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Adapting Human Factors is the Least Measurable but Most Powerful Part of Building a High Performing Culture

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In terms of evaluating performance – whether it is safety or operational – understanding how human values and core beliefs are being put into action is the least measurable but most critical part.

When reviewing performance improvement opportunities in oil and gas operations, I see that they are often examined primarily in terms of measurable data and distinct elements.

As a workplace coach and psychologist of +20 years, experienced in working in offshore drilling and production, as well as with senior executives, I have learned that the data is valued as a visible demonstration of performance - particularly by numbers-driven engineers! However, I also know that underpinning measurable results is what is commonly referred to as “human factors”, that are not so easy to measure nor distinguish. They usually show up as a “way of working around here” that reflects the norms accepted by the group, shaped by the less consciously acknowledged core beliefs, values and so attitudes and behaviours.

My job often begins with identifying and devising means of adapting site leadership values and beliefs, a core group who must own any changes to the “ways of working around here” in order for performance to improve.

Improving safety was the gateway to improving drilling performance.

Twenty years ago, as a coaching psychologist, I was tasked with working with a UKCS drilling team to improve, firstly safety performance, and then drilling efficiency, without risking further harm to people. This was the result of two fatalities and required creating significant culture change in a short space of time. This necessitated accelerated resetting safety leadership through bespoke training and coaching plans, to increase the team's willingness and competence to safely seek continuous improvement.

Beginning their performance journey, they were a devastated and grieving team who needed to become proactive, positive and collaborative.

As a mix of contractors and staff, the team were entrenched in shame and poorly collaborating siloes – important to acknowledge – and so changing communication and leadership style was key.

Thereafter, a continuous improvement and knowledge-sharing methodology customised to drilling - “Technical Limit” or “Drill the Limit” - was implemented. Underpinned by a more inclusive and inquiring leadership style, the once-siloed groups became energised, more trusting and collaborative. Only then would the team more readily adopt a “work smarter, not faster” approach.

Lost-time incidences (LTIs) of the field, averaging at one per quarter, were reduced to zero, and rig-wide safety participation became the norm. Some observable behaviour changes included:

Once confrontational and blaming, the onshore and offshore leadership became collaborative and solution-focused.

- Safety observations involved the entire crew, with a lived-value to take care of each other and so more willing to intervene when something unsafe was observed.

- Safety Committees, once disengaged, became committed to action.

- Analysing Key Performance Indicators (KPIs), once a defensive numbers game, became a means of identifying improvement opportunities.

- Improvement opportunities - big and small - were identified and actioned by everyone, from deck hand to rig manager.

Having a continuous improvement mindset began with a desire to improve safety performance but also delivered a twenty per cent cost reduction! The team’s value of seeking continuous improvement reduced non-productive time (NPT) for some activities by more than half, with the overall drilling time reduced by c.20%.

Beware reinforcing new behaviour through rewards and incentives - an outdated “carrot and stick” leadership approach however. Incentives too often skew behaviours and decision-making. Creating a culture of knowledge-sharing and continuous improvement is a significant, often-underestimated reward in itself, that more sustainably perpetuates improvement. Behavioural change is sustained where self-directed, rather than coerced or incentivised.

Whatever the challenge, the answer is leadership! Many transformational change engagements have followed this most memorable one, and always site leaders are the strongest guardians of the “ways of working around here”.

Site leaders must be accountable for their worksite performance culture, but often they must possess new insights and skills. Customised and certified site leadership competency development is needed, also sought by a leadership skills marketplace hungry for clearer evidence. Recent research supports this:

“Our most recent research suggests that less than 10% of leaders have the necessary combination of skills and experience to prepare them for success in delivering transformational change.”
“Invest in leadership at all levels of the organisation – especially the front-line leaders. They are crucial in driving performance improvement.” – Price Waterhouse Coopers, Cross Sector Efficiency Study: the Oil and Gas Industry Council and PwC (2015).

Changing leadership requires professional support, otherwise many become overwhelmed, and change will fail. Trainer-coaches must be industry-experienced, skilled in behavioral change and resilient.

About us

PSi Partnerships Ltd. has worked in partnership with major oil and gas Operators since 2001. Our Site Leadership for Operational Excellence (OE), is a customisable, CPD-certified training - coaching programme which develops site leadership to safely apply their organisation’s OE values and methods. We also provide accredited in-house performance coaching certification.

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