Thursday, May 20, 2010


Recently, I've tried to give examples of how accountability works in the real world, to contrast it with the cloud-cuckoo-land that the hierarchy of clerics seems to be living in.

Today I found another example, this time relating to the CEO of BP and how his response to the oil spill has been bumbling and blundering.

Of course, as CEO, he didn't cause the oil accident personally, nor can he be blamed for technical problems that have prevented it being dealt with more quickly. And yet, the way the rhetoric is ramping up just based on some PR blunders, I wouldn't be surprised if he were removed or forced to resign soon.

By the way, Cardinal Brady is still in power, and it doesn't look like our CEO is going to resign either:
So far, that response isn't going over too well. Crisis communications experts say Hayward's communications style has become a detriment to the company, which is already facing lawsuits and is on the hook for billions of dollars in damages.

Michael Cherenson, the head of Success Communications Group of Parsippany, N.J., says Hayward is
"breaking some of the basic rules of reputation management" by being arrogant and confrontational. "He is actually doing the opposite of what he should be doing," he says. "He is spending most of his time talking rather than listening. At the end of the day, a reputation is about credibility and expectations. [Hayward] is certainly not meeting the expectations of the public or being credible."

BP is also underestimating how important pictures are in telling the story. "We have not seen Mr. Hayward take off his jacket," says Gene Grabowski, a senior vice president at Levik Strategic Communications. "We have not seen him roll up his sleeves and physically help out in any way.
In strategic communications, you must control the pictures."
And all this just over an oil spill! You'd think the critique over response to child molestation would be even more scrutinizing...but apparently people have just come to expect this sort of thing from the Catholic Church.
For CEOs in crisis, the playbook includes a proper appreciation of the gravity of the situation, a sense of calm urgency, and confidence-building rhetoric backed by confidence-building action. So far, Hayward is zero for three. From the outset, there's been a sense that Hayward wasn't quite prepared for this and didn't quite grasp what is at stake. The Wall Street Journal reported that Hayward "admitted that the oil giant had not the technology available to stop the leak. He also said in hindsight, it was 'probably true' that BP should have done more to prepare for such an emergency."

As the spill worsened, Hayward fretted that he and BP were its victims.reportedly told fellow executives. Of course, Hayward isn't the victim here. The sea life, the sea itself, the employees who died, the fishermen who are losing their livelihoods, the tourism industry, responsible drillers—they're the victims. Hayward should have been asking himself: What the hell did they do to deserve this? And what am I going to do to fix it? "What the hell have we done to deserve this?" he

Hmm...pretending like you're the victim when critiqued rather than, you know, the actual victims. Sound familiar?

The private grumbling has been matched by public bumbling. Hayward has used unfortunate metaphors. "We will only win this if we can win the hearts and minds of the local community," he said, apparently unaware that "hearts and minds" is a phrase forever identified with the debacle of the Vietnam War. And in a moment of exquisitely bad taste, Hayward said: "Apollo 13 did not stop the space program. The Air France airplane that fell out of the sky off of Brazil did not stop the aviation industry." Among the many crucial differences between Apollo 13 and this oil spill: Apollo 13 turned out to be a feel-good triumph of engineering, since the astronauts came home alive. The BP spill is simply an epic fail.
Hey, at least he didn't compare it to the holocaust!
At other times, Hayward sounds like a Monty Python character, with understatement that would be comic if it weren't so tragic. Here's how he recently explained BP's response: "It was a bit bumpy to get it going. We made a few little mistakes early on." As this Financial Times article noted, Hayward was proud of the containment effort. "Almost nothing has escaped," Hayward said. And here's the best yet, from the Guardian: "The Gulf of Mexico is a very big ocean. The amount of volume of oil and dispersant we are putting into it is tiny in relation to the total water volume." Yes, it's just a flesh wound!
Or "petty gossip"...
Hayward's sangfroid is impressive. Asked if he felt insecure in his position, he responded. "I don't at the moment. That of course may change." I wouldn't expect him to be storming up and down the barrier islands like Canute, trying to keep the tides away. But by any measure, this has been a monstrous cock-up. Because of its poor planning, BP is wasting resources belonging to its shareholders and to the earth, it's destroying people's livelihoods, and it's poisoning the atmosphere for the industry. Sure, you would expect any CEO worth his golden parachute to try to downplay the damage of such an incident. But listening to Hayward, you don't have much of a sense that he grips how much damage this incident and the poor response to it have inflicted on all of BP's stakeholders.

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