I remember discussing continuous improvement with a Frac crew a few years ago. When I started the discussion I was met with two distinct responses. The first was "I don't know how this will help, this is the oil patch s**t happens!" The second was "I don't know if this will work, our bosses have never given us much of a say on things." The first response was really a reflection of the lack of understanding and training with regard to how much things could be improved. The second response was an expression of the idea that they would like to have input but had never had the chance to provide it before and they were doubtful that was about to change.
This discussion is one that I have had many times, across many industries. This crew was not unique in terms of the discussion we were having. They had seen programs come and go and as with most staff in organizations they were looking to take their cue from their leaders. If they saw leadership embrace this then they were willing to at least try. The way I have seen this translate time and time again is the front line operations take their cues from their supervisors and the operations supervisors take their cue from area management and area management take their cue from corporate.
Here is where the challenge is most immediate. Messaging from corporate leadership has to be simple, focused and consistent. The more detailed or process intensive things are at the top the more likely that adoption will be limited. Think of it this way; with a new program every new step or process introduced from upper leadership is one more potential speed-bump to implementation. The messaging should be short and ought to be presented in the form of a question or two at each and every management and operations meeting. Are we doing .....? How do we know?
Your leaders from corporate right down to operations need to be on the same page with regard to approach so that as continuous improvement starts to percolate they will recognize it and encourage it. That is to say that everyone in the organization needs to be on board and be visibly not only showing support but demonstrating a level of understanding. Remember that while the rubber meets the pavement in operations everyone is taking cues from up the line. Because continuous improvement can and ought to be applied throughout a company every leader should be trained and conversant with how to apply it.
How important is this? Lets return to my Frac crew from the start of this discussion. When I started with them they were achieving in the low 50% range for efficiency. (As measured by percentage of time pumping while in control of the well.) To be clear this was not low and by all accounts was the industry norm. By training front line leaders and crews in how to set their own metrics and establish their own opportunities lists and follow up on them they brought their efficiency into the high 80% range in under a year! Not only that but they started to have months where they would run weeks in a row with 100% efficiency and no down time. In its early stages this is a fragile thing and it does not take much to knock the wheels off it. If leadership up the line is not acknowledging and driving this kind of performance it won't take. The fastest killer of continuous improvement is to ignore the improvements.
I witness phenomenal sensitivity to the feedback or lack of feedback from leadership and a good word rightly used goes a long way in reinforcing a continuous improvement culture. That's why an effective and simple training program for leadership at all levels is vital to ensuring success for your continuous improvement implementation. Your leaders need to be equipped to understand and recognize the culture you are looking to implement and be able, as a team, to drive increased performance. As the saying goes; "Until you are all singing from the same song book, you are just making noise not music!"