Subscribe
What Makes ConocoPhillips’ Safety Program Go
Safety

What Makes ConocoPhillips’ Safety Program Go

By | October 27, 2020

Mark Hutcherson, Conoco’s director of operations excellence, talks about the path to developing a Digital Transformation strategy and psychological safety among other topics.

James Tehrani:

Welcome to the Sphera Now podcast. I’m James Tehrani, Sparks editor in chief. Today on the program we have a very special guest. His name is Mark Hutcherson and he is ConocoPhillips director of operations excellence. Thank you so much for joining me today, Mark.

Mark Hutcherson:

Hi, James. It’s great to be here with you.

James Tehrani:

I really appreciate the time. So can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your background and your role at ConocoPhillips?

Mark Hutcherson:

Yeah. Sure. So as you mentioned, I’m currently director of our operations excellence program here at ConocoPhillips. In general, I guess I’ve been in the industry for almost 20 years now. So I’m originally from Kansas. So growing up there, even though there are oil and gas wells, I have very little Oil & Gas background I guess until I started working out of college. So in the past 20 years, I’ve worked through lots of different roles. So mostly engineering from facilities to reservoir to mostly production engineering and completions. I transitioned into operations excellence here for the last few years, and I’ve really grown a passion for really digging into our operations and trying to solve all of the unique challenges that come at us continuously.

Mark Hutcherson:

So that’s what I do in my current role and so, aside from traditional ops excellence, I really also have picked up a lot of I guess innovation and digital technology roles and stewardship, trying to figure out how we apply that in our global operations.

James Tehrani:

How does ConocoPhillips define Operational Excellence? I know that’s something that when you go organization to organization people have different opinions on that. So how does ConocoPhillips define it?

Mark Hutcherson:

Yeah, well, so we still hold very strongly to our traditional definitions that I think a lot of folks in Oil & Gas are familiar with. So promoting that excellence in those operation and functions like maintenance reliability, planning, scheduling, asset integrity, process safety and leadership, HSE. So really that’s our foundation. We’re looking at driving best practices, looking to just make sure that we have the continuous improvement going on across our company. So that’s really our foundation. And I think it’s really become an embedded culture just as… So ops excellence in our company is just as embedded in our culture as our HSE. Everybody kind of lives and breathes it in our operations.

James Tehrani:

That’s interesting. So you talk about the continuing excellence. Does that start from the top? I mean is that the best way for an organization to really focus on safety?

Mark Hutcherson:

On the safety side, yeah, it really does. I mean so obviously everybody has a personal responsibility to look out for themselves and for their co-workers and their friends and family but to really get to that next level and to excel I think it’s extremely important. In fact, it’s imperative to have the leadership, the folks further on the top always sending that message, truly believing in it and always emphasizing that it is our top priority.

 

building-a-resilient-safety-strategy
E-bookBuilding a Resilient Safety Strategy
As the pace of change accelerates, infrequent, incomplete inspections and outdated, siloed data will simply not be enough.

 

James Tehrani:

And how do you get that kind of buy-in from leadership for your Digital Transformation type programs?

Mark Hutcherson:

So for Digital Transformation, I don’t think it’s been a tough sell at all. In fact, I think a lot of the drive that we’ve seen towards applying Digital Transformation to Operational Excellence in our company, it’s really manifested itself from direction from our senior leaders. I mean I’m thinking quite a few years ago now we were starting to get really big into data analytics and so that’s just kind of a piece of digital technology.

Mark Hutcherson:

I can remember back to those times quite a few years back the strong messaging that was coming and the support that was coming from our senior leaders, and I think that continuous drive and that push eventually trickled down to everyone in our organization to where now I think, whereas there might’ve been quite a few skeptics in the past, I think everybody by and large kind of believes in the power of data analytics when it’s properly applied and when there’s value coming out of it.

James Tehrani:

So it plays a key role in your safety culture then.

