Exxon’s Communications Bridge

Predictably, Exxon’s pledge Monday to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions was panned as underwhelming and meaningless. By unveiling comparatively feeble targets, the big oil giant looked a day late and a dollar short. So, why bother with all the fancy graphics and hopeful language?

Simple: Exxon has run out of time. It must radically reset expectations and convince us that it can prosper in an entirely different marketplace, one that doesn’t even exist yet. That’s not in the DNA of any conservative old-school business culture. And given Exxon’s reputation for denying climate change science as well as allegedly covering up its own research, gaining a measure of audience trust and confidence will remain its greatest challenge.

This week’s announcement may have reached too far, implying greater certainty and confidence than the behemoth could lay legitimate claim to now. Maybe it was too grand, too strategic. Maybe Exxon should express its vision more tactically and aim for incremental goals while keeping us focused on its superior operational scale, technical know-how, and financial resources.

Sometimes, the best course of action is to follow that familiar motto of the modern workplace: when setting goals, always under promise and over deliver.