Like many, I have watched in horror at the unfolding BP disaster. The loss of life, the environmental damage, the illnesses reported among the clean-up workers - it really is unbelievable. From a professional perspective, I am staggered at the way the crisis has been handled by the company, epitomised by Tony Hayward's latest throw away comment 'I want my life back', documented in the video above.
A couple of years ago, as he was rising to the challenge of leading BP, Hayward commented at a town hall meeting in Houston, in the wake of a Texas refinery blast that killed 15 and injured 170 people: "We have a leadership style that is too directive and doesn't listen sufficiently well".
Indeed. And although at that time he was heir-apparent to the BP CEO's throne it would seem that after a couple of years at the helm, very little has changed. And this to me is his biggest failure in this crisis. He recognised the shortcomings of the organisation, but failed to fix it. That was his opportunity to avoid the crisis he is in the midst of right now. Change the organisation. Improve practices. Keep your people and those around them safe. Make sure that the communication processes and the relationships you need to manage a crisis are in place, long before you need them. This is not just about 'making a crisis plan. A real crisis plan involves isolating and identifying what is wrong with your organisation - and fixing it, before it blows a hole in your company and the innocent lives of others. To acknowledge deficiencies and fail to act on them, well that's just negligence.
You can't be aware of, and say this : ""We have a management style that has made a virtue out of doing more for less. The mantra of more-for-less says that we can get 100 percent of the task completed with 90 percent of the resources. Which in some senses is okay and might work, but it needs to be deployed with great judgment and wisdom. When it isn't, you run into trouble."
"The frontline operations teams, I think, have lived too
long in the world of making do and patching up this quarter for the next
quarter...rather than really thinking about how we are going to
maintain a piece of equipment for the next 30 or 40 years."
...and expect everything to be ok with no action required. Yet those are Tony Hayward's words from December 11 2006.
I see they have drafted in Cheney's old press spokesperson, Anne Womack-Koln 'to deal with the media'. All a bit late for that I'd say. In today's world, it is the CEO's responsibility to front up to all stakeholders, not just the media. The actions of the company prior to the disaster are paramount and the actions of BP prior to this event are wanting to say the least.
Tony Hayward is not one of life's natural communicators and whoever is advising him through this crisis would seem to be seriously lacking the abilities needed in this situation. Putting aside his lack of any obvious support, he is supposedly a CEO, which infers the ability to lead, change, act and resolve. Unfortunately, the problems apparently inherent within the company are as widespread as the surface oil slathering its way up the coast. Both require drastic action and the scars from both will remain for years ahead. Somehow, I don't think Hayward will ever get his wish.