LeaderSharp Group Producer (Part-time, Contract)

We are looking for a part-time Producer to support our facilitators and coaches in creating an engaging and enjoyable experience for our clients. As a Producer, you will act as the technical support for our facilitators during our online training sessions. By handling the technical requirements of the session, the facilitators can focus more on the client, providing a smoother and more valuable learning experience.

This is a part-time, contract-based role. We are looking for someone who can accommodate occasional producing shifts to support the LeaderSharp team.

You will be expected to be available for the length of the session (between 2 -5 hours in duration), and potentially for debrief meetings before/after with the client or facilitator.

Some key responsibilities include:
• Providing live technical support to facilitators & clients in the case of an issue
• Hosting sessions on Zoom & other video conferencing systems
• Operating breakout rooms, polls, annotations, and other advanced features of Zoom
• Monitoring session chat
• Working with the facilitator to keep track of session timing, breaks, and overall flow

Key skills/competencies:

• Extensive knowledge of Zoom & other video conferencing systems
• Strong computer skills & technical literacy
• Comfortable interacting directly with clients including executive and senior leadership
• Maintaining a calm demeanor under pressure
• Flexible schedule to work during standard business hours
• Knowledge of other collaborative working software is a plus! (Mentimeter, Mural, Whiteboard, Padlet, etc.)
• Knowledge & passion for leadership development or personal growth is a plus!

If you are interested in this role, please send a resume & cover letter to: [email protected] and [email protected].

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We’re giving you 6 tips to help your company mitigate the concern of a workforce skills shortage and the best ways to avoid it affecting your business.

Did you know Canadian businesses are facing the largest labor shortage in history and many of them are unaware of it, ill prepared for it, or are ignoring it all together? So what is the “Skilled Labor Crisis” and why should you care? Well, it’s the growing gap between the supply of available, qualified people and the increasing demand of employers trying to grow their businesses. This labor shortage has been created by the perfect storm of retiring baby boomers, global demand for skilled labor, increasing competition and turnover, and generational differences in the work place. Studies show that about 66% of Canadian employers are already reporting difficulty finding the right people for specific jobs. And the Canadian workforce is set to decline by 1 million people between now and 2020! In other words, you will lose executives and key people and you will not be able to replace them as easily as before.

Economists and business advisors alike have been sounding early warning alarms for years but it has been easy to ignore them. The recent recession temporarily lowered demand for people but it masked the enormity of this impending shortage of talent. So, if you are guilty of putting off planning for this crisis that is about to hit like a tidal wave, keep reading. Here are six survival tips for successfully preparing your business.

Tip #1: Get Real About Your Risk

Take a good, hard, honest look at your current talent at all levels and ask yourself how the skilled labor shortage could impact your business over the next 5 to 10 years. Who will be retiring? Who are their replacements? Who are the key employees you don’t want to lose? What will your people requirements be to sustain and grow your business? Identify your key risks and start planning!

Tip #2: Challenge your Assumptions and Make Changes to Existing Practices

Based on your risk, check your assumptions and challenge your logic. Your old practices may not get you the results you need. First of all, assume the labor shortage crisis is real! If you have successfully poached skilled employees from your competitors in the past by paying more, this will soon become too expensive because your competitors will be doing the same. If you’ve successfully recruited internationally, this may no longer work as there are labor shortages in Brazil, China, and India too!

Tip #3: Develop Your Talent and Retain Your Best

Successful companies understand the importance of investing in high potentials and developing existing talent. Make learning and people development a cultural norm. Encourage lateral moves, set up formal mentoring relationships, reward collaboration and cross functional projects, and promote talent development at all levels. Teach managers coaching skills to enhance communication, improve the quality of performance feedback, develop and engage employees to increase retention.

Tip #4: Accept and Optimize Generational Differences

Prepare for any and all combinations of Boomers (born 1946-1964), Generation X (born 1965-1980) and Millennials (born 1981-1999) working together. There’s a growing number of Millennial managers in the workforce as there aren’t enough Gen-X managers to replace the retiring Boomers. The friction between generations in the workplace is no secret in areas such as conflicting values, work ethic, communicating styles, need for feedback, use of technology, change agility, and loyalty. But get used to Millennials, we need them! Focus on what all generations want, such as respect, interesting and challenging work, consultation on issues that affect them, opportunities for development, and work flexibility.

Provide guidance that promotes deeper understanding and openness to diversity in order to ease the generation gap. Create mentorship opportunities and cross-pollinate project teams. Train Boomer managers in coaching and feedback to meet the needs of the Milennials who need lots of it!

Tip #5: Develop a Succession Planning and Knowledge Transfer Process

If you don’t have these, it is time to put them in place. Leaving Succession Planning to HR alone is a big mistake. Senior leaders need to be actively involved in assessing the current bench strength deep into the company, identifying high potentials, and clarifying the required competencies, skills, knowledge, behavior, and leadership potential needed for the future. And while you’re at it, include a process for capturing the knowledge that will be leaving the organization with those retiring employees.

Tip #6: Be a Flexible, Agile Employer

Recognize your past people practices may no longer work in the new normal of the labor shortage. Be nimble and flexible as an employer, customizing workforce solutions to fit with the changing times. Engage and listen to your employees more and implement their suggestions to increase retention. Initiatives such as flexible work hours, virtual work opportunities, part time and contracted work are all ways to flex and meet different needs. Partner with schools for internship and work experience opportunities, and engage in social responsibility initiatives to attract younger employees. Look to underutilized markets to expand your workforce.

This article was first published as “The Global Talent Crisis: Are You Prepared? Survival Tips for the Perfect Storm” in Workplace.ca Members Quarterly on-line magazine, Summer 2014.

Contact LeaderSharp today for expert leadership and team development training. The world needs better leaders, why not become one?

What is the Leadership Crisis?

We need to look no further than our television showing the US presidential election process to see with the alarmingly different characters of leading candidates. Each suggest they are worthy of leading entire nations. Perhaps it’s not surprising that a 2015 World Economic Forum report called Outlook on the Global Agenda stated that “A startling 86% of respondents think that we have a leadership crisis in the world today.” Their survey focused primarily on political and religious leaders around the world but also included business leaders.

Another 2015 study, this time from Gallup, called Employees Want a Lot More From Their Managers surveyed over seven thousand adults in the U.S. and found that 50% had left a job to get away from their manager to improve their overall life at some point in their career. Why has it been true for decades that so many people join a company with hopes of success only to quit their boss?

John Kotter is an internationally acclaimed guru on change management, is on the Harvard Business School faculty and has written several books on leading change. Kotter has said “After conducting fourteen formal studies and more than a thousand interviews, directly observing dozens of executives in action, and compiling innumerable surveys, I am completely convinced that most organizations today lack the leadership they need up and down the hierarchy. This is not to say that untalented, unenergetic people occupy management positions. The typical case is just the opposite, with bright, experienced, and hardworking individuals, some quite extraordinary, almost all trying to do what they believe is right.”

Three Startling Leadership Trends

Unfortunately the leadership crisis is intensifying and there are three main reasons. An exponential growth of complexity in the world and in business; the shortage in current leadership skills and ability to deal with these challenges, and the mass exodus of aging boomers in leadership roles from the workforce.


Three Startling Leadership Trends

There is a growing concern that our leadership skills, in business, politics and the world are currently not good enough are rapidly falling behind the complexity of challenges we face. We now live in a VUCA world of Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity. VUCA was first coined by the military in Afghanistan. We could easily add three D’s to that challenging mix: Disruption (such as changes in government and the oil price crash); the latest and worst ever Downturn in the oil industry, and the significant shifts in the Demographics of the workforce.

The 2014|2015 DDI and Conference Board Global Leadership Forecast describes a “VUCA Vortex” and how leaders need more preparation to face VUCA challenges. Their study showed that up to 40% of HR professionals report that their leaders are incapable of meeting VUCA challenges.



Secondly there is a growing leadership skills shortfall recognized worldwide. We’re in over our heads and we’re falling behind in how to develop better leaders. In their 2014 report, called “The Leadership Deficit”, the human capital management firm APQC describes leadership skills deficiencies as “large and numerous”. Their survey shows a startling set of leadership trends including 79% who agree that current business challenges require a different leadership style and 66% who agree that organizations are underinvesting in leadership development. The report shows not only that leadership development is underfunded, but also that “leadership practices are outdated and current leaders are thought to be resisting new ways of leading people.” In their “State of Succession Management 2015” the Brandon Hall Group survey showed an astonishing 84% of organizations said they were suffering from a lack of ready leaders. The DDI Global Leadership Forecast shows that only 40% of leaders say the overall quality of their organization’s leadership is high. Even fewer (only 25%) of HR professionals view their organization’s leaders as high quality! An interesting difference.



Let’s look at the third reason that the leadership crisis is deepening and focus on Canada and Alberta in particular – the inevitable retirement of Boomers. The Canadian workforce currently has about eight million Baby Boomers employed and the same number of Millennials. Despite this and previous recessions causing a delay for some, Boomer retirements are continuing inexorably. Unfortunately, there are only half that number of Gen Xers in Canada to take their place. When it comes to replacements for all those important roles Boomers occupy such as technical experts, executives, managers and supervisors we’re four million people short!

