The way we organize, manage, and carry out work is constantly evolving. The oil and gas industry regularly embraces new technologies in drilling techniques, data analytics, and “clean” energy. But it, like most other industries, is only just beginning to set its sights on how it works in the face of several intimidating megatrends like resource scarcity, changing demographics, and technology disruption.
The industry is learning the hard way that in the face of fluctuating energy prices and global instability, getting more value from its workforce in the form of untapped insights and a better “ground truth” is critical to maintaining financial stability and competitive advantage.
An attempt at doing just this is happening today at one multinational oil and gas company, and it has seen some promising results.
Leveraging Employees’ Collective Wisdom
Like most large multinational oil and gas companies, this company has some of the best scientists and engineers in the world and an impressive track record in exploration. However, it is under constant pressure to not only improve its likelihood of success, but also make sure individual employees feel heard and respected—which is widely known to aid retention and boost employee happiness.
To try something new, the company looked to a revolution that has been occurring in the public space for the past several years: crowdsourcing. Crowdsourcing is simply the act of many people coming together to complete a task. Amazon’s Mechanical Turk, Kickstarter, and the Iowa Electronic Markets are all forms of crowdsourcing.
Could it leverage crowdsourcing internally—among its own employees—to improve its forecasting and lead to more informed, successful strategic decisions?
Working with our Chicago-based startup, Cultivate Labs, which specializes in working with companies on internal crowdsourcing solutions, the oil and gas company piloted an approach called “crowdsourced forecasting.”
Crowdsourced forecasting is the act of anonymously gathering people’s predictions in the form of a probability about a particular business issue. For example, company leaders might ask, “Will we meet milestone X by Y date?” Instead of only having a project manager or a small team of experts (who have proven biases in one form or another) weigh in, an entire department can make the prediction—not just one time, but also in reaction to new information that becomes available as the project progresses.
This approach is giving the company an invaluable new resource: Decision makers can come to understand a collective forecast, one that efficiently leverages the full knowledge and experience of their people.
Using this approach, the oil and gas company is now more accurately and efficiently evaluating the potential of drilling sites around the world—optimizing usage of exploratory drilling rigs and driving cost savings. The company is also able to gather the knowledge employees have on competitors to better anticipate their actions and inform important decisions about acquisitions, partnerships, and the regulatory environment.
Not surprisingly, some of the gathered insights have directly contradicted internal conventional wisdom. This has allowed the company to raise important questions about strategy and revisit old problems with fresh perspectives—all the while giving group members a voice and affirming they’re being heard.
Transformative Change Starts At Top
As proven by this company’s initial success, internal crowdsourcing can be quite valuable. However, it’s not simply another technology tool to add to the arsenal. Instead, internal crowdsourcing represents a fundamental shift in philosophy, inviting more transparency into the decision-making process and better utilizing existing human capital. This is a transformational change that, once implemented, ultimately leads to improved performance for the organization as a whole.
As with any change of this magnitude, companies must be mindful of how to best implement this transition. Done correctly, internal crowdsourcing will become a lasting part of the fabric of an organization and set it up for success in an increasingly competitive industry.
Here are some lessons the oil and gas company learned as it sought to introduce its crowdsourced forecasting initiative that readers should keep in mind when pursuing this approach themselves:
1. Achieve Executive Buy-In
For employees to participate, executives must be active and visible supporters of the change. The more executives engage workers in dialogue and react to the information gained from the process, the more willing employees will be to share their thoughts.
2. Present a Mutual Relationship
Both sides must understand that internal crowdsourcing is a two-way street. Yes, the company gets new ideas from employees’ collective wisdom, but employees also get the benefit of working on more relevant projects, knowing their expertise is being put to good use, and seeing their input implemented on a larger scale.
3. Offer the Comfort of Anonymity
Politics are inevitable in large organizations. Don’t let fear prevent good ideas from rising to the top. Allow employees to participate anonymously so contrarian ideas are allowed to be heard.
4. Ask Actionable, Relevant Questions
Don’t try to get tricky with questions. Seek real answers that have direct impacts on key decisions. Crowdsourced forecasting done right means introducing a new decision life cycle within the organization, including both the solicitation of feedback and communication on why that feedback was accepted or rejected.
5. Communicate the Culture Change
Tie internal crowdsourcing to a broader initiative of culture change or another strategic initiative that already has employee buy-in. This allows executives to take advantage of existing goodwill and ensures employees are engaged from the start.
Rather than present internal crowdsourcing as another task on employees’ plates, make it clear that executives see this initiative as critical to the company’s success and worthy of being a primary performance indicator for employees.
The multinational oil and gas company is benefitting financially from its crowdsourcing initiative, and employees are feeling more empowered and committed. Companies that want to remain competitive in the oil and gas industry must also better leverage the experience and knowledge of the people closest to their problems. Otherwise, they’ll risk missing out on insights that could propel them to new heights.
Adam Siegel is the co-founder and CEO of Cultivate Labs, an innovative tech company that has created a unique platform to help guide businesses’ strategies and inspire innovation through internal crowdsourcing. Follow Adam and his team on Twitter @cultivatelabs.
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