Post-Mortem of an employment

In Events, Thoughts, Treasures on August 24, 2010 at 7:14 am

To ensure the cause of death is known, generally a post-mortem examination is performed to understand the causes of the demise. So I am applying this technique to my recently deceased employment with a leading oilfield services company, to better understand it and to make sure I understand the causes and do not get into the same spot again.

The subject is 9 1/2 years old. It was born out of a relationship between a graduate student and a recruiting outpost of said oilfield service company in its outer rims of manufacturing.As usual, the intention was a short fling in the shape of an oilfield internship, but it turned into something more serious, when the recruiter said that they had way more jobs open than internship positions.
This indicates one of the chronic illnesses of this employment, which can be postulated as one of the guiding principles of the company. Find out what people want and then give them something else. I wanted an internship and got a job. I wanted to work in project management and came to work in well cementing, after just having gotten excited about the prospect of working in Coiled Tubing, that was mentioned in my assignment letter.
There are several symptoms which could be possible causes of death, some of which are localized, yet recurring, while some of them seem to of a global nature:
Something advertised as the lifestyle, but really means a total lack of concern for the quality of life of the employee, including a general assumption that the employee will be found at work, preferably in the company facilities, whenever called on the ubiquitous mobile phone. This symptom appears localized but seems to have the potential to spread. In its worst form, it evolves into a general lack of concern about the life of the employees regarding time, accommodations, workload or other needs, especially occurring in times of economic pressure on the industry.
Another symptom frequently encountered is a total disregard for capabilities required to survive and succeed in a given business environment. This is a concept I picked up from an excellent article in Booz&Co. Strategy and Business magazine. It makes a lot of sense to me, and a lot less so to my previous employer, as it appears. The underlying deficiency might be that the company has been suffering from an intense focus on the current PnL sheet (drawn up for every small business unit in an almost fractal way) and on its ongoing service operations, with little regard to the surroundings of these. The condition might be cause by an extremely strong position of engineers with field background all across the company. Now I know I start sounding like a Southern hick, but my dad, who worked as a commercial guy in a big project engineering company, always said that you cannot let engineers run a business. They will neglect what is necessary for the business to be successful and focus on getting the job done at all cost, especially their own.
One more symptom I consider critical is localized around the business segment I was involved with. It deals with services related to wells during their construction and later lifecycle, where high pressure pumping and iron pipe is used, in order to isolate the well from the surface (see Macondo well, Guld of Mexico) or to pump fluids into the reservoir to enhance productivity. As such, the segment, especially where not related to the resvoir and its productivity, has always sat a bit askew with a company, that started out trying to measure and learn about the subsurface. And while enhancing reservoir productivity fits quite well with that idea (after all you can use the understanding of the subsurface to optimize that treatment and then measure how much it has improved), the other activities have always been rather brainless and therefore not of great interest to the corporate whole. So the unit was considered at times a candidate for sell-off merger, farm out or similar divestment. This is not exactly a career-enhancing position, especially if the employee is trying to break out from the brainless box and get onto something with bigger picture and more brain, and if he is considered a sort of expert in the brainless fields.
This then maybe leads into something which is closer to a relationship comparison than post-mortem. When I joined the company, it was a well integrated oilfield services provider embarking on a quest to bring brains in the form of information technology into the oilfield by means of a large acquisition of a non-oilfield IT services provider. This bold experiment turned sour in spite of attempts to integrate the whole entity with a strong matrix structure, and after a while, the IT business minus a few oilfield related activities was divested again at a massive loss. Since then the company has lost a lot of appetite for experimentation. It has reverted back to business segment focussed parallel silo structure. Development through cross-fertilization has practically ceased. This unfortunately has closed a lot of development opportunities. Interesting enough though, the appetite for growth by acquisition is back, with a major merger with another big multi-segment service provider.
One crippling result in this is something that I have seen and also found in discussions with other people. The ongoing transitions, in conjunction with a locally difficult business environment (which is by no means overall depressed) has caused a sclerosis in the system, where nothing moves. No plans are in place on how to deal with situations, no action is taken, not even elementary requests receive a response. It seems like a hamster wheel, where people just keep pedaling in the hope to get somewhere. Well watch a hamster, and you will see that the only way to get somewhere on a hamster wheel is by either jumping off or falling off. So here I go, jumping before falling off and hoping not to land on my face.


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