Now in this drastic downturn the oil patch has eliminated over 100,000 direct and indirect jobs. Most organizations have cut staff and have drastically cut or eliminated training costs just to survive. With huge numbers of people laid off, more are currently available in the workforce, but this is masking the underlying demographic shifts. Many supervisors, and managers have been given early retirement packages. Organizations have had to lay off leaders at all levels in the company, and those Boomers who survive the cuts continue to move towards retirement.

Many Boomers who are leaving the workforce are in leadership positions. We need to look deeper into our organizations to develop tomorrow’s leaders and currently we’re losing the race. There is a growing leadership shortage both in volume and ability with inexperienced individuals being asked to step up into leadership roles before they are ready and with little or no help.


What Can We Do About It?

There is no doubt that the world needs better leaders. Today’s leadership in business includes a mix of inadequate leaders and exceptional leaders everywhere. Unfortunately we continue to experience or hear stories of leaders who get hired based on experience or results, then fired based on behavior; Leaders who are experienced but unwilling to change or are out of date; Leaders who are well intentioned but need help; Technical experts promoted to leadership who are not so good at leading people; And newer, younger leaders with not enough training who are keen to lead but lack the skills and self-awareness required. We need to develop more, and better leaders with some urgency. Current leaders need help adapting to a VUCADD world and younger leaders need a lot of help to develop their leadership skills because we desperately need them.

The good news is that in the dense forest of increasingly deficient leadership there are many great leaders shining brightly. There are also many highly skilled and capable managers and individuals who just need some support and development to become great leaders. The type of leaders our organizations need today and in the future. However there remains a further challenge. The world of leadership development, of leadership models and competencies, tools and programs is also a dense forest. Billions of dollars have been spent on leadership development in the last few decades yet it doesn’t seem to be working well enough. How do we find the right path through this forest?


As before in history, every so often someone comes along to show us what great leadership looks like. The leadership that is required for the times. A beacon of light. This time we can look to the lifetime dedication of Bob Anderson and Bill Adams and the development of the ultimate framework for leadership development which they have called The Universal Model of Leadership. The Model took 30 years to develop and has been used to great effect in organizations for the past 12 years. It’s not brand new. It’s proven. Late in 2015 Bob Anderson and Bill Adams released their book, Mastering Leadership that describes the astounding integration of most of the leadership development research to date and also the psychology behind our behavioral reactions because of our beliefs and motivations. The model is also proven by scientific research and statistical validity that confirms what effective leadership comprises and how effective leadership generates better business results every time. This elegant and profound Universal Model is the most important development in leadership since the early philosophers such as Plato first started asking questions such as, “What qualities distinguish an individual as a leader?”

As Bob Anderson and Bill Adams say, “We need better leaders at all levels – men and women who create thriving futures, healthy cultures and competitive companies; who balance short-term profitability with long-term sustainability; who create a better world. Mastering leadership is now a strategic priority, a competitive advantage and a global imperative.”

The same World Economic Forum report stated that four out of the five global regions prioritized three strategies as the best way to develop tomorrow’s leaders: Training, Coaching and Mentoring. Great leadership for today’s world is developed using all three.

Our business leaders are dealing with dramatically difficult times in Alberta, in Canada and worldwide. This changing world is not for the faint of heart. The Universal Model of Leadership and The Leadership Circle development framework is a beacon of light that our organizations and the world desperately needs. It has been described as revolutionary. We encourage you to read Mastering Leadership and review The Leadership Circle. We encourage you to find the money and the time to develop the effective leaders we need today and for tomorrow. They will make your company more successful and make and the world a better and happier place.

First published in the Human Resources Institute of Alberta HRIA Essentials eNewsletter, April 12, 2016

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A 19th century anecdotal experiment has it that if a frog is placed in boiling water, it will jump out. No kidding! But if it’s placed in cold water and then slowly heated, it won’t feel the danger and will be boiled. It’s a metaphor for the inability of people to be aware of or react to threat that builds gradually. The good news (especially for all frogs and frog-lovers) is that it’s a myth. Smart froggy jumps out at 25°C. But let’s go with the myth because it happens to many of us in real life.

The current oil price crash and economic downturn in Alberta is concealing a boiling frog. How? Well, let’s call it something less amphibian and use human resources language. We’re in a “talent paradox.” The paradox is that growing skilled labor shortages and skill mismatches are masked and temporarily lessened by the current downturn and layoffs. (Including 100,000 jobs lost in the energy industry alone (direct and indirect), according to the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers).

It’s déjà vu all over again. In 2012, the Hon. Perrin Beatty, President and CEO of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce wrote, “2012 has been the tipping point for many Canadian businesses confronting skills and labour shortages. A critical issue that had been hidden by the (2008-9) recession is now fully apparent.” The Chamber’s research and report called “Canada’s Skills Crisis: What We Heard” illustrated how Canadian businesses had significant problems finding the workers they needed as the economy recovered from the last recession. Here is a compelling chart created by RBC Economics Research (after the last downturn and before this one) using Statistics Canada data that starkly forecasts the labour and skills shortage past 2030.

Demand for New Workers

Even if you adjust the “Workers needed” line down to reflect workforce reductions, the trends are inevitable in the medium and long-term due to eight million aging and retiring Baby Boomers.

Right now, many Alberta businesses are slowing and shrinking. The oil patch is in desperate survival mode. Energy companies and others have fewer people, fewer projects and far less revenue. Many people have been let go, and there is a reduced focus on employee training and development. People left behind are doing more with less with fewer perks and even salary cuts. Many executives are just focused on the short term and have far less clarity about the long-term picture. Yet, while our anxious attention, like deer in the headlights, is on ensuring our companies survive the bust by cutting costs, trashing training and letting people go, the unstoppable demographic changes continue and the water gets hotter.

So what’s this got to do with succession planning? If you believe you will survive this even-lower-for-even-longer slump, succession planning is more important than ever before, in Alberta and worldwide. The inexorable aging of the Baby Boomer generation, already retiring in huge numbers (even if delayed for many) and a continuing shortage of both quantity and quality of people to replace them results in a severe shortage of technical skills and leadership. In fact, the current layoffs have worsened the situation by depleting bench strength at all levels necessary for survival in the short term perhaps, but at the expense of the medium to long term. Even with low oil prices, cancelled pipeline projects, the devalued Canadian dollar and massive downsizing in the energy sector, there is still an underlying skills and labour gap. To reduce our talent pipeline further, as the Canadian economy suffers, younger generations may depart (to the U.S., for example) to make a better living as they did during the last recession. The water is getting inevitably warmer for two main reasons: decreasing quantity and unavailable quality of workers.


The Quantity Challenge

Here’s some simple math: there are only half the number of Gen Xers to replace retiring Boomers! We need our Millennials to step up sooner to help fill the gaps, but they need the right skills for the job.

The Canadian Workforce

According to a 2015 Talent Management magazine article called “Filling a Leaky Pipeline”, about 61 per cent of organizations said they had too few candidates to fill their succession needs. After the last downturn and before this one, a Manpower Group report called “The Great Talent Shortage Awakening” noted a dramatic increase in companies who believe talent shortages would negatively impact their business. Under the reasonable assumption that the size of our workforce also needs to keep pace with population growth (including immigration), Canada simply cannot replace Boomers fast enough with the younger generations. Before this economic bust, Statistics Canada projected a labor force (quantity) shortage of 2.7 million by 2031 and a skills shortage (quality) of 4.2 million as shown on the RBC chart above.


The Quality Challenge

In Alberta and worldwide, there are labor shortages of many types of expertise from skilled trades to management. Skill requirements are swiftly changing. Existing workers may not have the new skills (such as technology) that employers need. There is also a mismatch of skills available with those needed in different industries in Alberta and across Canada including energy, manufacturing, finance and IT.

A 2014 Bersin by Deloitte’s Corporate Learning Factbook highlighted the growing shortage of skills in a rapidly changing and increasingly complex world. They described how organizations were increasing their training dollars to fill critical skills gaps. They noted, in particular, the growing demand for computer science, mathematics and engineering among others. The Western Canadian oil patch was struggling with a skills shortage in some areas before the recent boom turned into yet another bust. The 2014 Alberta Government “Occupational Demand and Supply Outlook” forecast critical shortages of petroleum engineering, geology and geophysics skills over the next 10 years. Similar shortages exist in many frontline and field worker roles. The shortage in the oil industry has temporarily abated, but Boomers continue to get older and the seismic demographic shifts continue.

Another component of the quality challenge is a growing “leadership crisis.” Many Boomers who are leaving the workforce are in management and executive positions. We need to develop tomorrow’s leaders, but there is also a leadership skills shortage. In their 2014 report, called “The Leadership Deficit”, the human capital management firm APQC described leadership skills deficiencies as “large and numerous”, and that the top leadership skills needed included teamwork, collaboration, strategic planning and listening. In their “State of Succession Management 2015” the Brandon Hall Group survey showed an astonishing 84 per cent of organizations said they were suffering from a lack of ready leaders.

If there is a underlying shortage of people to fill many roles and if there is a global technical and leadership skills shortage, then surely succession planning and its’ soulmate, leadership development, need attention now, more than ever before. However, there are a couple of major obstacles to that notion – priorities and dollars.


Priorities and Dollars

Succession planning (and to a lesser extent, leadership development) in the past have been an undervalued process commonly trumped by operational and financial priorities. In Calgary, if you lose a key engineer or VP the common approach has been to simply recruit one from a company a few blocks away, so why bother with succession planning when you can buy a replacement any time?

