Australian historian
Manning Clark believed Australian leaders were divided into the “punishers and
straiteners” and the “enlargers of life”.

In the last paragraph of the epilogue of his six volume
A History of Australia,
Clark wrote:
”This generation has a
chance to be wiser than previous generations.
They can make their own history. With the end of the domination of the straiteners, the enlargers of life
now have their chance”.

Not too long ago I sat
in a room with more than a dozen senior people from Coles’s Victorian
operation. In the meeting were the State
Manager, one of the two Regional Managers, three Area Managers, about eight
Store Managers and a couple of people from Human Resources.

They wanted to know
how my company Orex could help them deal with a problem caused by the resignation (in a
twelve month period) of 21 of the 105 store managers of Coles supermarkets in
Victoria. They were at a loss to explain this massive
blood loss. I
wasn’t.

The State Manager (now
gone) quickly assumed dominance. In what
was to be a round table discussion, he did almost all the talking. He kept thumping the table and saying things
like: “I’ve been in this business for 38 years and it’s simple. It’s just delegation, follow-up and
policing”.

Coles is still largely
run by straiteners and punishers.
I believe John
Fletcher is an enlarger of life and an enhancer. His challenge is to either turn his punishers
into enhancers, or replace them.

It may be time to ask
whether the hierarchical management culture, the politics, the risk aversion,
and the unwillingness to challenge the status quo or question the boss has
finally caught up with Coles, stifling its capacity to make any significant
change. If Coles is mired in the
quicksand of an outdated or malignant culture it will only ever be capable of
a few twitches as it slowly sinks. It
may require a real or threatened catastrophe before the necessary catharsis can
take place.

Being caned by the
market, CML falling from an intra day high of $11.75 on Monday down to $10.85 before closing
yesterday at $10.90 is probably not a big enough scare.

We did not accept
the brief from Coles.

Peter Fray

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