Key Change Management & Employee Engagement Considerations in a Volatile Oil and Gas Market

As oil and gas companies consider scaling back production (as discussed in last week’s Houston Chronicle), making changes to their team structures, and generally begin to adjust in the face of falling oil prices, it’s important to remember that just as enterprise is reacting to the decline in oil prices, so are your employees. Even though oil prices have always been cyclical, and many organizations have successfully weathered the attendant ups and down over the years, when we are in one – especially one as significant as the current one – employees naturally experience some degree of worry and stress about their jobs, which impacts their productivity.

Thinking strategically about how to help your organization’s people through the pressures of swift external market shifts is a business imperative. Several points can serve as ballast as you navigate short and long-term changes.

Reveal, don’t conceal. Transparency is the watchword here. From volatility flows uncertainty, the effects of which individuals, teams, and even organizations internalize and manifest in a variety of ways. Think of each of these groups as a dry sponge, and change as water – each sponge can only absorb so much before they are unable to function.

Aim to reveal as much as possible as quickly as possible in areas where anxiety is likely to fester – potential layoffs, new or departing leadership, new team or individual expectations, shifts in roles and responsibilities, or the need to adopt new processes and tools. Avoid legalese, corporate speak, or industry jargon – people will appreciate your candor, and your meaning is less likely to get lost in translation. Bonus – this is something every organization can begin immediately, without any major strategy overhaul or additional resources.

Delegation equals participation. Once you’ve announced your organization intends to make adjustments in response to shifting market realities, an initial impulse may be to convene leadership, formulate a plan, and then roll it down to employees. Instead, involve your workforce as much as possible in identifying areas for efficiency, improvement, and innovation. Studies have shown that a more involved, engaged employee is not only better prepared to absorb change and exhibit flexibility in a change-rich environment, but will also objectively perform better in both dynamic and static business environments. Leaders and managers need not shoulder the entire burden of planning, and in fact increase their odds of success when they make setting vision and path a collective effort.

Integration is a force-multiplier. When properly integrated, you can do a lot with relatively little, a must in a cost-constrained environment. A couple of seasoned change managers, working in concert with HR, Communications, Learning & Development, Executive Leadership, and heavily impacted project team leadership, can sustain and even bolster a workforce during periods of industry volatility.

Use this as an opportunity. Begin to build a long-term strategy to increase your organization’s change capacity. Even beyond current market turbulence caused by the falling price of oil, the pace, extent, and complexity of organizational change is not likely to abate. How do you plan to minimize individual, team, and enterprise stress in an increasingly dynamic environment? Again, include your employees, to the extent you are able, in this planning process.

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  1. Lawrence
    Feb 09, 2015 - 06:29 PM

    We can look to history and see how O&G companies weathered low oil prices. In an era of $50 oil, we have seen consolidation to cut costs and E&P investments pulled back, squeezing oil services companies. We have also seen a wave of mergers as result. About a third of the top 400 global oil and gas projects have a break-even profit at around $70. Integration, as mentioned in the article will be fundamental in this volatile environment. Doing a lot with a little will mean that companies can be efficient, divest assets to raise capital, borrow cheaply, and withstand contraction in their operating cash flows. Change management, with proper planning, will allow involved employees make these necessary actions to ensure long term viability of a company. Very insightful article!