Many organizations still believe this to be true, especially with so many removed from the workforce. So the challenge is to change a long-standing practice and to persuade executives to build rather than buy talented successors. This is especially difficult right now when energy industry executives, in particular, are doing all they can just to hang on and the short term pain has all their attention. Yet so much data points to solving the insidious and growing talent crisis as a strategic imperative for future success. To date, succession planning has not been a high priority for many companies, but it needs to be. In June 2014, survey results in the HRIA “Alberta HR Trends Report” showed that 55 percent of companies (especially smaller ones) in Alberta did not have a formal succession planning process. Deloitte’s 2015 “Global Human Capital Trends” report said that “Only 6 per cent of companies feel fully ready to address their leadership issues, only 10 per cent feel comfortable with their succession program and only 7 per cent have strong programs to build Millennial leaders.”

The second challenge is that succession planning takes time and money. Companies may have some time on their hands right now, but dollars are in very short supply in Alberta.


Reported New Trends

The “State of Succession Management 2015” global report by the Brandon Hall Group, confirmed the lack of attention to succession planning but describes an important shift that is underway. Their survey concluded that commitment to succession management is on the rise and creating a formal strategy for all parts of the company was front and centre. They also reported that current succession management budgets were “modest at best” and received the third lowest investment among talent management functions, but are expected to expand significantly over the next 12 months. What is also increasing is a focus on successor development. They said that nearly 70 per cent of organizations plan to prioritize it over the next 12 months. The report states, “(Succession management) hails as the single talent process where organizations plan to invest more heavily (in the next two years).” Another survey reported by XpertHR in their 2015 Personnel Today story called “Hold on to your Rising Stars and Heroes” showed that 57 per cent of respondents expect to increase their expenditure on training and development, and 46 per cent would be increasing funding for succession planning.

Office Team

In the newest Alberta downturn, organizations may not have spare dollars but they may have some spare time for a strategic priority. Here are five no-cost solutions to cool down the boiling frog.

No-cost solution #1: Where do we start?
Whether you just need to know what your first steps and priorities should be, or have been developing your strategic planning and need to check in against best practices to measure your progress, what do you do? Creating a strategy or plan needs a starting point. Perhaps start by reading the “State of Succession Management 2015” report by the Brandon Hall Group. It identifies the eight top findings from their study which include current challenges and trends. It also includes the current eight leading practices of effective succession management. It will help you identify a place to start. It may also help inform your executives. You can also evaluate your current status with a succession planning diagnostic.

No-cost solution #2: Do we really know what our mission critical roles are?
Most companies have not identified those roles that are critical to achieving business goals. We define them as “Roles at any level that your organization cannot run without or, if left unfilled, would have a significant impact on corporate performance.” Get the right people into a room and decide what your mission critical roles, both leader and non-leader truly are. Before you start, define your criteria for the factors that constitute a mission critical role so you are using a disciplined and consistent approach. A balanced scorecard could work.

No-cost solution #3: How do we identify succession candidates?
Other questions lie in the weeds of this one, such as which assessments should be used, or how consistent are our performance management ratings? However, there some no-cost starting points, with the assumption that executives and middle managers understand the importance of collaborating on developing a healthy talent pipeline and agree to share resources rather than protect them in their silo. We define a succession candidate as: “An employee who has been assessed as having the ability, aspiration, organizational commitment and motivation to succeed in more senior mission critical roles throughout the organization.” There are numerous tools and methods available to define, assess and identify succession candidates. You just need the stakeholders (Executives, HR and managers) to set aside the time to agree on and create and the identification criteria to create a repeatable and consistent process.

No-cost solution #4: How do we encourage executives to prioritize (and own) succession planning?
According to Bersin by Deloitte in their 2014 High-Impact Succession Management report, 74 per cent of companies at lower levels of succession management maturity have a lack of collaboration between HR and senior management. “Succession planning is not yet valued as a tool to run the company.” Give your senior leaders the data they need to prioritize it. There is ample research from credible sources identifying the unstoppable demographic changes in the workforce growing skilled labour and leadership shortages. There are also many surveys and reports highlighting the critical importance of focusing on succession and data from companies who have done this effectively, including their leading practices and business benefits gained.

No-cost solution #5: Our succession planning, learning and development and performance management are separate, inconsistent and in various stages of maturity
You may not be able to afford an HRMS or “integrated suite” right now, but you could do some research and develop practices. Some planning, preparation and integration of some processes could help to evolve your talent management. You may have some recommendations ready when budgets reappear. Other preparation could include the creation of leadership competencies for different management levels and building career or development plan templates for high potentials.


The Undeniable Benefits of Succession Planning

The data continues to flow in about the numerous benefits to business from succession planning deep into the organization. Common sense tells us it’s the right thing to do. With the growing skilled labour and leadership shortage and despite any downturns, it has already become a critical survival factor for most companies in the next five to ten years. If you survive the downturn only to lose mission critical roles that you can’t replace internally, you’re in trouble immediately.

Benefits of Succession Planning

Replacing key executive roles is the most common aspect of succession that companies may have in place. The value of increasing the focus deeper into the organization and linking it to leadership development and skills training is huge and now is becoming critical for businesses to prioritize. The compelling reasons to focus more time and if possible, money on succession planning include:

  • Business continuity is assured. Even in survival mode, a business continues operating. As conditions improve, you need your employees and managers to lift you out the other side.
  • Mission critical roles at any level (especially with looming retirements) are identified and successors are being developed.
  • Leadership bench strength at all levels is addressed now and for the next five years at least. This is risk mitigation.
  • Retention of high potentials and high performers at any level is 1.7 times more effective, according to research, as their career opportunities are more clear.
  • Organizations with mature succession planning are twice as effective at improving employee engagement.

When the economy recovers, we need to be ready to respond, not caught flat-footed and exhausted. A steady, consistent succession planning process can be a welcome stabilizing force amidst the reactivity created by this perfect storm of declining economic conditions, especially for your high performers, high potentials and future leaders. It’s more important than ever to be clear about what skills, competencies, and leadership capacity the company needs at any given time (now and five years from now) in the context of the companies’ strategic goals. If the strategy shifts, a well-developed succession planning process can adjust the focus as needed. In boom times, the focus may be on developing high potential employees for future leadership roles to meet the growth of the company. In downturns, the focus may be on ensuring mission critical roles are filled and that there is succession in place to mitigate risk. It may also be focused on redefining what is required to meet the needs of the new strategic direction and then ensuring the succession planning process is in place to meet this.

Alberta and the world are in a period of significant economic transition and any signs of recovery seem far off, especially in the oil patch. Despite current layoffs, critical skills at all levels are becoming increasingly scarce. This is not a trivial problem. As Bersin by Deloitte said in their “Providing Upskilling Opportunities to Employees” report, “Skilled talent is the lifeblood of an organization. Those organizations that successfully build the capability to develop skilled employees internally put themselves at a significant advantage over their competition.” Why not use the slowdown to focus on one of the most critical success factors of your future?

First published in the Human Resources Institute of Alberta (HRIA) HUMANCapital Magazine, Spring 2016

Will you be Reeling or Roaring out the Other Side? Are layoffs really the answer to this downturn.

The numbers keep growing and just like body counts from tsunamis or earthquakes, we might be getting a little numb to the news of the latest casualties. Calfrac and Athabasca Oil are two recent additions to a string of companies announcing deep cuts to their number of employees: 40 per cent of Calfrac’s staff in Canada and 25 per cent at Athabasca. The list is getting horribly long: Cenovus, Husky, Suncor, Encana, Devon, Enerplus, MEG Energy and so many more that don’t even make the news because it’s become so normal. Recently the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers said 35,000 energy sector jobs had been cut in 2015. Most analysts agree that we’re far from finished in this lower-for-longer bloodbath. But are layoffs always the best strategy for the business when you need to reduce costs in a downturn?

In “Petro Prices to Petro People,” part two in a series of four reports from Petroleum Labour Market Information this year, the tension between letting people go to cut costs and the long-term need for industry talent was highlighted. Sage words from Carol Howes, director of the Petroleum Human Resources Division of Enform, highlight the need to remember past downturns when lots of people were let go, and then companies had to re-hire the talent lost to layoffs when conditions improved. This cycle has been repeated every time the oil industry takes a dive.

How about not letting people go at all? “What?” I hear you say incredulously. “Headcount reduction is a necessary decision that strong executives make in times like these. Our shareholders expect us to make these hard calls.” But is it really a wise call for the medium- to long-term health of the business? Or is it a necessary reaction to short-term external pressures? Not every company is doing it. Some organizations are implementing all sorts of creative expense reduction strategies when it comes to the cost of people. Imperial Oil has not reduced its 5,500 workforce so far and says it isn’t planning to. And it is not alone. Trilogy Energy and many others are doing all they can to avoid diminishing their most valued asset—people. Many organizations are avoiding or delaying layoffs with other initiatives such as reduced hours, unpaid days off, unpaid sabbaticals, pay cuts and trimmed or cancelled bonuses. All of this is aimed at one of the largest fixed costs of any company: payroll. It’s always the beast with the target on its back in times like these.

But wait, isn’t it counter-intuitive to not cut headcount to salvage cash flow and shore up profit that the market demands? Well actually, not cutting headcount has some validity. It may be a more strategic move, as research proves. David Yager, the national leader of oilfield services at MNP, in his paper published earlier this year called Surviving the Downturn suggests, “The objective is to get through the downturn with the company intact while preserving the greatest number of jobs.”

