I suppose this was inevitable.
The Guardian tells us that 67 corporate executives were taken on a tour of the Antarctic, ostensibly to develop teamwork and an environmental conscience. The story is almost beyond parody.
The training was led by motivational speaker Robert Swan, the first person to walk to both poles, and according to the course brochure: “the master of how you may change your life”.
The 67 participants learned about Mr Swan’s life, his 11-point leadership plan, the basic tenets of climate change and how to take good photographs in the snow. They were introduced to Hugh, an attitude adjuster, and Pete, a belief builder, who would navigate them through the emotional journey ahead.
An ‘attitude adjuster’ and a ‘belief builder’? It’s a wonder any of the participants kept straight faces.
Mr Swan held aloft a pink handbag with the word “toolbox” taped to the side – a reminder of everyone’s personal skillset – and rewarded individuals who displayed leadership qualities with plastic orange whistles.
It’s back to playgroup for our mollycoddled senior managers then.
That night the ship passed Cape Horn and sailed into Drake Passage, one of the most treacherous stretches of sea in the world. Thirty-six hours later, pallid faces emerged. A shrill wind battered the windows. Outside, penguins plonked in and out of the water. “Team Inspire! Team Inspire! Team Inspire!” bellowed a loudspeaker.
Noooooo! This is like an episode of The Office, only more embarrassing.
The expedition inaugurated the small hut that Mr Swan had said would “educate the world’s youth” about the continent via daily internet dispatches. It was to be powered by the latest in solar and wind technology which, unfortunately, had not arrived.
A Russian orthodox priest blessed the building, and the crowd scattered, deflated. A BP executive found a penguin waddling alongside 100 discarded oil drums bearing his company’s logo.
So is BP sending its managers on this course instead of clearing up the crap it leaves around the world or as well as? Will this course have given the aforementioned executive the courage to challenge his bosses about it, or will he just go back to his desk and keep quiet?
When they weren’t on ice, they stood on the bow and watched minke and fin whales dance in the water, compared photographs, and took part in leadership workshops. They watched two presentations about the small steps people can take to reduce their carbon emissions – for example, by travelling less……
Not going half way round the world to trample over the planet’s last remaining wilderness would be a start.
The evenings and large chunks of the day were spent in the bar, or on deck, drinking whisky and “million year old ice” hacked off an iceberg.
Hey, Giles, I’ve got prehistoric ice in my Lagavulin. You don’t get that at Corney and Barrow.
For many, the most exhilarating moment was camping on a glacier. Majestic peaks stood guard over the serenity. The campers, cheeks reddened by alcohol, made snowmen, carved pictures into the ice and hugged one another. Then they started to sing along to made-up tribal chants, howling into the wilderness. In the morning, one group played what could be the first game of cricket on an Antarctic glacier.
What a jolly wheeze, eh? Camping, cricket and ging-gang-gooley round the camp fire. It’s a bit like the Scouts and Guides on ice, isn’t it? Except for grown-ups. Sort of.
Finally, each member of the course was asked to deliver a 30 second speech. Nearly everyone said the experience had changed them. They promised to do more for climate change and said they would make sure their boss sent someone on next year’s course.
Well of course they did. That’s what people always do on these courses. The facilitators go around the room and everyone is asked to give a personal commitment to changing his or her behaviour, then they go back to their desks and carry on as before.
I’m sorry if I sound cynical but it still amazes me, although it shouldn’t after all these years, that companies will pay out such large amounts of money for courses like this. OK, I wasn’t on the course, and the Guardian may have given a negative slant on the whole thing, but I’ve been on similar programmes. If I had been there, I would probably have been one of the dissenters:
A disgruntled few complained they had not been told anything about how global warming had affected the places they had visited.
For its critics, including a few of last week’s participants, it is an indulgent booze-cruise on ice masquerading as corporate social responsibility.
Courses like this reflect a more widespread trend. Senior executive development programmes have become less about training or building skills and more about entertainment. My guess is that many of the participants on this course were sent not because their bosses had identified a development need, but as a reward for a good piece of work, or just for being a good-egg in the corporate political game. I would also guess, although I’d be happy to be proved wrong, that very few of the participants will experience any lasting behavioural change as a result of the programme.
This week, the graduates [of the course] returned to their desks. For its corporate supporters, who paid £16,000 per employee for the trip, the course instills executives with teamwork skills and, crucially, an environmental conscience.
But for how long, I wonder. Now that they are back at their desks, with the phones ringing and deadlines to meet, how much of what the executives learned in the Antarctic will gradually be forgotten amidst the demands of corporate life? Will the companies see £16,000 worth of change in their executives as a result of this course?
Typically, people come back from motivational courses on a high and full of energy. In my experience, the after effects last for less than the number of days spent on the course. A programme lasting for a week may keep its participants on a high for most of the following week but not for much longer. For last week’s delegates, the effects of Leadership on the Edge are probably already beginning to wear off.
Come on, guys, admit it. This was just a holiday, wasn’t it?