Monday, March 03, 2008

Green For A Day 

What happens to an oil company's credibility when it trumpets that it wants to be "green" then mentions it might sell its unit dedicated to environmental energy? BP is about to find out. This raises a question of how serious any company is about changing course. In the case of BP, a new CEO is turning the company back to its original business and discarding some of the strategy of the departed CEO. When companies get into trouble, they return to what they know best.

Companies do change direction, but it happens most often when a CEO stays around long enough to set the new course and see it through. With CEOs averaging five to six years in office among the S&P 500, this is not nearly enough time for companies to follow new paths. It takes closer to seven to 10 years to get that done. Usually it takes a business cycle to prove the new course works, and it requires new behaviors in employees at every level.

PR practitioners have little choice but to trumpet new directions when CEOs decide to make them. However, they should be skeptical unless the CEOs have long tenures in front of them and the will to steer the course. This means CEOs new to the office are more likely to succeed than those in mid-career and those with bulldog mentalities are more likely to finish than those who are more easily distracted. It also means practitioners must be ready to communicate the same message relentlessly for years at a time -- a boring task that requires creativity to freshen.

In my career, I have seen few transformations that have succeeded. That is about the norm.


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