Mark Salkeld, president and chief executive officer of the Petroleum Services Association of Canada, says, “We spend so much time training people on competencies, safety and certifications; it’s a huge investment and a lot of intellectual capital you would do anything not to lose.”

What if we don’t actually have to lose all those skills and all that experience and knowledge?

Office Table

Just after the 2007-08 “Great Recession,” Harvard Business Review published an article by Bob Sutton entitled “Layoffs: Are They Ever the Answer?” Sutton outlines how layoffs rarely make financial sense and that evidence for layoffs actually helping to improve financial performance over the medium to long term was weak. His conclusion is that workforce reductions are short-sighted. His reasons why? Because of severance costs, survivors’ lost motivation and productivity, and rehiring and training costs. He says that after layoffs, it often takes 12-18 months before a financial benefit kicks in. Well, if this downturn is lower-for-longer, perhaps layoffs are indeed a good idea. But let’s not forget the impact on those who survive the cuts.

Researching for her book called “Top Talent: Keeping Performance Up When Business Is Down,” Sylvia Ann Hewlett quantifies the impact of layoffs on survivor’s morale: 73 per cent felt demoralized, 64 per cent felt demotivated and 74 per cent said they shut down and turned off. “In other words, just when a company needs its top performers to charge the hill, they retreat to the bunkers.” That may be exactly what’s happening in so many energy sector companies right now.

The view that layoffs are not the answer is backed up with compelling evidence in Darrell Rigby’s article, “Look Before You Lay Off,” in the Harvard Business Review. He states downsizing in a downturn can do more harm than good, especially in knowledge-based businesses, and he illustrates this view with several statistics and reasons. One is a mistaken view by executives that shareholders like seeing layoffs in a downturn because they see it as a signal that the company and its leaders are serious about controlling costs. However, his research shows that investors often see it as a symptom of mismanagement or eroding demand, and they sell their shares.

Rigby illustrates how the conventional wisdom to resort to layoffs in a recession is more than questionable and highlights research done by his company, Bain & Company, during the 2000-01 downturn. The study shows that companies with few or no layoffs performed significantly better than those companies with large headcount reductions. The numbers are surprising:

  • Companies that laid off three per cent of staff did just as well as companies with no layoffs, posting an average nine per cent share price increase in the three years after the downturn;
  • Share prices of companies that cut three to 10 per cent of employees remained flat; and
  • Share prices of businesses that laid off more than 10 per cent of their workforce plummeted 38 per cent.

His observation is organizations that had large and repeated downsizings had flawed strategies that produced poor results. That doesn’t necessarily apply to oil and gas companies whose product price suddenly fell off a cliff. Executives at every company don’t take layoffs lightly and often make that difficult decision after reducing costs in many other ways. Rigby concedes that companies with falling revenues and shrinking profits need to act. He also concludes that companies that reduced their headcount as part of a conscious strategic repositioning or consolidate mergers or capture business synergies saw share price increases of 13–19 per cent following the downturn. But is that what most energy companies are doing? Are companies leaving no stone unturned before resorting to letting talent go?

Tom Copeland, co-author of Real Options: A Practitioner’s Guide summarizes some of his key findings in the article “Cutting Costs Without Drawing Blood.” He suggests that layoffs could be reduced or avoided by conducting a rigorous and disciplined evaluation of the small-ticket capital expenditures.

His conclusion is that workforce reductions are short-sighted. His reasons why? Because of severance costs, survivors’ lost motivation and productivity, and rehiring and training costs. He says that after layoffs, it often takes 12-18 months before a financial benefit kicks in.

Not the big projects that are often only 20 per cent of capex, but the little requests that get rubber-stamped without a second thought. These can add up to large cost savings. As Yager says, “You’ll be amazed at what you can live without if you have to.”

Another study shows companies that cut deep and fast have the lowest probability of pulling ahead of competition when times get better. In their article, “Roaring Out of Recession,” Ranjay Gulati and others outline how companies that master the delicate balance between cutting costs today and investing for the medium-term future can thrive following a downturn. These companies with a “progressive focus” work more on operational efficiencies than their rivals and invest comprehensively in the future, such as in research and development, new assets, and, we would suggest, skills training and leadership development.

Which leads (pun intended) us to another important reason to re-think layoffs before you leap this time around. Possibly the biggest reason, and one we’ve either temporarily forgotten or have been ignoring for a inevitable demographic shifts in the global workforce. The latest downturn has masked the fact that all our experienced baby boomers full of vital industry knowledge started retiring at a rate of 10,000/day in 2011. Six years from now, the Canadian workforce will be reduced by one million people. In the U.S., one estimate is that half the entire workforce could retire in the next five to seven years, including geophysicists and engineers. Fifty per cent. Are you kidding? Well no, because in addition to taxes and death, there’s one other guarantee: getting older.

Here’s a picture worth paying attention to:

The Canadian Workforce

It shows that the Canadian workforce currently has about eight million boomers employed and the same number of millennials. Despite this and previous recessions causing a delay for some, boomer retirements are continuing inexorably. Unfortunately, there is only half that number of Gen Xers to take their place. When it comes to replacements for all those important roles boomers occupy—such as technical experts, professional engineers and geoscientists, executives and managers, knowledgeable front-line supervisors and field workers—we’re four million people short. This is going to sweep through Canadian businesses like a tsunami despite having been predicted for some time.

Over the next few years, as we recover into whatever a new normal looks like for the oil and gas industry locally and worldwide, it isn’t going to be at all the same when it comes to re-hiring all that knowledge and expertise we lost when we cut staff and boomers decided to retire. Talent will become critically scarce at all levels and for many types of jobs. There will be a growing leadership crisis both in volume and ability with younger, inexperienced managers asked to step up into strategic leadership roles before they are ready. And because we cut training costs as well and didn’t focus on leadership development during this downturn.

We live in a world of volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity, or VUCA, as coined by the military in Afghanistan. We suggest that three Ds could be added to this challenging mix: disruption, the current downturn and the demographic changes. Our business leaders are dealing with dramatically difficult times in our industry, and this changing world is not for the faint of heart. Desperate measures may be called for, but we suggest a word of caution. Take note of the medium- to long-term trends in the workforce, and make sure all creative options are explored before letting people go. Ignore convention, and be the author of your own wisdom in ensuring you are keeping and developing the talent you need in the next few years to come roaring out the other side.

This article was first published in Oilweek Online Magazine November 23, 2015.

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In the early 2000s, Boeing, faced with a slump in business, offered early retirement to 9,000 senior employees. Shortly after that, the company had an unexpected flood of new airplane orders and found it was critically short of skilled production workers. The knowledge lost from long-term employees, plus the inexperience of their replacements, threw assembly lines into chaos. There was a rapid ascent in overtime, and employees scrambled to finish assembly on time. Boeing’s management had to shut down production for nearly a month to fix the assembly process, which resulted in a $1.6-billion charge against earnings. This ultimately led to a change in management.

A 2012 episode of 60 Minutes interviewed several men in their late 50’s and early 60’s who had worked at NASA for 25 to 35 years. They had lost their jobs with the end of the space shuttle program. Today only a handful of people who worked on the program are left at NASA. If NASA wanted to send a man to the moon today, it could not do so quickly. Much of the knowledge and experience is gone. NASA has a big focus on knowledge management and even has a chief knowledge officer, but the horse has left the barn (or I guess the rocket has left the launch pad) and much of what is left are the ghosts of experts. NASA’s Johnson Space Center has a big library of videotapes and transcripts that captured some of the expertise of the retirees, but they have not been edited and organized in ways that would make it easy to find, so it has generally not been used.

Why are these stories relevant to the oil industry? According to the latest Canadian Petroleum Labour Market Information (PetroLMI) report from Enform called Falling Oil Prices and Decreased Company Spending – Employment Impacts, the Canadian oil industry supported 720,000 direct and indirect jobs in 2014. Two-thirds of those (484,000) were in Alberta.

There is a massive hidden cost to downsizing in a downturn—the loss of organizational knowledge.

This year estimates are that $31 billion will be cut from capital and operating expenses, and a quarter of those jobs will be lost. That’s 185,000 people, most of which are in Alberta. If you apply a lowball average of 15 years’ experience, that’s 2.7 million years of experience being removed—a huge number but perhaps not as useful as the unknown amount of specialized, mission-critical skills, know-how and expertise that already has and will continue to disappear from our industry. According to the June issue of The Basin (published by JuneWarren-Nickle’s Energy Group), the number of new well licenses approved in the first quarter of 2015 is down 55 per cent year over year. The updated well forecast for 2015 from the Petroleum Services Association of Canada has been lowered by a shocking 47 per cent. We also have a change in government that is increasing the corporate income tax and will review oil royalties. Have companies accommodated this further drop in activity in their layoffs so far? Or will we see thousands more employees exiting with pink slips before the year is out?

How well do we remember what happened the last time around?

Carol Howes, director of PetroLMI, reminded us recently when she said, “It is critical that companies keep sight of learnings from previous downturns. In the past, some workers who were laid off and found employment outside of the industry tended not to return. We know companies understand that when the oil price turns around, they will once again be faced with both labour and skills shortages and will need to rehire the talent lost through layoffs.”

There is a massive hidden cost to downsizing in a downturn—the loss of organizational knowledge. As Joni Mitchell sang in “Big Yellow Taxi,” “You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.” In many companies, little or nothing is done to prevent this drastic decline of proficiency and insight. When a downturn hits, the corporate fire extinguisher is aimed at snuffing costs on the burning platform to salvage the bottom line. Yet the irreparable harm of losing critical company knowledge smolders dangerously in the shadows. Do expense-focused executives really know what they are losing?


