Rebuilding Confidence in BP North America Gas by “Playing to Win”

Tim Harrington
Tim Harrington,
President, North America Gas,

BP’s North America Gas (NA Gas) business operates across a vast U.S. geography, from the onshore Gulf Coast north through the Rocky Mountains.

We have been through a lot of change over the last decade. In 2008, U.S. natural gas prices were at an all-time high at around $14 per mmbtu (millions of British thermal units). The very next year, prices fell below $3 – down nearly 80%. And we lost the top spot among gas producers in the U.S. Lower 48 states, following consolidations by competitors and portfolio decisions we made.

In late 2010, BP undertook a major re-structuring of its Upstream business. Our regionally based asset model was transformed into a function-driven global model. This meant businesses like ours lost some of their individual identity in service of operating as a more global company.

While we knew the changes being undertaken were the right thing to do for our business, we also understood that people are inherently resistant to change and these changes were having a significant impact on our teams. Plus, we had people working across eight states, making communication across our geography an added challenge at times.

With so much change happening around them, people needed help connecting the dots on a larger strategic plan. Employee confidence was affected. Any changes we made to our portfolio were deeply scrutinized, causing chatter and more assumptions to build. We knew we needed to do something, but we were unsure of how to address things in a way that would best help employees to regain confidence.

Playing to Win

Outward confidence comes from within. We needed to help our people get onboard with the organizational changes and behind our brand. It was time to take action and create the connections that would allow us to nurture and rebuild organizational relationships. But we had to start small. If we didn’t create camaraderie and build a cohesive bond around our purpose, we would not be successful.

Our initial focus was to enroll the leaders of the organization to “get people on the bus,” then engage them in re-shaping the business. To reinforce the need for leaders to step up, we invited Ben Zander, conductor of the Boston Philharmonic, to speak on “The Art of Possibility.” He encouraged our leaders to change their perspective and to take action.

We then embarked on a two-year journey with Root Inc. to put the spring back in everyone’s step. The decision to work with Root Inc. was based on our need to engage our people with information they could process, connect to, and translate into their roles and responsibilities. We knew we needed a strong visual component to elicit an emotional reaction and bolster the collective confidence. Together, we created “Playing to Win” – a strategy to engage our people and work toward a better future. This included a Watercooler® sketch that showed employees that leadership truly grasped the issues we all faced and were on top of fixing them.

This sketch became the centerpiece of our overall Strategic Learning Map® module that would help us move forward. In that map, we crafted and committed to a vision, priorities, and a purpose.

Our Vision: Be the most respected and admired oil and gas company in the Lower 48.

Our Priorities:

  • Safety, compliance, and reliability
  • Engage our people
  • Restore our performance

Our Purpose: Create a competitive U.S. onshore business that expands long-term value for the Group and provides a platform for growth.

As part of our “Playing to Win” program, Root collaborated with the top leaders of our business to facilitate an event with the extended leadership team to identify the top 10 things that would move the dial for us, as well as key leadership behaviors that would sustain them. It was a powerful and engaging session that helped us address real-life issues. It showed that this process really worked and encouraged the broader leadership to step up their game and take a more active role.

The comprehensive program included elements that would touch every person in the organization and help them to understand, accept, and evolve with the changes we faced. In addition to the Watercooler sketch and Learning Map module, the program included:

Strategy Dialogue and Engagement Session Series: These half-day gatherings were designed to help every member of the NA Gas team have a better understanding of the Region’s strategy and the foundation it serves in how we prioritize and make key business decisions. Since the initial kick-off in early 2012, more than 2,000 employees have participated in sessions hosted in Houston and at all of our field locations. Through this concerted effort, just about every employee in NA Gas has directly participated in one of these strategy engagement sessions. In addition to discussing business context, the sessions gave employees the opportunity to review the details of the strategy and why it continues to be sound in the current competitive environment. The feedback we have received from participants confirms that most found the discussions insightful and very valuable.

Web Portal: To keep our strategy at the forefront, a strategy section was developed on the NA Gas intranet portal to make sure there is ongoing access to this information. There is also an online FAQ with questions that many employees asked about the business and our strategy, with responses provided by leadership across our region.

Digital Learning Tool: We also launched a new online tool linked to our virtual training program. Over the past few months, colleagues in NA Gas Human Resources and leadership have been working with Root to convert our Strategic Learning Map module into a digital learning experience. Online modules have been created and are being used for new hires and transfers into our organization. It is also available as a refresher for any of our employees.

Moving the NA Gas Needle

Through these engagement activities, we found that our people were aware of the issues, but not necessarily how they related specifically to us. The visuals and subsequent discussions helped them to “connect the dots” at all levels. It allowed them to break down the tenets of our strategy. Everyone realized it wasn’t as much about agreeing with the strategy, but rather understanding it. Today, confidence is back, which is exactly what we needed and wanted.

On a continuous basis, we make it a priority to maintain an open dialogue about our strategy and the priorities of the business to ensure employees are clear on what they should be working on. We also conduct an annual Pulse survey asking employees to comment on numerous dimensions: how we communicate, how they feel about leaders and about the company. Last year, the NA Gas engagement metric went up six points – which is more than statistically significant. A six-point improvement in a year where we had a lot of challenges made all of us proud and validated the engagement work over the last 18 months.

Root gave us great tools for engaging employees in the conversation about our strategy and encouraging collaboration. Our employees report they feel more engaged than they did before we embarked on this journey. We are operating as a more functional, in-tune unit, which makes facing challenges as well as change much easier to manage. Most importantly, bottom line performance in 2013 is shaping up to be the best performance vs. plan delivery for NA Gas in over a decade – with safety and business metrics demonstrating significant improvements across all dimensions.

The lessons we have learned about ourselves, our industry, and how to succeed are immeasurable, and there’s no question we are PLAYING TO WIN.