Apparently at BP, the leadership mantra is, “The bucks stops over there.”
The Gulf oil spill is now over three weeks old, with no end in sight. An environmental disaster, to be sure. But how the companies involved are handling it is also a leadership and brand disaster.
Is the oil spill BP’s fault?
NO! BP says that Transocean owns the rig, so they are to blame.
Will Transocean step up and be counted?
NO! Transocean blames BP at the lease operator and Halliburton as a cement contractor. Extra points for a “double shaggy.”
How about Halliburton?
NO! They are just a service provider to BP.
All three parties are employing what some call the “Shaggy Defense,” named after the 2000 song “It Wasn’t Me” from a singer named — you guessed it — Shaggy. When in doubt, blame someone else.
Stand up and own the problem
Every business has a supply chain, including a variety of outsourcers, contractors, etc. And each supplier has its own supply chain. This is great! When disaster strikes, you’re sure to find plenty of scapegoats.
Hey, maybe it was the ingredients in the cement that caused the catastrophic failure?
Sand Supplier: “Gee, Senator, if only I’d known that the sand I sold to Halliburton to make that cement wasn’t up to snuff. OK, send me a bill for the clean-up. This spill was my fault.”
Sure suppliers should be held accountable by their customers. But in this case BP accepts no ownership and publicly passes the buck. I wonder what other BP suppliers are thinking right now. Who needs customers like this?
The root cause of the Tylenol disaster in 1982 was a poor design that allowed someone to lace capsules with poison. What would have happened to Tylenol’s brand if they had blamed the store for security lapses? Or blamed the package designer? Instead, J&J acted decisively and the brand survived.
A “brand promise” is what customers expect from interactions with a company and its people, products and services. This “promise” is not a logo or what the company proclaims, it’s defined in people’s mind by what the company actually does.
I think it’s fair to say that most people would expect a petroleum company to not spill 210,000 gallons of oil into the ocean. Per day.
In fact, BP explicitly states:
“BP is our global brand. It represents what we do now, and what we aspire to do in the future. We help the world meet its growing need for heat, light and mobility. And we strive to do that by producing energy that is affordable, secure and doesn’t damage the environment.”
“We have a set of values that we use in all our business decisions. They guide our behaviours, and the types of products and services we offer. It is these values, and what we stand for as a company, that make BP distinctive.”
In time we’ll hopefully learn which companies are legally liable. But the damage has already been done to the BP brand and its culture. So far as I’m concerned, BP now stands for Broken Promise.
Alert! I think the next phase of BP’s Shaggy Defense will be blaming its customers. A bold move, but this would totally fit BP’s leadership style. You see, if customers didn’t want to buy oil, BP wouldn’t have had this problem. So if you’re buying gas from a BP station, you’re to blame for the Gulf oil disaster. Congratulations, you’ve just been Shaggied.