Layoffs are just part of the brain drain. Let’s not forget that the oil industry workforce is aging. According to Pew Research, 10,000 baby boomers turned 65 every day in 2011 in the U.S. Despite the 2008-09 recession and the current downturn delaying retirements, the inexorable aging of the boomer generation points to an inevitable and massive loss of skills, experience, know-how and knowledge in the patch. Even though older workers are delaying retirement and staying in the workforce longer, employers are concerned and anxious about the impact of the knowledge drain—the loss of skilled intellectual or technical labor—on their organizations, according to a 2009 MetLife study. Seventy-four percent of employers said they were primarily concerned about experiencing a knowledge drain as older workers retire. In the human resources world, and in business generally, there’s a lot of hype and promise about data analytics using big data. Perhaps “big” might really stand for “boomer insights gone.”

A 2012 Alberta government report entitled Succession Planning: Retaining Skills and Knowledge in Your Workforce, described how employees can hold vast amounts of key experience, information and skills. That knowledge walks out the door when employees retire or move up or out of the company. Unprepared organizations can be left scrambling to run their day-to-day operations. The important know-how needed to run a company can exist at all levels, not just in leadership positions, and in any subject matter expert position, such as employees running legacy systems, specialized roles with no redundancy or jobs requiring specific expertise. Much of this know-how is undocumented and irreplaceable.

Some of this knowledge may be easy to recognize and explicit, such as instruction manuals, process documents and contact lists. Other knowledge is more difficult to define or communicate and includes experiences, stories, wisdom, judgment and know-how. This is tacit knowledge, and it lives in peoples’ heads. It was named “deep smarts” by Dorothy Leonard of the Harvard Business School in her 2005 book by the same name.

Other knowledge is more difficult to define or communicate and includes experiences, stories, wisdom, judgment and know-how. 

Retaining both explicit and tacit knowledge is an important issue for companies, but it’s especially important for small and medium-sized organizations because they have critical knowledge concentrated in fewer employees. A big challenge for all companies is how to convert less accessible tacit knowledge into more accessible explicit knowledge.

Why aren’t companies focusing on knowledge capture? In 2008, ninety per cent of respondents in an online public consultation by the Government of Alberta said the effects of Alberta’s aging workforce should be a high priority for the private sector and government.


Less than twenty five per cent of employers had strategies to address thoseeffects. A 2009 study by the Institute for Corporate Productivity found that only two in 10 organizations were doing well when it came to knowledge retention. As the Alberta government report said, “These numbers suggest that the time to begin transferring knowledge is now.” Alarm bells have been ringing for several years in studies from Boston Consulting Group to Manpower to the Alberta government, yet they have fallen on deaf ears in most organizations.

In her new book Critical Knowledge Transfer: Tools for Managing Your Company’s Deep Smarts, Leonard and co-authors Walter Swap and Gavin Barton surveyed about 70 large firms and asked about knowledge transfer. Ninety-seven per cent said they needed to transfer business-critical expertise, but over half were not at all or only somewhat addressing the need to get it done. Also, nearly eighty per cent said that the threat of losing such expertise was greater than it was five years ago.

Both risk and reward for knowledge retention seem intuitively obvious when considered. What is the cost of bad decisions made from inexperience? What is the cost of a delayed or cancelled project? What is the true cost of lost productivity when experience leaves and a replacement takes more than six months to get up to speed? What is the cost of a consultant to replace lost knowledge? What is the cost of the myriad of other invisible hits to the bottom line? Conversely, the benefits reduce all these costs and have also been shown to maximize competitive advantage by making fewer mistakes, incurring less downtime solving problems, increasing productivity and reducing the cost of turnover. Knowledge management has also proven to increase stock valuation, assist in growth through acquisition and lead to better developed products.


What’s our track record of knowledge management in the oil industry? Well, the good news is that oil and gas exploration and service companies have been leaders in developing knowledge capture and transfer solutions since the 1990s. These include best-practice leaders such as Chevron, BP, Royal Dutch Shell, ExxonMobil, Halliburton and Schlumberger. The bad news? Well, you might have already guessed. Knowledge capture and transfer has remained accessible only to the largest global companies with big budgets. A 2013 report by Robert Grant of the Bocconi School of Management in Milan entitled The Development of Knowledge Management in the Oil and Gas Industry describes the challenges, the various approaches these global majors have taken over several years, the costs, the financial returns and the lessons learned. He describes an overabundance of sophisticated technology tools that were generally underused. However, cost savings have been reported in the hundreds of millions of dollars. The most effective knowledge transfer has been achieved by linking people to people rather than people to information.

So where does that leave the small to moderately large Canadian firms that want to retain their operational knowledge but don’t have the budget or resources of a supermajor? We suggest the following four steps as a starting point.

Step one: Identify your risk areas

Identify mission-critical roles and knowledge that exist anywhere within your organization. Next, identify where there is little or no redundancy for that knowledge. This will give you the scale and scope of your knowledge-retention challenge. Then identify those at risk of departure (retiring, downsizing candidate, etc.). Find that 61-year-old control panel operator who is the only person who knows his complex job. Then focus on the highest risk areas first before it’s too late.

Step two: Review existing best practices

Read Retaining Today’s Knowledge for Tomorrow’s Work Force. It lists the 26 best practices identified by the American Productivity and Quality Center benchmarking study in 2007.

Step three: Incorporate knowledge retention into your succession planning

If you have a succession planning process, build in knowledge capture and transfer as an integral part of the process. The development of a succession candidate should allow for the conveying of knowledge critical to the role. Dial up the mentoring component of this process to be more intentional about transferring best practices and wisdom from the incumbent to the replacement.

Step four: Move to action with some quick wins

Canadian company Transition-Path, which is described in Leonard’s Critical Knowledge Transfer, could be a starting point for the huge challenge of knowledge retention. The company has developed a starting point solution for knowledge capture and transfer called a Broadscope™. It only takes an interactive webinar interview with a coach-analyst to build out a comprehensive and visual role map for any subject matter expert sitting in his or her office. Strategic priorities are flagged along with mission-critical tasks, key relationships and key areas of tacit knowledge. The Broadscope™, and these flags in particular, illustrate the key areas for knowledge transfer, which become the catalyst for knowledge-sharing meetings between the expert and supervisor, the replacement and other individuals or groups. A Broadscope focuses on two of the most successful aspects of knowledge capture and transfer: beginning the process of converting tacit to explicit knowledge and invoking the individual and group conversations required to pass on the expertise and wisdom from one person to another.

As industry weathers this latest downturn, many of us are reminded of the “Please God, let there be another oil boom” bumper sticker from the 1980s. We could use an updated version—perhaps one that reads: “Please God, let there be another oil boom. I promise not to kiss my knowledge goodbye this time.”

This article first appeared in Oilweek’s on-line magazine July 7, 2015.

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While the dramatic drop in oil prices has rocked the oil and gas industry, the ripples are being felt far beyond Calgary’s office towers. Many companies across the country expect to see lower sales, fewer machinery purchases and possibly reduced hiring because of the oil and gas downturn, according to the Bank of Canada.

In other words, no sector—and no business—is immune.

In our previous column, we looked at two key steps that companies can use to create engaged productivity with their employees. In this column, we’ll look at three additional techniques to help executives, managers and employees work together during these uncertain times.

Step 3: Pin down your priorities
Tough times can mean urgent demands and ever changing priorities, which is perhaps unavoidable. Urgent demands of new priorities from above are guaranteed to achieve something and this usually is increased distraction and anxiety, both of which reduce productivity. Finding strategies to work effectively and make good decisions when this happens is key. Where possible, managers can try to reduce urgency by managing up and asking clarifying questions of executives to ensure the consequences of urgent demands are understood and prioritized alongside other important work. If it’s not possible to reduce urgent demands, then managers can pay extra attention to how they are communicated and provide support for their implementation. Give clarity around new priorities and expectations and recognize that adding new demands usually requires the need to delay or remove something else.

When overload is high, executives and managers can create clarity by taking a disciplined approach to prioritization. Categorizing work using this simple ABC approach can be effective:

A.  An important priority and aligned with corporate goals. 
B.  Important but could be delayed.
C.  Could be postponed indefinitely or cancelled.

Think of it as a spring cleaning of projects that helps cull all but the most important initiatives. This process could also be influenced by asking employees for their ideas on what work or projects could be delayed or eliminated. This bottom-up feedback is valuable and usually accurate.


One of the simplest ways that managers and employees alike can make sure they are working on what’s most important is to start from a blank sheet every day and ask, “What’s the one thing I could do today that would make the biggest difference?” Then be disciplined about working on that, especially during your peak energy time. Productive work habits include focusing only on one task or project for one to two hours, and making sure you take a 10-minute break at least once an hour. Managers can encourage employees to figure out their peak work hours and give them the flexibility to adapt to them.

  • What can executives do? Reduce urgent demands where possible. Be clear on priorities and communicate them effectively to all levels. Understand that when priorities change quickly and urgent deadlines are in place, stress levels increase and productivity may decrease. Provide the resources and permission for employees to practice self-care to reduce stress and maintain productivity that will drive the results you want.
  • What can managers do? Manage up by requiring clarity from the executive level before implementing urgent demands. Be clear on goals, priorities and expectations of your staff. Hold frequent conversations with employees to align on priorities. Provide support and watch for signs of stress and reduced productivity.
  • What can employees do? Makes sure your priority work is clear every day. Ask yourself, “If I say ‘yes’ to this, what am I saying ‘no’ to? Figure out your peak energy times and use them for focused, uninterrupted work.

