Paddy's writing on Business, Brand and Reputation

This blog contains some of my writing on Brand and Reputation, including those on Shell - the corporation that I worked for for 37 years. Some of the articles have previously been published - others are seen here for the first time. The purpose of the website is to contribute to discussions on the role of brand and reputation management in today's business world. Please also see: http://www.roadsideretail.com/search?q=Paddy Comments welcome to me at: paddy_briggs@yahoo.co.uk

Monday, January 07, 2008

Employees as valuable assets in building your brand

I attended the memorial service today of David - an old colleague and boss of mine who joined Shell way back in 1952 and who had been retired a couple of decades. He was a wonderful man - individualistic, cantankerous, intelligent, rude, caring, creative, trusting and above all humane. The church was full and there were many of his old colleagues present to pay their tributes. As I watched them, and thought about David, I wondered what he and they would make of the spiteful, greedy, selfish, ignorant bunch that run the show today. Perhaps David would have shrugged his shoulders and said something about bygones…and maybe he would have been right! But he would certainly have been disillusioned and disappointed by the Shell hypocrisy that on one hand says that it will:

“respect the human rights of our employees and provide them with good and safe working conditions, and competitive terms and conditions of employment...promote the development and best use of [their] talents …create an inclusive work environment where every employee has an equal opportunity to develop his or her skills and talents… encourage the involvement of employees in the planning and direction of their work… provide them with channels to report concerns.” (Shell Group Business Principles or SGBP)

whilst on the other hand laying them off in vast numbers in homage to the great God of “outsourcing”.

I have told a personal “outsourcing” story from my last years in Shell elsewhere before - but it is worth repeating again to throw light on the current imperatives.

Seven years ago I was working for Shell in Dubai where there was a small and successful downstream (marketing) operation. This was a fairly conventional business involving the marketing of a wide range of petroleum products to a variety of different customers across the United Arab Emirates. A key element of this business was, and always had been, the operation of a product distribution/transportation activity involving oil depots, vehicles and drivers. For more than thirty years this business had been built up as a professional, cost-effective and customer focused operation. It also had an admirable safety record (in a high risk area) and the staff of thirty or so tanker drivers were a loyal, skilled and motivated team. In the late 1990s Shell’s Central offices sent a new Distribution man to the region and, operating out of Oman, he visited Dubai charged with the responsibility of “outsourcing” the transportation operation. When challenged by me and others in the management team in Dubai as to why this was necessary he said that it was now “company policy” to outsource this business (i.e. to sack the drivers and sell the vehicles). A number of us were incensed by the insensitivity of this and we demonstrated that not only would no cost savings occur but that we would be needlessly disposing of the services of a team of loyal and skilled drivers each of whom was proud of his personal safe driving record and a motivated member of the local Shell family.

Well the battle raged on for a while with the argument that to go arm lengths in an area as safety sensitive as dangerous fluids distribution was bad practice – especially as no possible cost savings would result. Furthermore to dispense with the services of the drivers many of whom had up to thirty years service hardly sat well with the SGBP! But this was ideology at its most sinister. The man from Oman had on his “scorecard” the target of outsourcing in Dubai. If he succeeded his remuneration would benefit – as well, of course, as showing that he was a loyal implementer of the new edict. He didn’t care one jot about the employees or their futures – all he cared about was showing himself off in a good light. Well we did fight on but in the end we lost. The drivers were sacked and the operation was outsourced. The irony of this story is that there was no financial benefit to Shell at all from the decision. Outsourcing (in this instance) wasn’t cheaper – it was simply the application of a dogma!

Back to my late friend David. He worked in Shell in an era (as did I mostly) when the commitment to employees wasn’t just words but reality. That was why so many of us, including David, were “one company” men and women. It wasn’t perfect and it had its frustrations and disappointments – but it was rarely if ever malign or uncaring. A business like Shell is about people – and when people are treated as disposable commodities then the values of the corporation disappear and the rot sets in. And today, sadly, Shell is rotten at the core.