Some thoughts..on cynicism.

A few years back during the waning stages of "downsizing" Shell Oil's gossip sheet interviewed CEO Phil Carroll. In the article Phil took several victory laps for his performance. These included his theory of "The Adult Relationship" between company and employee. There is of course nothing new about this relationship and I am struck by its similarity to the same relationship as expounded by Karl Marx a century ago, only Marx naturally considered it an evil thing whereas Carroll considers it new and wonderful. Suprised?

In this theory, Carroll attempts, in the manner of Pontius Pilot, to wash his hands of all responsibility beyond a magnanimous commitment to keep employees trained so they can find jobs elsewhere when Shell chooses to fire them.

So, read for yourself, a note from the top.

Excerpt from Shell News' first interview with Phil Carroll as President and Chief Executive Officer.

Shell News:
How do you see the employee/Company relationship changing?

Phil Carroll:
"The events of the past two years have certainly altered many of the beliefs that form the basis of the relationship between employees and the Company. In the past many employees believed that as long as we did our job and performed in a generally satisfactory manner, we could feel that our job was secure."

Shell News:
How has this changed?

Phil Carroll:
"We are all painfully aware that efforts to reform the Company's cost structure led to decisions that resulted in some very good employees leaving the Shell payroll. Changes in strategy, driven by external conditions, have also resulted in discontinuing some activities with consequent losses of jobs. People now recognize that the old beliefs must be modified, but they are not yet sure of what they can expect in the future. The old style relationship was rather paternalistic. The corporation basically said to the employee: do what we tell you to do, be good, and we will provide for you. The new relationship is much more of an adult relationship. Both parties enter into association with the full expectation of mutual benefit, but recognizing that circumstances change and the relationship must be assessed from time to time."

"With this new relationship and without the old belief of lifetime employment, the Company takes on different obligations. The Company now has the responsibility to help employees develop their skill levels to a point where they could, if necessary, go to another place of employment with some assurance of finding a place in the market. In effect, employees will take more responsibility for their own financial security. That's going to mean that more time and more resources will have to be devoted to development."

Shell News:
Can you be more specific about the new relationship? What behaviors are going to be rewarded and encouraged?

Phil Carroll:
"Running your affairs like a business, achieving the highest level of professionalism, and being a constructive force for change. These are the new criteria that apply to anyone who wants to be successful at every level of the Corporation, starting with me. Let's look at these one at a time."

"First, run your affairs like a business: define your products, identify your customers, understand your competitors, develop new products, and keep improving. All of those things are business practices we have to apply whether we're an accountant, researcher, operator, or whatever."

"Second, achieve the highest level of professionalism: Each of us has a responsibility to ensure that our education is never-ending. Acquiring new and improved skills which apply to the business is a major part of that. The Company likewise has a responsibility to see that this sort of broad educational opportunity is available. I like to think that the investment we make in the education of our people is one of our highest profitability items. Above and beyond the individual progress that would result, our whole concept of how the corporation operates could be improved. If we could reach the point where its not just the individual but the entire organization that learns, then we've really got something."

"Third: Be a constructive force for change. I recognize that change is difficult -- often painful. Most of us are uncomfortable with substantial or rapid change. However, continuous change is the new reality. The future belongs to those who adjust, anticipate, and adapt -- to those who can be agents for effective and constructive change."

There you have it. The more things (people) change, the more they stay the same.

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