Step 4: Get better at giving (and getting) far more feedback
Engaged productivity requires a heightened focus on the manager-employee relationship, which is primarily based on effective communication and how well important conversations are handled. These are arguably the most impactful moments for any organization and can have a dramatic and compounding effect on corporate performance and bottom-line results. When priorities change rapidly, demands are increased and budgets are lowered, it is more important than ever to clarify priorities and expectations. When managers give employees feedback and do it well, it resolves feelings of uncertainty, clarifies expectations and keeps people focused on priorities. Feedback invokes important course corrections for under-performers and creates opportunities for learning and improvement. Effective feedback motivates and engages people at any level of performance. When done badly or not at all, individual and team engagement and performance can plummet.

Smiling Lady

According to a study recently published in the Harvard Business Review, the cost of rudeness, incivility and inappropriate behaviour towards other employees is high for organizations. Emotional stress reduces energy and commitment. Half of employees who experienced rude behaviour at work intentionally decreased their efforts. More than one-third deliberately decreased the quality of their work and two-thirds said their performance had declined. In times like these, we can’t afford not to correct this behaviour, but most managers shy away from these feedback conversations.

Feedback conversations, when handled well, are a huge opportunity for organizations to improve the performance of existing staff and boost the bottom line. A 2012 study by the Boston Consulting Group found that high-performing companies emphasized feedback and open discussions as well as frequent, informal performance reviews. These companies experienced revenue growth 3.5 times higher and profit margins 2.1 times higher than less capable companies. Yet many managers cannot give effective feedback or avoid it altogether. Most don’t know how to hold candid performance feedback conversations.

Sadly, this is also true for recognizing employees for good work. In his 2012 book Surviving the Talent Exodus, John Grubbs said, “Appreciation is the number one motivator above money, interesting work and promotion potential. Yet many leaders simply won’t or don’t know how to show sincere appreciation.” Recognizing employees for their contribution is the easiest form of feedback, and we don’t spend enough time focusing on people’s strengths.

Research shows that when people work with a positive mindset, engagement and performance on every level improves. A Bersin & Associates study has shown that organizations that do a good job of recognizing employees perform 14 times better than companies who don’t. Research also shows that praising people’s efforts fuels positive emotions in the giver as well as the receiver. Appreciation makes both people happier and more engaged.The good news—and the huge opportunity for all organizations—is that learning how to give effective feedback is easy.

  • What can executives do? Train managers on how to give effective feedback and hold them accountable for holding regular, ongoing feedback conversations as a critical part of their role.
  • What can managers do? Seek training in giving effective feedback and build a regular practice of it so it becomes second nature. Give people more recognition and do it regularly.
  • What can employees do? Ask for more feedback. Younger generations are already doing this as they want far more frequent feedback than boomers ever did.

Step 5: Coach to maximize the potential of your people
When times are tough, don’t cut training budgets. Increase them if you can. If this isn’t realistic, prioritize where you can spend your for the most impactful results. Providing learning opportunities has a huge positive impact on engaged productivity. The 2015 Deloitte Global Human Capital Trends Report said that companies with high performing learning environments rank at the top for employee engagement. Giving employees and managers learning opportunities is a big motivator. It shows you care about their development and will commit dollars to support it. If feedback conversations are happening, employee development opportunities naturally arise. Providing necessary or desired training can make a big difference to both commitment and performance.

A critical new component to applying any learning from training and developing your people is teaching managers how to coach them. Coaching is the glue that binds the other steps together to create engaged productivity. Coaching helps clarify the alignment of the employee’s role with the short-term and long-term vision and helps them create a concrete action plan and accountability to implement it. It also supports all aspects of self-care and can significantly reduce employee stress. Coaching helps with clarification of priorities and increases motivation and is aligned with a culture of ongoing feedback.


Coaching is an essential leadership role, according the Harvard Business Review. Forbes has said, “Organizations are adding the ability to coach and develop others to the list of skills they require in all their managers.” However, the magazine goes on to say, “In reality, few managers know how to make coaching work. Nearly half spend less than 10 per cent of their time coaching others.” Other studies outline this missed opportunity. In the Bersin & Associates 2011 High-Impact Performance Management survey, the most severe challenge reported by HR professionals was that “managers’ lack the skills to coach their employees.” One of the report’s top findings was that managers’ inability to coach is the most severe performance management challenge organizations face.

Sam Davis, vice-president of the American Management Association, says, “Every manager has a responsibility to be a coach. [They] may find themselves in coaching situations every day, whether they know it or not. The trick is to make sure they do it right—creating mutual trust to make employees comfortable sharing their goals, promoting a conversational atmosphere.” Bersin cited the benefits of coaching people and pointed toward the solution when it reported, “No matter how we looked at it, coaching correlated with better employee, talent management and business results.” Bersin cited three performance coaching behaviors that are most critical and are the most important elements to teach:

  1. listening actively;
  2. reinforcing positive behavior; and
  3. asking open-ended questions.

As with feedback, teaching managers how to coach employees is a learnable and critical skill in today’s workforce, especially considering the growing population of younger workers.

  • What can executives do? Focus management training dollars on the highest impact training such as how to coach employees.
  • What can managers do? Learn coaching and feedback skills. This is a critical skill you now need and it’s highly effective, especially in difficult times.
  • What can employees do? Take responsibility for your own learning and development. Ask for more conversations with your manager about your training and development opportunities and encourage him to coach—ask and listen—and mentor and advise you.

This article was first published in Oilweek online magazine April 27, 2015.

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If the skilled labour shortage in the oil patch isn’t enough of a leadership challenge, we’ve now been blindsided by $40 oil that no one seemed to predict. Capital spending has been rolled back and cost cutting abounds as leaders focus on revised earnings targets. Now the human cost appears as layoffs are announced. Downturns have always affected the people working in the oil and gas industry, but this one dives in on top of a growing talent crisis locally and globally. What should leaders focus on for the people side of their business in order to reduce the risks of both these issues?

Here are five workforce strategies to help you pilot your company through the turbulence.

No. 1: Clarify your double vision
Double vision means maintaining a long-term, strategic view while providing short-term clarity for the changed economic conditions. This will place the current challenges in the context of the big picture. A long-term view informs us time and again that a drop in the price of oil is part of an ongoing cycle, not a unique episode. We’ve all seen these highs and lows before. So let’s treat this as a process, not an event, by thinking and acting strategically. If you’re leading people through a crisis, the spotlight on you gets brighter as they look for reassurance and clear guidance from management. So keep a positive and future focus balanced with clear priorities for the short term.

First, reinforce your vision. If strategic thinking is big picture and long-term, does this downturn change it at all? Probably not. So let everyone know. If your purpose and vision is clear and motivating, reinforce it and share how your organization will not veer from this path no matter what obstacles you come across in the near term. This dual perspective will also show that your reaction to the new economic realities is not an uncontrollable knee jerk, but a thoughtful and strategic set of decisions that align with your picture of future achievement.

Second, reset your 2015 plans, projects, goals and priorities collaboratively with your senior leaders. This will help you make higher-quality decisions, and their involvement creates critical buy-in to communicating and implementing tough choices. Getting everyone on board is a fundamental goal of effective change management. It is critical for senior leadership to be on the same page. This consistency in the words and actions of senior leaders is important for employees to observe in order to buy into the new reality for your company.

Third, be clear and decisive with your 2015 targets. A wait-and-see approach cloaks your strategy with assumptions and uncertainty, especially if other organizations around you are acting decisively. This leads you away from clarity when you need it most. Don’t hesitate. Be as specific as possible with your decisions and what they mean to plans, projects, goals and priorities. Avoid generalizations and ambiguity. Aim for clarity with detail. And remember that deciding not to change anything is also a decision—as long as you communicate it. When times are tough, both employees and managers perform better when there is clear and specific direction.

Clarify your double vision

No. 2: Over-communicate the plan.
This leadership strategy is simple. It is well-described in Patrick Lencioni’s book, The Four Obsessions of an Extraordinary Executive. During times of change, your people crave certainty and clarity. Clarity is created by repeatedly communicating new decisions and what they mean to plans, projects, goals and priorities. This is why gaining buy-in and a cohesive approach from senior leaders is so critical.

Communicating the changes cascades down through management layers to front-line supervisors and employees and needs to be as consistent as possible. The final connection, from front-line supervisors to employees, is a critical one. Only by being decisive and clear with details, and being aligned on the message from above, will it be heard and understood on the front lines.
Communicate your long-term vision with your new short-term plan many times.

Communicate it in different ways using different media if you can. Tailor it to different generations and different layers and divisions. Underestimate your success and over perform on this strategy. Even small companies have far corners where rumours and whispers triumph over your best-laid executive plans unless you over-communicate them. When people feel clear about what is expected of them, what is going to happen and how they can contribute, they feel a sense of purpose that guides them through the changing conditions. This reassures them, increases their engagement and productivity and helps them avoid confusion, anxiety and false assumptions.

