'Callous' Tesco tweet criticised by MP

Robert Halfon

Robert Halfon, MP for Harlow (pictured), has criticised a Tweet by Tesco distribution director Steve Strachota, in which he praised his team for 'awesome teamwork' in shutting five depots down. The MP told the BBC that the tweets had been forwarded to him by constituents, and seemed to celebrate the depot's closure.

So what happened, and what does this tell us about the dangers of Twitter?
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Closure

Tesco is changing the way its distribution centres work, and as a result it is closing depots in Harlow, Barlborough and Weybridge. It is also relocating sites in Daventry and Middlewich to Milton Keynes - and opening new distribution centres in Dagenham and Reading.

Strachota has been closely involved in the changes, managing the process as well as dealing with staff who are losing their jobs and those who are relocating. He took to Twitter to congratulate those who were involved in the seamless transfer from five depots to three, but his remarks upset some people.

According to the Daily Mail the Tweet said: "5 depots closing and 3 new ones ready to go. Awesome teamwork, courageous leadership, a bit of luck ‪#‬world class."

Halfon said he had been disturbed by the message. He wrote to Tesco saying: "It seems to me that, given what has happened in Harlow, and the upset it caused to many people, your senior managers appear to be wallowing in what they have done. I find it very sad that a company that I have had huge respect for seems to be so callous in their treatment of workers, many of whom have given over 20 years of service to Tesco."

He has also tabled a motion in the House of Commons to voice disappointment about the issue.

Tesco said in a statement: "This tweet was intended to acknowledge that difficult decisions had been taken in order to make significant changes to our distribution network. Steve has spoken to our colleagues at Harlow in person to explain this and they recognised that it should be seen in that context. Nonetheless, we sincerely apologise if the tweet caused any offence, and it has now been removed."

So is the criticism fair?

The social networks are abuzz with criticism of Strachota. Robert C tweeted: "I will avoid shopping in ‪#tesco‬ for a year. Awesome teamwork on my part. ‪#worldclass‬ steve strachota, you deserve to loose your job." Mark Bardney added: "‪@UKTesco‬ Will Steve Strachota now be shown the door? What a disgraceful representative for your company." GW agreed: "‪@UKTesco‬ steve strachota should resign. If he thinks losing thousands of jobs is awesome then he is a sad man".

Clearly he has made a mistake, but when you consider the job he's doing, it becomes clear why he made it.

The process of closing the distribution centres and opening the new ones - without disrupting supply - is a massive logistical undertaking, requiring dedication from his own team. Strachota has made every effort to praise and motivate his team through Twitter in the last few months. He tweeted on 2 May: "Gr8 day with distribution leadership. No other team in the world I would chose to face this year's challenges!" On 10 May he said: "What a week! I am surrounded by great people involved in everyday heroics. ‪#bestinclass‬"

There are few who would argue with the importance of showing people some appreciation for the job they have done, and the controversial tweet was intended to do just that.

The problem was that on Twitter you cannot choose your audience. If you're going to thank your team for doing a great job (which happened to involve hundreds of people losing their jobs) - it's best not to do it in a place where all those who have been fired can read it. The aim may have been motivational, but you can see how it backfired.

It's one of the risks of Twitter. If you want to say something, you need to be aware you are saying it to anyone who cares to look. And if you make a mistake there's always the risk it will be re-tweeted far beyond the audience who may ever stumble on it on your account.

Strachota may well be wondering why he chose Twitter for his motivational tool - rather than speaking to his team in person, or sending them a carefully-worded email.

It's yet another reason why we all need to think before we tweet.

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