I’m sure David Greer of Royal Dutch Shell is paid a lot of money for what he does but I can’t help feeling just a bit sorry for him.
After his crass e-mail to his team was circulated on the internet, it was then published and picked over by the business press. It soon became clear that some of the cliches weren’t even his own. He had nicked them from a speech made by General Patton. The Financial Times ran a poll asking “Is this the worst motivational memo ever?”
A middle-manager in a provincial medium-sized company might have sent a similar memo and no-one would be any the wiser. Alas for David Greer, he is a senior executive in a high-profile international company with lots of enemies. He should have realised that a note like this would upset a lot of people and that some would try and get their own back. An email can be cut and pasted into a hostile blog and circulated around the world within minutes. David Greer should have been savvy enough to know that.
Also, he should not have tried to deal with issues of motivation and performance in an email. In his note he said that he despises cowards, yet it appears that he would rather send out a general rebuke than do something really brave, like challenging individual team members about their behaviour. To do so would involve having some difficult conversations and that scares the hell out of most managers.
I’m sure many of us of us have done similar things in the past. It is a comfort to know that even those people who get to the top of large corporations can still sometimes get it seriously wrong.