality of its offer, etc.), when a certain pride of belonging exists, and when the 'official' discourse is felt to be sincere and 'true', it is in fact the whole of the internal community that feels attacked, as well as being concerned. The leaders who speak out are then only the 'representatives' of the collective. The 'reply' is then expected, and it can even become a vector of mobilisation, and a media 'opportunity' to reiterate messages linked to the brand's current situation.

10 - Preserving "good news".

Preserve "good news" to feed the thread of current events, to compensate for the negative effects and to show that not everything should be blackened and caricatured under the angle of disastrous management. For example, the reminder of the absence of redundancies, the projects for the re-industrialisation of the site, the "repatriation" to the neighbouring site of Poissy, the partnership with Toyota, which is important for the Sevelnord site near Valenciennes, etc.

So, of course, these are just a few thoughts and lessons, and in no way an instruction manual or a 'recipe'. Above all, it does not in any way minimise the very real social situation. But these social realities can, in some cases, be managed in a more peaceful way. Beyond the strategies, what counts above all is the sincerity and accuracy of the discourse. Just as no advertisement can long sell a bad product, no communication strategy in such situations can be effective if it is not authentic. Authentic, but not naive or passive, to react naturally and instinctively, with the heart, but also thoughtfully and strategically, with the head. The heart can sometimes have reasons that reason does not ignore.

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