By Geoffrey Cann
Leaders lead by example, but what does that mean for the manager or supervisor of an oil and gas asset tasked with embracing digital?
A Very Good Question
For the past several months, I have been delivering a series of one hour lectures for a global oil and gas company on digital innovation and adoption in the industry. The goal of the lectures is to help managers and supervisors appreciate how digital affects the energy industry and to encourage meaningful progress in adopting digital in the business.
Added bonus — I put my home studio to full use and incorporate clever camera tricks, sound effects, music, and transitions. It’s a very different experience from the usual screen share, and attendees play closer attention and are more engaged.
Unsurprisingly, the attendees ask lots of great questions, but recently one stood out. It required a more lengthy and thoughtful answer that what I could offer on the spot.
“What personal measures can I take as early as tomorrow that will help my company and my business unit to embrace digital?”
They had heard the digital story before, but were left wanting for specific guidance and tools that they could put to work immediately, personal actions that didn’t require a big corporate program, new software, or other unplanned expenditure.
To answer that question, we have to start with where people are at in their own journey to deal with digital, and for that we need to appreciate the different stages of adoption. The actions you take vary depending on where you’re at.
The Personal Journey to Embrace Digital
In my book, ‘Carbon, Capital, and the Cloud’, I describe the stages of personal change that people go through as they deal with digital, particularly in heavy industry, such as oil and gas. People are so different—not everyone starts at the same stage, their pace varies dramatically, and many will not progress beyond doubt or skepticism. Their progress is influenced both positively and negatively by outside forces as well as internal influencers.
Here are the stages:
The employee is unfamiliar with the company’s stated digital goals and agenda. They have not been exposed to any meaningful communications about the directions the company is taking, the rationale, the impacts, or the expectations. Their awareness of how digital impacts their own job or the company is low. Their awareness of digital is framed entirely by external experiences, such as on-line banking or video streaming. Conspiracy ideas, like robots will take all the jobs, can take hold.
Virtually all employees are doubters after they have a little awareness. After all, the status quo works, the company has been reinforcing compliance with the status quo for decades, and new digital technologies are unproven in context. There are few if any peer companies to aspire to. Taking personal risks by trying new ideas might be met with hostility by co-workers, and managers might not support change.
Many junior employees are naturally curious about new innovations, along with a few experienced staff. They seek out new information, attend lunch and learns, take in conferences, write papers, attend webinars and presentations. Some might take in a local technology meet up on a digital topic, such as blockchain, machine learning, or cloud computing. They are likely still doubters.
The experimenter is a leader or manager who is willing to put together a digital technology trial, or a digital proof of concept, and encourage their team of explorers and doubters to participate. The experimenter is not yet committed but is willing to learn in context. Well-chosen experiments can become quick successes that reinforce digital as a tool for innovation.
The believer has participated in a successful experiment and now accepts the potential for digital innovations to achieve their projected benefits. The believer willingly engages with new experiments and trials and leads adoption. Successful change agents inside big companies are attempting to build legions of believers who will drive bigger changes forward.
The advocate is a leader who also encourages others (their peers) to move through the stages of adoption. The advocate helps accelerate adoption. Good advocates also reach out beyond their organizational boundaries to share what they have discovered.
The champion assumes the leadership role for the digital adoption program within a business unit or team. The champion is very likely part of the senior leadership team.
The change formula for a manager or supervisor who has been encouraged to go digital, either explicitly (‘this is part of your job’) or implicitly (‘digital is important for our company’) is to:
- Educate large numbers of employees on digital to boost their awareness
- Show the doubters that digital works
- Tune the performance metrics to stimulate their curiosity
- Fund and resource experiments to demonstrate success
- Celebrate and reward the believers
- Support advocates to extend beyond their swim lanes so as to encourage others
- Nurture champions to take on ever increasing roles of leadership
The Leader Playbook
In general, business leaders (including heads of units and departments, business teams, and divisions) follow a consistent playbook to help those in their direct sphere of influence embrace digital, in much the same way that leaders create a safety culture.
LEAD FROM THE TOP
Like safety, digital adoption is leader driven. The troops will not naturally seek out possible digital changes in an environment where leaders stress reliability, compliance, and operational excellence (which all translate to minimal disruption). Leaders need to actively promote digitally enabled changes.
STATE THE VISION
Leaders state how they perceive their companies operating in a more digital world. They can state where they are going with digital. If the vision is unstated, then no action or any action could be seen as acceptable. For instance, virtually all oil and gas companies have a safety vision, with statements like ‘everyone home safely every night’, or zero safety incidents. Companies equally need a statement of what their digital future entails.
Leaders don’t take on all the change by themselves. They have a very powerful tool at their disposal, which is to create accountability. They assign tasks or outcomes they want done to others, the successes of which are rewarded, and the shortcomings are sanctioned. Accountability is what drives digital forward against the status quo which is trying to hold the business in a steady state.
FUEL THE EFFORT
Leaders fuel digital change with money, resources, and time. Starting out, this is usually quite modest—a few hundreds of thousands of dollars, one or two dedicated staff, just a few resource hours per month.
STAY THE COURSE
Like safety, digital adoption is not a once-and-done. It’s everyday, all day, all the time, everywhere. It becomes part of the culture of the organization. With enough time, digital is no longer a foreign idea but how things are done.
The Leader Moves
Now, to answer the question, what can a leader do immediately.
1. FRAME THE NARRATIVE.
Articulate your ‘why’ for digital, in your terms, in your context, for your team. Make it real, make it about the future, make it about your people, and make it relevant. Gather some proof points by talking to peers in other similar organizations. Write it down. It doesn’t have to be perfect, it just needs to exist.
2. ENROLL YOUR LEADERSHIP TEAM.
Create a mechanism to drive accountability. Pull your supervisors together, declare your intent, and form a team or committee. Share your intent with your boss so that they have your back. Ask for some budget relief so you can turn intent into action. Convert one of your weekly supervisor meetings into an agile scrum. Start every meeting with a ‘digital’ moment.
3. COMMUNICATE WITH THE TEAM.
Turn your narrative into a presentation you can deliver to your team, and organize a campaign. To reinforce your narrative, bring in a respected and unbiased outside voice, and a respected inside leader, to speak to the troops. Hold an open mic session with small groups to discuss. Once a quarter hold an event to showcase outside success, solutions, technologies, pioneers, trials and misses.
4. LEAD FROM THE FRONT.
Demonstrate personal commitment to digital by visibly using a tablet, being present on the company collaboration platform (such as Slack or Yammer), and being active on social media (such as LinkedIn). Slowly transition any remaining on-going paper reports to on-line.
5. PLAN FOR SUCCESS.
Set up a digital suggestion box for employees to share where digital could help. Assign someone on your team as the ‘digital desk’ to serve as a filter for the good ideas. Apply time-based metrics to gauge progress with digital (time to decision, time to develop, time to test, time to deploy). Take a course on digital from an online learning platform. Encourage your team to train up on a digital topic.
Digital adoption in heavy industry is hard work because it’s about people and culture, but there are many small and immediate steps managers can take to get going.
Check out my latest book, ‘Carbon, Capital, and the Cloud: A Playbook for Digital Oil and Gas’, available on Amazon and other on-line bookshops.
You might also like my first book, Bits, Bytes, and Barrels: The Digital Transformation of Oil and Gas’, also available on Amazon.
Take Digital Oil and Gas, the one-day on-line digital oil and gas awareness course on Udemy.
Take the one-hour Digital for the Front Line Worker in Oil and Gas, on Udemy.