People Are The Missing Ingredient

The Rogue's Gallery: A List of Oil & Gas Characters You Might Recognise

Derek Park
Contributor: Derek Park
Posted: 07/25/2011

A good manager achieves nothing on his own. He needs the people around him to act if he is to make any difference at all. This dependence on others means that one person could frustrate the best intentions of managers if for any reason they decide not to play their part. Whilst the majority of people happily go about their business, there are those that somehow always seem to thwart the best laid plans. You may be surprised how often these same characters in the oil and gas industry appear as the villain in many of our organisations.

Let’s look at some of the characters in my rogues’ gallery.

A few weeks ago I was working with shift teams in a chemical plant, helping develop their plans for making some small but significant operational improvements. They had some great ideas but expressed concern that updating of drawings could prove difficult. Far from being a technical or integrity problem, the issue was that a certain individual saw this area as his alone and had often proved less than cooperative. It was apparent that this individual represented a considerable bottleneck in the workflow of the organisation.

This character, who I will call ‘Mr (or Ms) Indispensable’ is surprisingly common. They revel in this feeling of being unique and feel better and more important the more they can impact on progress. Probably the worst example I have seen of this was an individual who almost single handily was responsible for DCS set point changes in a large utilities operation. Daily operations, plant improvements and even a couple of significant projects where all queued awaiting his intervention. In truth he was a good enough fellow but he got this self righteous kick from being so busy and so important. He also just wanted to be left alone to plough through his backlog and resisted attempts to iscuss how he could be helped to improve.

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The real culprits of course were the managers who failed to recognise the problem and who actually praised the individual as a key member of the team, whilst resisting suggestions that someone else should be brought in or trained to work alongside him. It took the realisation that the guy could fall under the proverbial bus before anything was done. It may even be that in similar cases someone could be denied a deserved promotion because genuinely the organisation could not function without them in their current position.

I have seen work permits on a 24 hour offshore oil and gas operations held back because of a single permit signatory who worked only ‘banking hours’ (his words!) Another common ‘Mr Indispensable’ is the stores key holder who is allowed to develop a similar regime of not being available. These individuals, who revel in their indispensability whilst the rest of the organisation waits, need to be recognised and tackled. Most organisations have a Mr Indispensable.

In my last article I mentioned a project manger who took such pride in being tough on contractors that no U.S. yard would build a rig for his company. He demanded perfection to an unreasonable level with the result his projects simply ground to a halt. The best illustration of this concerned the internal telephones supplied for a drilling rig being built in the UK. Because of delays to the project the telephone handsets had taken a fair bit of wear whilst being used by the builder’s staff. The yard agreed to replace the handsets with the latest, better model and cover the increased cost themselves. This wasn’t good enough for ‘Mr Perfect’ who insisted that exact, old model phones were supplied which involved the manufacturer retooling his production line to supply obsolete phones for even more cost. Little wonder that the rig came in years late and seriously over budget.

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Another character we should be aware of is the one sometimes called ‘The Silent Liar’. Most often he sits quietly in meetings, seemingly in full agreement with what is being proposed. He then goes out into the organisation and clandestinely expresses misgivings or downright opposition to the course previously agreed. He sat silent in the meeting, effectively using his silence to lie about his disagreement or unease with what was being proposed. The management team carries on regardless and may only find out about the problem when something things fail to happen.

It is important that managers are clear about what they are asking their staff to do and have mechanisms in place to make sure things are happening as planned. This could be as simple as keeping minutes of meetings. Managers themselves even can become silent liars if they don’t ‘walk the talk’ and staff perceive that one thing is being said and another thing is being meant.

So, there we have three characters from my rogues’ gallery. I am sure you will be familiar with some; they are surprisingly common. The real danger is not in recognising them but in failing to do something about them. The solution can often be found in a simple conversation but a surprising number of organisations tolerate these characters and suffer a serious drag on performance as a consequence.

Do you know Mr Indispensable, Mr Perfect or perhaps The Silent Liar?

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Derek Park
Contributor: Derek Park
Posted: 07/25/2011

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