Mark Hutcherson:

Yeah, I think it’s synonymous. I think when we talk about just culture and behaviors in general, so whether it’s our Operational Excellence, whether it’s our digital culture, whether it’s our health environment safety, I think that strong and consistent messaging from the top and from our leaders is really what has caused our company or helped our workforce to achieve, I guess, that next level.

James Tehrani:

Definitely. OK. So I was looking over one of your presentations, I believe it was called ‘Operational Excellence for Oil & Gas.’ And you talk about the connected worker. Can you tell me a little bit about what that means?

Mark Hutcherson:

So I think depending on the industry, connected worker can have some different meanings. So in my mind it comes in many forms, but I think the way we think of it here is it’s about connecting our data, connecting our software and systems and it’s connecting our workflows and our work processes, and it’s really focused on our field operations staff. So not only the frontline workers and making their daily duties become more efficient, how are they going after the highest value? How are they making their day more productive? It’s bigger than that for us is that it’s also about this communication paths and workflows and priorities that are better aligned with the field support in the back office as well. Whether it’s the production, accountant, planner, schedulers, inventory managers, whomever, it’s kind of basically pulling together that workday, pulling together that field operations so all of that moves more seamlessly.

James Tehrani:

Interesting. OK. So let’s talk about some of the hurdles companies need to overcome to implement a Digital Transformation plan and why, or when I guess I should say, did ConocoPhillips decide to go down that path?

Mark Hutcherson:

When? That’s a tough one because I can’t recall a day or a quarter or a point in time when we said, OK, this is it. We’re starting our transformation. I think it rarely happens like that. I think a lot of times it typically starts out with just some little initiatives here or there or what have you. I know that when it did finally start to take off in our company as far as digital transformation, and I guess those specific words are similar to that. It’s probably a couple of years old and the reason why I remember that is because that’s when I remember really that’s where when the messaging from the leadership became very apparent, whether it was in a town hall, whether it was communication, just internal communications being sent out on our company intranet or elsewhere, really started seeing that very visible across the company a couple of years back. Does that answer the question? I think there might’ve been another question in there that I maybe didn’t get to.

James Tehrani:

What are some of the hurdles companies have to face to implement a Digital Transformation strategy?

Mark Hutcherson:

Yeah, I think it’s, I think one of the obvious ones is around culture and behaviors. So yeah, and I’ve been hammering on that. Leadership really helps to drive some of that change but it’s a structured approach also to organizational change management and when we are going through significant transitions, so whether it’s direct application of a technology or whether it’s something simpler as in, or seemingly more simple as in changing just our daily work processes or workflows. Having that change management kind of thought through and understanding how you get buy-in, how do you do training, how you roll it out, all that. That approach I think is really important.

James Tehrani:

Definitely. And can you talk a little bit about how it helps with breaking down silos? Because I think that’s a pain point for a lot of organizations.

Mark Hutcherson:

As far as breaking down silos, I think that’s one that I think we struggled with too because it’s really, the opposite end of that spectrum I guess is integrating everybody and everybody’s got their fingers in just about every piece of the pie. Right? And you can go too far that direction too. So I think it’s just … It’s a matter of setting your organization up to where you have those open communication pathways, setting yourself up with that culture and the behaviors of it doesn’t have to be invented here.

Mark Hutcherson:

I’ve heard the term used steal shamelessly and steal is a strong word but it makes a lot of sense. It’s why… There’s lots of jargon for that, reinventing the wheel and stuff and that’s the tendency a lot of folks have because if you invent something yourself, you do something yourself, you’ve got a lot of pride that goes with that. It’s changing the culture and the attitudes towards there’s nothing wrong with someone else trying something that works and you just readily adopt it as quick as you can. I think there needs to be just as much emphasis placed on that and reward placed on that as coming up with something on your own.

James Tehrani:

I think that’s really neat. I’ve never heard that, steal shamelessly used in this context. And I think it’s actually perfect because if things are working, why do you have to reinvent the wheel? It makes perfect sense to me.

