What should Volkswagen do? – Part II – MBA Learnings

I’d shared a framework we discussed in a crisis management class 3 weeks ago – a few days after the Volkswagen emissions debacle came out in the press. I thought it was time for part II.

I woke up to the following paragraph as part of my “Economist Espresso.”

“Volkswagen’s boss in America offered a congressional hearing a “sincere apology” for the company’s use of “defeat devices” which helped diesel engines cheat in emissions tests. Stressing that he was not an engineer, Michael Horn blamed “a couple of software engineers” for the modification, of which he said he had no prior knowledge. German prosecutors searched the carmaker’s headquarters.”

While I could have looked for a longer article with more details, this paragraph was very instructive. And, I couldn’t resist throwing in the picture as well.

There are 2 things I would like to call out –

1. The crisis framework I shared offered 4 dimensions for an effective response to a crisis – transparency, expertise, commitment and empathy. It is safe to say that this response failed on all 4.

2. However, that is not what’s most shocking about this response. It is the complete lack of spine that indicates a total failure of leadership. Let us, for a moment, try and forget the fact that he claimed no prior knowledge of something as massive as this. The fact that he felt it was acceptable to blame “a couple of software engineers” just blows my mind.

There are few tenets of leadership that are as fundamental as – “Take responsibility when things go wrong and give credit when things go well.”

A crisis can be a great opportunity to dig deep, go back to your values and show the world what you are made of.

Volkswagen seems to have missed the memo.

0 thoughts on “What should Volkswagen do? – Part II – MBA Learnings

  1. Agreed that it was a bad cover up, but isn’t this like bringing in a scape-goat to take the fall which is something that everyone who is a leader ends up doing inevitably?

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