As millennials and Gen Z professionals begin climbing the ranks of corporate leadership, organizations are grappling with how to train and retain talent, while recruiting top performers. This is particularly challenging for the oil and gas industry, which has traditionally boasted a loyal employee base that passes tried and true industry practices from one generation to the next. Yet, younger employees are no longer expecting to stay with one company – or even one industry – for their entire career.
Leaders must now adapt their expectations and organizational structures to meet an increasingly purpose-driven workforce with new priorities. Based on my experience from working with energy companies, the following four tactics can help recruit, train and retain the next generation of leaders.
Appeal to the Heart
The passion oil and gas employees bring to their work, as well as the true understanding of the impact their work has on local communities, often feels greater than in many other industries. Leaders need to do more to communicate that spirit while recruiting talent so potential hires can connect with the industry’s deep sense of dedication and know that they’re entering an exciting profession.
Additionally, the younger generation’s interest in activism and work-life balance demands that companies focus on employee well-being while also initiating meaningful change in the broader community. Drawing on the heart in this way will encourage new hires to invest their time and talent in a company whose values align with their own. Ignoring the growing desire for corporate empathy and transparency will only drive away junior employees.
Provide Space for Innovation
From the outside, the oil and gas industry can look like a calcified market with little wiggle room for growth, let alone a promising career trajectory, but this does not have to be the case. Leaders need to offer current and prospective employees space to pursue their passions and break a few boundaries. This allows them to forge a personalized path forward and feel connected to the company’s future. It also provides an opportunity for purpose-driven employees to make the changes they want to see.
One framework for how to do this is Google’s Innovation Time Out (ITO) policy, which encourages employees to spend 80 percent of their working hours on core projects and 20 percent on innovative projects that speak to their personal interests. Many of the most well-known Google products emerged from ITO projects. Employees can clearly see how their experimentation can turn into something meaningful for the market and the organization, reinforcing their desire to think outside the box. Looking to companies outside the oil and gas industry, like Google, can prompt new ways of thinking about employees’ roles in innovation.
Sometimes, this reinforcement needs to be verbalized by company leaders, especially since the results of innovation can take years to materialize. Recognizing and rewarding behavior that aligns with a desired culture or new way of working encourages others to jump on board. Sharing success stories loudly and often is a good way to accelerate innovation.
Many positions within the oil and gas industry require in-person work. The COVID-19 pandemic complicated both recruitment and retention as employees not only took health precautions but also began to re-evaluate what they wanted from the workplace. An increased desire for hybrid work has made labor difficult to secure in less flexible industries. Having a hybrid workforce on an oil rig is not feasible, so to attract workers who need to be in person, companies must offer a career path with opportunities for flexibility or growth in the future. This is particularly true for younger employees who may be thinking about work-life balance and family responsibilities further down the line.
Leaders therefore need to ask themselves, “What can flexibility look like within the constraints of job requirements?” Managers might be able to work from home one or two days per week. Techs in the field might be given more control over their schedules. Regardless of how flexibility is built into operations, be sure to communicate why your company values it and remain open to feedback.
Prioritize Leadership Training and Mentorship
In addition to fostering flexibility, companies should encourage the development of soft skills through leadership training. Critically thinking about what tools future leaders will need – such as handling change with adaptability, creativity and compassion – then developing an appropriate training plan, can help companies prime the next generation of decision makers. Leaders should simultaneously encourage intentional mentorship to bridge the gap between less experienced and more senior talent. Mentorship helps build the deep relationships employees are looking for to help them develop a sense of belonging and connection to their workplace. This translates to higher retention rates.
A sponsor relationship helps employees create a more personalized career path and development approach because they have someone who is invested in their future and understands their goals. It allows for an effective two-way dialogue, instead of a mandatory, impersonal training that can be easily forgotten.
Combining the tactics mentioned above can have a powerful impact on both employee outcomes and overall company performance. For example, a Fortune 20 oil and gas company that implemented Kotter’s approach saw a 50 percent reduction in cycle time, $20 million in recurring annual cost savings, and a significant improvement in employee engagement within the Australian business unit. These results were enabled by connecting employees to an exciting future, getting them engaged in creating solutions to address the challenges ahead, thinking differently about how work was done, and providing meaningful training and support throughout the process.
Recruiting, training and retaining the next generation of leaders have been complicated by shifting priorities and new ways of working. Appealing to the heart, providing space for innovation, embracing flexibility and prioritizing leadership training and mentorship will be the way forward.
Vanessa Akhtar, Ed.D., is a director at Kotter who works on the firm’s most complex transformation engagements and helps drive research and development. Her new co-authored book, Change, details how leaders can leverage challenges and opportunities to make sustainable workplace changes. For more information, go to www.kotterinc.com/book/change. Akhtar can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Oil and gas operations are commonly found in remote locations far from company headquarters. Now, it's possible to monitor pump operations, collate and analyze seismic data, and track employees around the world from almost anywhere. Whether employees are in the office or in the field, the internet and related applications enable a greater multidirectional flow of information – and control – than ever before.