06 June 2007
By Paddy Briggs
The language and style of the leaked David Greer memo might surprise those who assume that the well-educated folks of Shell must have a learned a quite sophisticated and original way with words during their Oxbridge or Delft college days – or at least some confident personal communications style without the need of theft from others to express their views. But it will come as no surprise at all to those of us who suffered through the cultural revolution of the Shell of the Herkstroter and post Herkstroter era.
Greer uses the word “challenge” three times in the first two sentences – the classic Shell euphemism and delusion that we don’t have “problems” only “challenges”. We then have the weasel words about “total faith” and “collective ability” – which in fact mean the exact opposite of what they say. He is clearly rattled if he descends so early in the piece to this sort of collective wishful thinking.
The second paragraph talks about “lack of fight” (where’s the “faith” and “collective ability” now David?). We have three more “challenges” in this paragraph – but the writer is self-destructing before our eyes.
In the third paragraph the self-destruction is now for all to see. We have sporting metaphors stolen from General Patton (plagiarism – always the last resort of the unimaginative and the puzzled) and dementia is setting in. What on earth does “If you can crack this angle” mean?
Then, in Paragraph four, the Messiah arrives. “Lead me, follow me or get out of my way.” Perhaps Mr Greer is like the late unlamented Phil Watts (and some others near the top in Shell) an Evangelical – he certainly seems to have nicked this weird phrase from the happy-clappers. The rational man’s response to this invitation can only be to take the third option – and as fast as possible.
Finally we are, in the last paragraph, back to “challenges” again. We have a pledge of “support” and (Lord be praised) the commissioning of a “Pipeline Recovery Plan Support Team” to assist you all going forward”. No doubt the PRPST will change everything – not the first time that “New Shell” has put its trust in a rescue team when the previous structure and its high priced help have so abysmally failed.
A few years before I left Shell I went on a senior management training course where the course text book was “Only the Paranoid Survive” by Andrew Grove (I kid you not). I didn’t realise the extent to which they had put this into practice until Mr Greer’s Email came to light.
Paddy worked for Shell for 37 years during the last fifteen of which he was responsible for Brand management in a number of appointments. He was the winner of the “Shell/Economist” writing prize (internal) in 2001. Paddy retired from Shell in 2002 to form the brand consultancy BrandAware and to write and speak on brand and reputation matters.