Change Management is like Drilling a Well

The current economic market, fluctuating oil prices, and changes to investments are creating a lot of conversation in the energy industry today. The reality is that, like in any other industry, change is constant, and oil & gas firms are increasingly embracing behavioral change management to maneuver those changes. At first thought, drilling operations and change management seem to be worlds apart. But a couple of truths I’ve come to realize are—1) the world needs energy and 2) things are always going to change. From North Highland’s experience with oil & gas operations, drilling and behavioral change management share several similarities as both require planning, effective communication, safeguards, and a strong consideration for the people involved.

Any good leader of change conceptualizes how that change will impact their organization months (sometimes even years) before the change occurs. A change impact analysis is prepared to determine the people and processes affected. A change plan is generated to minimize disruptive impacts while maximizing business value. In drilling, this holds parallel to an activity commonly referred to as DWOP—Drilling a Well on Paper. A plan is developed for each step of the drilling process in order to reduce risk and cost while maximizing well performance.

Drilling is expensive. Operations often run 24/7 to maximize hours of productivity. A critical piece of operations is the shift change between day and night crews. During this handover, extensive conversations take place to ensure the crew coming on has all of the information needed to do their job. Once these communications take place, the other crew can head off to rest—knowing they empowered their counterparts with the right information and tools, and trusting that the new team will use this information to safely continue operations. These engagements in the field are a central piece of a change management plan. North Highland has seen that coupling effective communications with the necessary resources and training helps employees understand the vision, need, and tasks required to execute and adapt a change in his/her operations.

On a rig site, safeguards such as real-time pressure monitoring and blow out preventers (BOPs) are put in place as additional layers of process safety protection. Similarly in change leadership, strategies are executed if a crisis type situation is encountered. These defenses might include targeted face-to-face communication with change sponsors or conducting a Townhall meeting where concerns can be voiced. In complex operations and major change initiatives, there is a certain degree of risk. In order to minimize potentially irreversible damage both drilling and change management operations recognize the need for defined processes that serve as safety nets, such as well control procedures or change risk mitigation plans.

Finally, both drilling a well and the implementation of a major change are lengthy journeys. Just like in Rome, you can’t drill a well in one day. Nor can you flip a switch and expect an organization to embrace and adapt a change.

As you think about your projects, identify when you can integrate behavioral change management practices into your operations. Whether it’s drilling thousands of feet deep in the Gulf of Mexico, or embarking on a business transformation that effects your customers and workforce, a lot of unknowns come with the territory. However, tremendous achievements can be made when skilled rig teams or change practitioners work a plan, engage their teams, and have the right support mechanisms in place. And at the end of a successful operation, you yield similar results—business benefits are realized and, most importantly, your people stay safe and are ready to tackle the next operation.

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