GM’s Barra Gets Personally Involved In Covid-19 Reassurance

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General Motors Chairman and CEO Mary Barra has extended her leadership of the global auto industry amid the Covid-19 crisis by putting her personal stamp on the company’s return to some U.S. production this week as a way to reassure employees that it would be safe to go back to work—and to signal that GM intends to enter the recovery phase on sound footing.

Barra literally co-authored a “playbook” of health and safety protocols for reopening GM’s factories and then, earlier this week, authorized the company to send a “back-to-work” package to each employee including five face masks, information on return-to-work measures and a letter signed by her. They are on their way for delivery to individual households as most GM manufacturing plants are gearing up to restart production with a single shift on Monday.

“She recognized that it was more than just about the medical science,” Jim Glynn, GM’s vice president of worker safety, told Chief Executive. Barra “knew that there was going to be an emotional aspect to this thing and that every employee would have questions.”

The instructional flier in the packet sent to employees’ homes provides “a high-level review of protocols,” and the medical-grade masks were made at a GM plant in Warren, Michigan. “We wanted to send a message that we care about their safety and we’re working hard on it,” Glynn said, “and that coming back to work for them – whenever that happens – is going to be OK.” Yet the personal touch is reinforced by the fact that the package contains not just a single mask but five, numbering enough for a typical family.

The 48-page playbook by Barra and Glynn laid out a wide variety of protocols for company facilities, ranging from detailed evaluations of ventilation systems to new distancing and cleansing rules for lunches and breaks. It’s being pushed out to every corner of management in the company.

Barra “wanted to make sure early on in this pandemic that every people leader in GM understood the protocol intimately,” Glynn said. “And she recognized right away that, whether someone works in a plant or in a lab or at our technical center [in Michigan] or at an office in the Renaissance Center” headquarters of GM in downtown Detroit, “they are going to have some apprehensions about the virus and whether they’ll be safe. That was her focus.”

So the playbook is “meant to very comprehensively, and in as much detail as we could, provide help so that our people leaders can be as knowledgeable about our protocols as any medical or safety professional,” Glynn said. “Because they’re who people are going to turn to.”

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