The Leaders Notebook

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Does Robert Dudley Have What It Takes?

July 29th, 2010 · No Comments · Follow the Leaders, PonderThis

When Tony Hayward took the helm at BP in 2007, he did so in the shadow of Lord John Brown whose departure was hastened by the board based largely on an abysmal safety record.  Hayward was charged with creating a culture of safe operations.  In his first public presentation, Hayward said “…Leaders must make the safety of all who work for them their top priority. My enduring priorities are, firstly, continued improvement in the safety of our operations all around the world.”

So, what happened?  What will Robert Dudley have to understand that Tony Hayward missed?  His first statement as CEO reads almost exactly like Hayward’s, promising that a culture of safety was on top of his priority list as CEO.  And yet Hayward has been unable to move the needle despite awareness campaigns and safety programs.  So, how does a leader in a sprawling enterprise make change real?

I collected a few ideas from clients who have successfully delivered major cultural change and here are a few highlights.

SVP Operations of a national process manufacturing firm in the US:
“An organization the size of ours needs time and constant reinforcement to make the most basic change stick.  In an operational environment that is decentralized like BP, no change will take root that is not adopted and endorsed by front line and middle management.  We integrated our green and safety initiatives into their 360, their performance reviews, their career development and of course the compensation systems.  And we sent 3 long-time SVP’s out the door who gave the program only lip service.”

Program Manager for a major international logistics initiative:
“We suffered through 2 executive sponsors who did not have the chops.  We got a lot done in the design and build out of systems, but we still did not get the business’ attention.  I finally went to the COO and put it on the line.  Either he personally took this on and made it important with unit heads and the admin functions- or shut it down.  After three years I was done being a sideshow.  It took another 18 months but once he started getting serious, so did others who where key to success.”

And my personal favorite from the EVP and Chief Administrative Officer for a global financial services firm:
“We learned the hard (and expensive) way.  Programs that address a change in business process only are cosmetic and not sustainable.  You have to dig into the DNA of how decisions are made.  Think of it this way.  A pregnant woman cannot birth a child just with her reproductive system.  Every part of the body and even the psyche has to change to accommodate childbirth and motherhood.  A safety program will not make a difference as long as it runs against how success is measured- both formally and informally.  The entire organizational culture has to change.”

One of my favorite quotes on this topic comes from Larry Bossidy and Ram Charan in their book Execution, the Discipline of Getting Things Done:

“And never launch an initiation unless you’re personally committed to it and prepared to see it through until it’s embedded in the DNA of the organization.”

That means a willingness to take a deeper and more thoughtful look at what will be needed to bring the change in successfully.  Or as we say in golf- “All the bets are won and lost on the first tee.”  If Mr. Dudley is serious about embedding safety in the DNA of a new BP, we will know it very soon.  If all we see are renewed safety posters and reporting processes… well someone else will likely get a shot at it in a few years.

Given what is at stake, I wish Robert Dudley well and hope he has the chops to get it done.

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