Exceptional sports performance inspires excellent team delivery at Nexen

Over the past few years, Nexen’s management have set upon a journey to evolve the company’s performance to become a truly ‘Best-In-Class’ operator.

To inject creativity and eradicate entrenched ways of working, Nexen Petroleum UK’s leadership team examined the outstanding sporting excellence of Olympic athletes for inspiration in motivating their entire workforce and the resulting new practices have improved productivity offshore from five and a half hours to over eight hours per shift.

Nexen’s leadership understood that workforce collaboration and two-way communication was crucial in achieving cultural transformation – to create new experiences, beliefs and behaviours to deliver top business results and establish a common language which would drive accountability both individually and collectively across the business.

To help achieve ‘efficiency of execution’ in every aspect of activity, both on and offshore, Nexen invited Olympic rower, Cath Bishop, to its leaders’ forum in 2014 to share her insights into how businesses can develop practical strategies to unlock the full potential of their teams.

Cath outlined the philosophy behind ‘marginal gains’ theory which came to public attention when Sir Dave Brailsford became the British Olympic Cycling Team’s performance director.

The doctrine is about targeting opportunities to make small incremental efficiency improvements in any process which, when added together, deliver significant improvements.

As a result, the company’s new mindset and behaviours, encompassed in a business model known as ‘The Steps to Accountability’, include a commitment to effective planning and each person holding themselves and others to account for achieving superior results. Along with a suite of tools to equip employees in implementing the culture change and to naturally engrain the new ways of working into everyday tasks, this is now making a difference to the company’s success as the largest oil producer on the UKCS.

Ray Riddoch, Nexen’s managing director UK and SVP Europe, explains: “Efficiency of execution is the core value, along with excellence in HSE performance, which we encourage throughout every department in the organisation, no matter how big or small the task. Our highly effective mechanism ensures all good ideas are gathered, evaluated and disseminated across the company. It is important to ensure collaboration at all levels and share how someone’s input has contributed to our aim of reducing the lifting cost per barrel.”

Nexen used this cultural shift and the new tools to more efficiently provide safety briefings to the 1,000 or so new workers or ‘green hats’ who descend on Nexen’s assets each year. In practice, if ten scaffolders are required for a job, contractors provide five ‘seasoned and experienced’ offshore workers together with five staff new to the platform, creating a ‘buddy system’ which ensures rapid and effective dissemination of key safety procedures and allows Nexen to increase productive time ‘per green hat’.

Another example of the cultural shift and commitment to effective planning is the approach now being taken to well intervention operations. Nexen deploys a tool in the planning stage to measure the condition of internal components within oil wells which, together with predictive technology, allows highly accurate ‘virtual’ well interventions to be modelled. The process has transformed the ability of engineers to visualise the wellbore, select the appropriate tools before the intervention takes place and as a result, reduce the time required to return the well to production.