Loud and Clear

Updated: Jul 24, 2019

I recently met with a team of individuals responsible for a core process at a very large oil and gas company. My goal was to compel the team to consider changing its process by using a new technology. This particular process has four or five subprocesses handled by different groups. While on the same floor, these groups are physically separated and pulling them together into a meeting was almost a negotiation.

The subprocesses compile to an outcome which is very measurable. The outcome is either right or it is wrong as determined by math; there is no debate. The new technology I was flogging exists to get to right faster by dealing with the risk of wrong more efficiently. My job was to figure out who might be motivated to reveal themselves as possible confessor of the pain. During the meeting, I raised the question across the group,"Who gets in trouble if the answer is wrong?" The response was a room of silent heads turning left and right to no avail to see if another was enlightened -- nobody really knew the answer to the question.

A little more investigation suggested that the entire process occurred in such volume that the subprocesses consumed the field of vision of each subgroup. It was an assembly line and each participant could see only their contribution to construction of the widget. None of the team members could see the entire process. Remarkable. Mind you, this is no small-time oil company but still . . . wouldn't you be naturally curious?

It raises the question, "What is the origin of improvement regarding this process?" If we went to the CEO of the oil company and asked the question, what would that person say? Then more questions spring up, such as "Is this a systemic issue and do the stockholders know about this?"

Processes become entrenched. In our example, the communication system around it renders it immutable. A lesson here is that if we want a chance at improvement, the improvement should start with a close look at the collective's communication methods and systems. Humans are generally ready to talk and want to make contributions.

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