No. 3: Tune in to mood
Corporate culture and employee engagement manifest themselves in the overall mood of the people in your company. During tough times or change, emotions may shift to include fear, uncertainty and doubt. Your workforce becomes more sensitive and unsure during change. Employees also may be more inclined to check the job market to keep their options open. A recent survey showed that two-thirds of software engineers believed they could find a better job within 60 days if they tried to find one. So be clear about job security for your employees as soon as you can. If you do need to let people go, do it decisively. Do it with dignity and compassion. Then get on with your new priorities.

Clarify your double vision

Whether or not you have to let people go, it’s important to pay attention to the pulse of your organization. Employee and manager engagement and happiness drive motivation and performance—or lack thereof. If you ignore how your staff is coping, you may see departures, especially of your mission-critical people. By tuning into the mood, you can gauge the response to the new decisions and plans. Encourage your leaders and managers to spend time connecting with people. Take a coach approach to management. This means a focus on asking more than telling. It means invoking dialogue (not management monologues) and listening intently to others’ views, feelings and the frame of mind of employees. Be proactive in addressing their fears and concerns, any lack of clarity or confusion about priorities and expectations. Positive, big picture reassurance and what’s in it for them will show you care how they cope with a challenging time.

No. 4: Make sure you keep your key players
Maintain a focus on retention. Your entire workforce is more vulnerable during uncertain times, and it’s important to prevent the loss of essential people. This means mission-critical roles, experienced staff, key executives and managers, high potentials and future leaders. The current situation may actually reduce the risk of people quitting as the job market slows because hiring is stalled for many companies. Some baby boomers may delay retirement a little longer because their savings have taken another hit. However, this does not mean that the demographic shifts of the global talent crisis have vanished. Managing retention is vital to the success of your long-term strategy.

Traditional retention methods no longer seem adequate. A report by the Human Resources Institute of Alberta last year found that the most common practices for trying to reduce resignations were better onboarding (how employees are acclimated to a business and the way they gain the skills to do their jobs), flexible work arrangements, improved wages and benefits and more team building events. However, several surveys show that many executives admit that their retention plans do not impact turnover. We believe that there are four retention strategies at your fingertips—strategies that are largely overlooked but very impactful in the new world order of the talent crisis and $40 oil. See our previous column to learn what they are: oilweek.com/index.php/columnists

No. 5: Focus on succession planning and knowledge capture
The unstoppable demographic trends of the labour shortage are well underway. The latest oil price plummet and its economic consequences have our full attention and underscore the same people problems that the talent crisis already delivers.

If your workforce is changing or turning over, either intentionally (layoffs) or not (people quit for better opportunities or to retire), proactive succession planning and knowledge capture is essential risk mitigation and protects the future of your business. Surprisingly, many organizations still do little about either, and the need to put good plans in place is long overdue. For example, as your experienced managers and professionals continue to retire in greater numbers, who are you developing to replace them, and are they ready?

When you lose retiring baby boomers, employees get poached, good people move to different roles or staff is let go, you also lose a huge amount of critical business knowledge. What are you doing about this loss? How can you ensure continuity for your business?

We encourage you to start considering this question as both issues are growing into a real problem for many companies. These are two vital areas that need the full attention of senior leadership. They are key pieces to consider as you lead your organization strategically through the current oil price crash as well as the escalating skilled labour shortage.

In our next article we will explore succession planning and knowledge capture more deeply and suggest strategies to ensure the continuity of your business.

This article was first published in Oilweek online magazine January 27, 2015.

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There are 8.1 million boomers in the Canadian workforce today. They started retiring about three years ago and are exiting the workforce in vast numbers. 

But did you know that there is only half that number of Gen-Xer’s (age 35–50) to replace them?

Some companies in the Canadian oilpatch already feel the harsh effects of the demographic changes disrupting the workforce. However, those companies that are still unprepared are in for a shock as competition intensifies for scarce talent at all levels.

Increasing competition means increasing employee turnover. If you routinely manage employee turnover between 10 and 15 per cent, it’s time to prepare for the new normal of 25 to 30 per cent—and much higher for front-line workers and employees in the field. Some companies have reported employee turnover rates exceeding 50 per cent for entry-level drilling and service operations, according to the Petroleum Human Resources Council of Canada. One 2013 human resource survey confirms this problem when 70 per cent selected “retaining talent” as the top challenge. Other reports show that most executives expect employee retention challenges to increase further.

With employee turnover at these levels, the higher (and usually underestimated) cost of employee turnover isn’t the biggest problem. The issue is business continuity. It’s about losing the key people who make your company function. If you’re facing a war for talent, you had better be good at keeping the people you have, especially those critical to the success of your business. Traditional employee retention methods are no longer adequate.  

That said, there are four employee retention strategies at your fingertips—strategies that are largely overlooked but very impactful in the new world order of the skilled labor crisis.

Strategy 1: Measure what matters
One of the first steps is to measure what is most important to your business. Total employee turnover may not be the most helpful business metric. It’s essential to identify who your key people are and focus on their employee turnover rates and employee retention strategies for them. However altruistic you feel, the three most important types of employee or manager are mission-critical roles, the so-called “high potentials” (at every level, especially your future leaders) and the top performers.

Mission-critical roles are roles that your organization cannot run without or, if left unfilled, would have a significant impact on corporate performance. Don’t assume all executives are mission critical. In fact, a control panel operator could be. Job title does not identify a mission-critical role.


According to the Centre for Creative Leadership (CCL) a “high potential” is an employee who has been assessed as having the ability, aspiration, organizational commitment and motivation to succeed in more senior roles throughout the organization. But not all companies identify these key individuals. A recent survey shows that 44 per cent of companies don’t have a formal process for identifying and developing high potentials.

Many companies know who their top performers are through performance management processes. In an article on Monster.ca, John Sullivan suggests that top performers contribute 10 times more to your organization than average performers—unless the company is Microsoft, which claims the number to be closer to 100 times. Sullivan also notes that top companies tend to keep top-performer turnover below five per cent.

But research shows that only 15 per cent of top-performing employees are high potentials. It’s important to know the difference. Many companies are guilty of promoting high-performing technical people into management positions without assessing their leadership potential or giving them the training they need.

By creating processes to assess, identify and then develop these three types of key people, you will keep them longer. The CCL found that 95 per cent of high potentials said they were overwhelmingly committed to their organizations and 97 per cent were motivated by their jobs.

Strategy 2: Commit to the development of key people
Identifying and developing mission-critical, high-potential and top-performing individuals is a strategic investment in the future of your company. To do this well, you need to commit the budget. It may cost you more than you are currently spending, but this cost will be far less than if you do nothing to protect them. A 2013 report on retention states, “Companies in the current economic climate ignore rising turnover trends at their peril. Improving employee retention can save your organization millions of dollars.”

A report by the Human Resources Institute of Alberta earlier this year found that the most common practices for trying to reduce resignations were better onboarding, flexible work arrangements, improved wages and benefits and more teambuilding events. However, several surveys show that many executives admit that their employee retention plans do not impact turnover.

Research shows that developing skills with employee training, mentoring and coaching increases motivation and commitment far more than many other employee retention techniques. As Josh Bersin, a talent management expert, points out in an article this year, “I have always felt that one of the biggest ‘undiscovered’ ROI’s [return on investment] of training is retention.”

Strategy 3: Cultivate a coach approach
“Leader as coach” is now a progressive and preferred leadership skill. Its effectiveness has been validated by many organizations and reports, including a Forbes article that states, “Business coaching has gone from fad to fundamental. Leaders and organizations have come to understand how valuable it can be.” Forbes also points out, “But in reality, few managers know how to make coaching work. Nearly half spend less than 10 per cent of their time coaching others. With such limited time devoted to coaching, organizations need to be sure their managers know how to do it right.”

Clarify your double vision

How to take a coaching approach as a manager is still widely misunderstood. Many confuse coaching with mentoring. Both are valuable. Here is a simple contrast between the two. Mentoring is offering advice and guidance from your experience. A coach approach is inquiry-based and therefore focused on asking questions and listening, rather than telling.

Often the management mindset of knowing and telling is far less effective for the employee than asking questions and listening. This is especially true with younger generations. Asking questions rather than offering solutions is the most fundamental skill of a coach approach and is utterly learnable. The shift for both manager and employee can be dramatic. The impact on engagement and motivation can be remarkable.

A Bersin & Associates study finds that three coaching behaviours are more critical than the rest and are the most important performance coaching elements to teach:

  1. Listening actively
  2. Reinforcing positive behaviour
  3. Asking open-ended questions

Simply asking others for their input more often has huge value. Shifting to a culture of coaching employees will increase engagement, motivation and staying power.

Strategy 4: Create a culture of ongoing feedback
The most influential component of the manager-employee relationship is the feedback conversation. Regular feedback conversations lie at the heart of engaging, motivating, developing and, most importantly, retaining your people. Yet these are so often completely absent or are failures despite best intentions. A 2014 Harvard Business Review article cited a survey that asked senior HR executives about their biggest performance management challenge. Sixty-three per cent cite managers’ inability or unwillingness to have difficult feedback discussions.

Almost all managers know that they should be providing their employees with feedback whether it is corrective, developmental or recognition for good work. Yet there seem to be a lack of skills and confidence to do it well. Managers report that they sugarcoat or stumble over their words when trying to be candid. They also fear causing uncomfortable emotional reactions. Many employees receive no feedback at all—not even a performance appraisal. The paradox of this leadership gap is that most employees, especially Gen X and Millennials, want more feedback. Preferably lots of it, regularly.

