An Open Letter to The Chief Operating Officer - It's Time For Change.
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Dec 01, 2021 Peter Bernard

An Open Letter to The Chief Operating Officer - It's Time For Change.

You just came from the management meeting. The CEO was direct and transparent with their words. You have never seen them more fired up or more serious. To be competitive in today’s market, the company has to change.

The CEO just came back from an investor meeting and has new marching orders. The message isn’t very nice. This is a dogfight, and you must give your employees the resources to succeed, to make better, faster, more effective decisions.

Access to data is critical; all kinds of data and workflow solutions help your engineers get back to doing engineering and analytical work, not repetitive data discovery and manipulation tasks for most of their day.

Doing more with fewer resources and doing it right the first time is the only way to survive. That is what your competitors are doing. The CEO wasn’t talking about bigger bonuses. He was talking about survival.

That means that you, as the COO, must play an active leadership role in moving away from current solutions that are not meeting the requirements of business today or the new vision of the CEO.

Execution of the plan rests with you. The status quo is not good enough, not even close. There is much resistance in keeping legacy systems and solutions as-is. That resistance doesn’t go away with a memo from the executive office. Your company must take risks to rise to another level of performance and productivity. You might not get another chance at this.

You don’t have a choice; you have to get back into the game. The last decade was challenging. Your company is coming out of a profound reorganization. The market rules have changed, investment in the industry has changed dramatically, especially with stricter regulations and higher investor demands.

There is a new business plan, and it is all about profitability and capital discipline, not production growth or big drilling plans. The easy money days from higher production levels through drilling more wells and using more capital are over. The CEO was clear. If you did not get that message of urgency, it’s not worth coming to work tomorrow.

Roll up your sleeves and cancel the golf weekend you had planned. As the critical change leader, the COO must be clear, involved, and active. The COO is essential in explaining the reasons for change, selecting team members (including external players), setting ambitious targets and driving towards them, and getting involved in the important milestone review meetings.

These are your new performance expectations. Print it on a T-shirt and get started. You are already beginning with fewer resources; the industry has laid off many resources, so you are starting behind. Those resources left must have the ability to have new processes and products that help them be more productive. Used right, this can help you sell the overhaul change that must take effect in the organization.

You have to recognize resistance to change when it raises its head and openly tackle barriers to adopting new ways of working with new digital tools. That resistance is natural and inevitable, but it won’t give up without a fight.

This is a tough-love opportunity. The resistors are going to count on you getting distracted so they can wait you out. They haven’t seen you play this active role before, so you must be upfront and visible. Be encouraging but don’t lower your goals. Otherwise, a 30-day pilot could become 120 days long and lack a clear understanding of accomplishing the goals or answering the questions the pilot project was meant to do. You don’t have time for long-drawn-out pilot projects that produce no path forward.

You can’t delegate this responsibility to the CIO or senior technical staff. They may be too vested in current solutions as they were responsible for their adoption or development in the first place. Your company has spent a lot of money on your existing solutions. Your staff will not be happy to move away from what they know, and towards a solution, they do not understand. Legacy solutions are what they know and are comfortable with. Unfortunately, you are going to have to make many of them slightly uncomfortable for a strategic change. They will tell you they can do this internally with existing technology and vendors, but it hasn’t worked before, and it won’t work this time either. There is no option but your active involvement. Get ready to get your hands dirty.

You remember an old quote from the scientist and author Arthur C Clarke. He said, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” Well, the new digital platform concepts might seem like magic to some of your operational staff and some of your senior technical staff. But sometimes, magic is just what you need. The old guard hasn’t been able to achieve the kind of promised results that the CEO is looking for. They are used to playing it safe with the exact old solutions. No one ever gets fired for proposing AWS or Microsoft. That attitude is just not going to work this time around. Maybe you need to give magic a chance.

This isn’t a technology project. This is a business imperative. Approach it as your career and company depend on it. Are you ready?

Published by Peter Bernard December 1, 2021
Peter Bernard