Recovering from Failure: Honda’s New President and Saving a Bad Impression With Good Communication

2426594252_756b2a21b3_oHonda’s Takashiro Hachigo leverages the power of good communication to turn a faltering public impression of the company around. | Image source: Flickr user E Nava


What happens when you’ve already made a poor impression, and you still need to impress investors, consumers, and others? Just ask Honda. The carmaker has been through rough times lately due to recalls, bloat, and other issues. Honda needs to change the way people see the firm, and they can do this through properly framing their message.

New president Takahiro Hachigo, appointed several months ago, is taking steps to clean up Honda’s image.[1.] It’s a tough job. He’s filling a void at the top left after a year of lost sales, compact car recalls, Takata airbag safety recalls, a 19% drop in operating profit for the fiscal year, and poor press for the automaker. Makes your latest sales call feel a little easier, doesn’t it?

Turning Bad News Into Good Communication

Hachigo’s approach to the role is intensely practical, as the product development engineer turns his skills toward the entire company. He has stepped in and shown the right way to do it: clear, transparent communication from the ground level on up. Hachigo is talking about his dreams, real numbers, frank relationships with suppliers, solid plans for upcoming models, and brand identity.

It’s working, too. The press has turned from covering Honda airbag and production problems, to discussing all the new plans mentioned. In sales best practices we would call this a “sharp angle”—where your target is heading in one direction and you are able to turn them to another. Here are several lessons to learn from Hachigo’s series of announcements and interviews, showing just how good communication can help impress the media, encourage investors and employees (employees may, in fact, be the true targets of Hachigo’s efforts), and create a path toward future sales.

  • Direct communication, clear explanations: Hachigo had to face direct questions about eco-friendly vehicles, racing cars, Asimo technology, and, of course, the Takata recalls. His experience allowed him to answer very directly. In fact, he brought the issues up, using a technique called “stealing the thunder.” This involves bringing up a negative yourself, and addressing it directly and is part of the TRUST concepts shared in the Yescalate system. He then explained the organization, its structure, and its future plans for those who may not be well acquainted with the process. This was leader-like content from someone who was very well prepared to communicate to clients on multiple levels.
  • Refusing to play the blame game: It would have been easy for Hachigo to blame many problems on Takata, the company responsible for the recalled airbags, but the president was politely silent on the matter, avoiding blame and simply saying that Honda will continue treating all third party alliances equally. Hachigo knows how to stay in control—part of the ASK concepts shared in Yescalate.
  • Reaffirming brand identity:  “I plan to create a new Honda,” reported Hachigo, as he outlined several steps that the company would be taking, including clear fiscal action to get rid of the old annual sales goals and focus more on product development.[2.] “I believe in the power of Honda people,” the president and CEO told reporters. It’s tricky to combine inspiration, damage control, and satisfactory answers to tough questions, but this is a good example. Hichago is paying his employees a compliment—compliments release dopamine, a “feel-good” chemical, in the brain. In addition to the compliment, Hichago is utilizing the concept of collaboration. He is saying to his team, “We are in this together, and I believe in you.” When people feel at risk, they want to know someone has their back. These are key concepts in the NICE strategy outlined by Yescalate.
  • Excitement about future technology: From smaller engines and new jets to robotics, Hachigo also gave us, the consumers, something to be excited for in the future. He spoke about the importance of electric car technology (something people had been worrying that Honda had forgotten). He talked about how future models would have significantly updated appearances. He even mentioned fuel cells and exciting frontiers for robotics and more. This served several purposes. First, it assured people that Honda was aware of current trends and ready for the future, earning more trust for the company. Second, it provided some “wow” and “cool” factors to pique interest—including upcoming models with built-in Apple and Android technology. Third, it took focus away from past issues like recall problems, and pushed it forward to new, more positive developments.

Influence From the Company On Down

What Honda’s president is doing is an excellent example of simplifying and framing. First, he simplifies the problem by talking about direct, easy-to-grasp steps that Honda is taking to create real change. Second, he is framing future conversations about Honda in a new light with his talk of new products (instead of recalls), organizational changes, and creating a “new Honda.”

You may not think of it as selling, but Hachigo is quite literally selling the idea of Honda to people who are no longer sure of the brand or its products—and he’s doing it well. He is being dynamic, providing evidence to worried investors, and building trust by frequently referencing his own experience and knowledge of the subject matter. To learn more about techniques like framing and simplifying—along with other ways to communicate to sometimes-hostile clients—visit Yescalate. Our program focuses on giving you the tools you need to GET TO YES FASTER© and make the sale in any situation, whether you are the president of a company or a representative who really wants to stand out.