Just four years ago, Peter took up the role of CEO of a company which for years had supplied maintenance services to the mining industry, called Mitchells Maintenance. The business came with over a thousand staff and a good reputation with its customers.
The previous year, one of its contracts had gone awry. The board was keen to revitalise the business and welcomed the cash injection which Peter and some colleagues brought. Mineral prices were at an all-time high. Serious money was being committed to mining infrastructure. A fresh energy came to Mitchells. The optimism led to fresh structures and processes.
Two years later, their industry was in crisis, as ore prices dropped. Peter and his chairman could not agree on the right strategy. Months passed; morale fell with the share price, and finally Peter left the business. Almost all of the staff were sold to a labour hire business – McVey and Co – while shareholders were left with nothing.
The staff were cautiously optimistic, as they were treated with respect … although many of them had been shareholders in Mitchells, and they knew they were saying goodbye to their holdings. They settled in to their new jobs, and now many were working in new industries.
McVey took on a new CEO to lead the merged company. Just six months later, in the middle of this rebuild, McVey was suddenly acquired by a smaller competitor, and within weeks, its new CEO was gone. Over the next nine months, the new owners cleaned out many staff, who tended to be those they knew least, from Mitchells and McVey.
The new owners managed both the change process and the human side poorly. As I write, a third of the Mitchells and McVey people have left in anger and shock, leaving emotional waves behind. The business now has a new vision and values, but virtually no cohesion, trust, or shared identity, and the survivors are worried about their future.
There is no congruence between the espoused values and purpose, on the one hand, and the real actions they are experiencing at work. The future now looks even more messy and uncertain.
Electronics, social media and the internet have confronted us with the essential chaos of our world. The rise of China and India has demonstrated that Europe and the USA are no longer setting the rules and the international agenda. And climate change adds to the sense of unpredictability and lack of control. We ask …
How can companies face this world and take the initiative, when a five-year strategic plan is often just wishful thinking? Too often, our organisations simply react, using traditional controls – they cut costs, reduce overhead, cull staff, outsource functions and fixed costs, sell off assets, change accounting practices, and hold staff and managers accountable for the things they can’t actually control.
It’s defensive, timid, and self-defeating.
How do we build high-quality working relationships in constantly changing companies, where the old social contract no longer applies?
How do we create the enabling conditions for energy, creativity, emotional support and trust, in an environment continually on the edge of chaos …without trying to control the uncontrollable?
One essential thing we need lies in being able to work together realistically, with trust, to bring our best to the table. We have to make the most of who we are and what we can do – together.
About David Green
David has been developing leaders for over 30 years and a good chunk of that time he has used narrative techniques. He specialises in running leadership programs that concentrate on team dynamics, building trust and learning how to say what you mean.
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