This absence of regular feedback occurs despite the fact that the numerous and compelling benefits of effective feedback are intrinsically understood by most managers. Studies show employee engagement increases when any feedback is provided. Just think what would happen if really effective feedback was offered regularly. Not only would performance improve, but so would retention as competition for good people becomes fierce.

In his 2012 book Surviving the Talent Exodus, John Grubbs says, “Leaders must be taught to give, and then held accountable for, sincere feedback. There are clear skills that anyone can learn to utilize. A dangerous assumption is that we already know how to deliver proper feedback.” The skills to hold highly effective feedback conversations can be taught and learned easily. Despite the historical poor performance in this management skill it’s not too late to radically improve it.

Strategies three and four focus on improving specific people management skills. Unfortunately there is still plenty of truth in the adage that people join companies but then quit their manager. Nearly 90 per cent of employers believe that their employees quit because of money. In reality, people leave for other reasons.

In his book The 7 Hidden Reasons Employees Leave, Leigh Branham identifies seven primary reasons that employees quit. Shockingly, five of these point to management shortcomings. It makes sense that helping your managers (especially front-line supervisors) improve these two skills can have a significant positive impact on turnover and the retention of the three types of key people. They are the most impactful people management skills for today’s evolving workforce.

These retention strategies—to identify and develop your business critical people and to equip your managers with the skills to use a coach approach and give regular feedback—can change the culture and performance of your entire organization. This shift will reduce total turnover and increase the retention of your most important people at such a critical time.

This article first appeared in Oilweek online December 22, 2014. 

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The Canadian energy sector is facing the largest talent shortage in history, yet many organizations are either unaware of it, ill prepared, unsure how to tackle it or are too busy dealing with other issues. Why? There are some valid reasons. But there is also complacency and some traditional thinking that needs a dramatically different view. Like it or not, the talent crisis will soon start trumping every other business issue. These stakes are high and companies may soon start to flounder unless they face reality and get proactive. And it’s not just an HR issue. It’s very much a strategic issue and needs the full attention of the executive suite.

Technically speaking, the talent crisis/global skilled labour shortage is the growing gap between the diminishing supply of available, qualified people and the increasing demand of employers trying to grow their businesses. This crisis has been created by the perfect storm of demographic trends including baby boomers beginning to retire in vast numbers; far fewer Gen-X workers to replace them; rapid technological change that demands workers with new skills; an increasing global demand for skilled labour in developing countries; and generational differences in the work place.

Lots of research shows why these people trends are now being called a crisis. Data from the Pew Research Center revealed that 10,000 baby boomers will reach age 65 every day during the next two decades. And according to Statistics Canada, the Canadian workforce will decline by more than one million people between 2011 and 2021!

Economists and business advisor’s alike have been sounding early warning alarms for years but senior leaders have been slow to react. In 2011 Ernst & Young’s Oil and Gas team surveyed and invited HR leaders and executives from several oil and gas companies in Calgary to discuss HR challenges. Among the many issues these executives faced, they agreed that the talent issue was the most pressing and described it as “a looming demographic and labour market crisis in the oil and gas sector that has the potential to shake the very foundations of the industry.” They went on to say that “the nature of the problem we are seeing in the last one or two years is deeper and more systemic than anything the industry has grappled with before.” That was three years ago—the same year boomers started turning 65.

How will the crisis affect the Patch?

According to Cambridge Energy Research Associates (IHS CERA), more than half of all oilfield professionals will reach retirement age in the next eight years. The Petroleum Human Resources Council of Canada says the oil and gas industry alone expects to lose as many as 44,000 workers through age-related attrition by 2020. According to a 2012 report on Succession Planning by the Alberta Government, 190,000 Alberta workers will retire by 2022. The Alberta Occupational Demand and Supply Outlook predicts a shortage of 96,000 workers by 2023.

A 2012 Odgers Berndston report titled Canadian C-Suite at a Crossroads reported some survey results that illustrated a surprising lack of attention to these demographic changes. They showed that despite the fact that over 60 per cent of senior executives are between the ages of 50 and 59, and despite the fact that nearly half of all Canadian organizations anticipated losing one in five of their executives by 2016, nearly half of businesses lack a succession strategy. And worryingly, 90 per cent believed that the next generation of leaders was not ready to take over.

The data showing skilled labour shortages and loss of leadership is only one side the story. The other side is about growth in the energy sector and the pent up demand for huge numbers of workers for oilsands growth and for large delayed pipeline and LNG projects.

For example, a forecast by Calgary Economic Development showed that demand for geoscientists in Calgary will increase 34 per cent from 2010 to 2020 but a separate report predicts that nearly 30 per cent of geoscientists and 25 per cent of engineers will retire. These are seismic shifts for our industry. And those are just two professions.

Lack of preparation
In his 2012 book, Surviving the Talent Exodus, John Grubbs took a blunt view on companies’ lack of preparation to the talent crisis when he wrote: “How can an intelligent and capable CEO be so clueless? How can a company be so blind to pending challenges?

No right-minded, competent executive will ignore these trends if they truly understand the pending impact on their bottom line. Yet over and over, brilliant leaders inform me that they haven’t thought about the impact generational trends will have on their company.” And very recently the Boston Consulting Group described the crisis in human capital as “scarcely noted, let alone managed.”

We don’t think energy executives have been blind to the talent crisis, but perhaps they’ve been blinkered while focusing on other economic, market and operational challenges – since the global recession, recovery has been slow. As a result the requirement for managers, professionals and skilled labour is not rapidly increasing. Yet.

Another reason for ignoring the trends is that recent layoffs in the oil patch have masked the onset of the skilled labour shortage and added people to the available labour pool. Add to all this the delay of several large pipeline projects, which means a postponed demand for a huge volume of skilled workers.

Lack of Preparation

But a more grave danger might be from the complacency due to some traditional mindsets about recruiting in the oil industry and Calgary in particular. These long standing views have discounted the growing storm of the talent crisis. As you know, the energy sector has traditionally recruited from its competitors with ease, especially in Calgary with its concentration of exploration and service company offices in the downtown core that makes it easy for top talent to move to another company with little or no personal disruption. If businesses assume that they will be able to continue poaching talent from other companies they are snoozing towards a rude awakening. As Ernst & Young pointed out: “While all industry sectors will continue to grapple with these tectonic shifts, Calgary’s oil and gas industry is likely to feel them most deeply.”

The major problem is that hiring from another company does not increase the total pool of talent that has started to shrink. So this reliable tradition has now become a zero sum game where nobody wins.

And that’s not all. If you’ve been recruiting people from other countries, guess what? The skilled labour shortage is being felt worldwide, so those countries will soon have shortages too. If you plan to increase compensation packages to hire good people be prepared that your competitors will do the same. Many of these new people problems can not be solved with old solutions.

What if nothing changes?

Several serious and interrelated consequences will develop if nothing changes, including:

  • As executives retire, companies will lose their leadership, business experience and acumen, strategic thinking and so many other senior level qualities
  • As leaders, managers, professionals and skilled trades people retire they will take vast amounts of critical knowledge with them
  • Good people will become much harder (and sometimes impossible) to find, from experienced managers to skilled trades
  • Competition will intensify for increasingly scarce talent at all levels of your company so it will take much longer and cost far more to hire new or find a replacement. This means down time, lost productivity or project deadlines being missed
  • Salaries and hourly rates will increase even further above the national average 
  • With increasing competition, turnover will escalate as will the associated (and usually underestimated) turnover costs
  • As the war for talent escalates, jobs will be filled with well intentioned people but with inadequate skills or experience to perform their role
  • Less experienced managers and leaders (especially when people skills are lacking) will create declining employee engagement, performance and productivity
  • Left unchecked, the talent crisis will trump every operational, financial, economic and market challenge. Profits will decline if historic solutions are thrown at the problems rather than planning for more systemic business solutions. That’s why it’s no longer just an issue for HR. The talent crisis needs the attention of the C-Suite because it’s business-critical.

Office SetUp

Despite the undeniable trends and a lack of attention to the talent crisis, several companies and oil and gas industry organizations have been working on creative solutions. These include hiring from and training underrepresented groups such as aboriginal Canadians and trying to attract and train what are known as mid-career transitioners from other industries across Canada. Other helpful approaches are partnering with universities, partial retirement for boomers, more flexible and engaging work environments, and innovative ways to increase productivity.

We believe that some of the most effective solutions are close to home and focus on significantly improving efforts to retain, train and develop your existing staff. If you’re facing a war for talent, you better be good at keeping the people you have, especially those roles in highest demand, and including your managers, mission critical employees, high potentials and your future leaders.

The talent crisis will affect different companies in different ways. It has complex consequences.

If you’re not yet sure how to tackle it, here are six tips for successfully preparing your business:

  1. Get real about your risk. Assess your current and five-year weaknesses and gaps to establish your starting priorities for better workforce planning.
  2. Increase your focus on retention, especially of top talent, managers and future leaders
  3. Get ahead of succession and start to plan deep into your organization
  4. Accelerate the development future leaders
  5. Challenge assumptions and check your existing practices. Get more innovative and flexible (Ask yourself: How can you attract younger generations into the energy industry despite remote offices, working in the field and a perceived lack of social/environmental conscience?)
  6. Optimize the generational differences in your workforce, especially by accepting and understanding huge potential of Millennials (current age 14 to 33)

This article first appeared in Oilweek online October 9, 2014.

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