Mark Hutcherson:

And it really helps, when you’re trying to get a lot of alignment across a global organization like ours, there’s lots of times where trying to standardize and do things in a similar fashion make sense. So whether it’s being able to try things out and then scale quickly, whether it’s being able to compare certain KPIs or metrics to not necessarily beat an organization down but just learn from it. I think that’s important.

James Tehrani:

I’m guessing there’s probably some cultural aspects to this in terms of a global organization like yours and people in, say, Europe or the middle East have different ideas about things as well just because of the culture that they’re in.

Mark Hutcherson:

And that’s where I think another thing in our company is there is a significant efforts in, along with communication, just around psychological safety, empathizing, understanding other cultures, understanding different perspectives and giving value to that. That all plays a big part of it too. But that folds into that overall culture and behaviors that you see in your organization.

James Tehrani:

I’ve never heard that term, psychological safety. What do you mean by that?

Mark Hutcherson:

So psychological safety, it’s really just … I guess to say it in as simple terms as I can think of it, it’s when you get a group of folks together in a room, for example, not feeling like you have to hold back, not feeling like because so-and-so is there with you that you shouldn’t say something, even though it would be better for everybody if you did bring it out into the open. It’s kind of making sure that folks feel like they can be transparent and open in conversations. And I think by being able to speak freely and feeling safe if you will, obviously it’s going to add a lot to the productivity in the overall group because you can get past a lot of the politics. You get past a lot of those hurdles that you would have otherwise,

James Tehrani:

I kind of imagine an analogy of the one juror in the trial who thinks the person’s innocent and everybody else is saying that he’s guilty and we should get out of here. But being able to be that one person to give your view and really talk it through for the betterment of the organization, it really makes sense. That’s really interesting.

Mark Hutcherson:

It’s being able to hold to your beliefs because you want opposing views. You don’t want everybody in the room just shaking their head to you because you’re seen as the senior leader, for example, right? I want to set up the culture to where folks can feel OK doing that.

James Tehrani:

It’s that check the box because I want to make my manager happy but if something’s not safe, it’s not safe.

Mark Hutcherson:

Right.

James Tehrani:

So I saw that you were recently quoted in Business and Industry Connection magazine, and you have a quote in there that I found interesting. You said, ‘In operations, technology alone won’t differentiate us. Technology solutions are out there for everyone to use in the work process and they’re plentiful. You’ve got to focus on those more structured behaviors of work processes. That’s the hard stuff and that’s the secret sauce.’ So can you tell me a little bit more about that secret sauce?

Mark Hutcherson:

I think it’s from learnings of folks want to gravitate toward the really cool, sexy, bright, shiny object. Right? And so when you see these new technologies that are coming out there, everybody jumps at, OK, let’s try this out or let’s deploy this without maybe stepping back first to think about what are our problems, what are our goals, what are we trying to accomplish, what’s the value proposition and then trying to link that up with technology solutions.

Mark Hutcherson:

A lot of times we kind of want to shortcut and maybe we do have some obvious problems out there and we think that we can just hit it with a technology hammer and all will be good, but a lot of times it’s really… You have to remember that it’s the technology that’s the enabler and if things don’t fundamentally change in the way you’re going about your daily activities, the way your workflows are set up, your work processes so it’s either more efficient or you’re more productive or what have you, you’re really just implementing technology for the sake of doing so. Right? And you might get a little bit of value from it but you’re really not going to get anything truly differentiating, I guess, coming from it.

James Tehrani:

I’m going to have to go on Amazon Prime and see if I can get a technology hammer. That sounds like a cool tool. So what does the future hold in terms of Digital Transformation at ConocoPhillips? Can you talk to me a little bit about the path forward?

Mark Hutcherson:

So I think, one, one that we got to look at closer, continued to work, is just the transition of our workforce. There’s a lot of different skill sets that I think are going to come about, a lot of them that maybe we don’t even fully understand today. And so I think the competency management and training and skills now that’s going to be upscaling is going to be key. Our foundational principles and ops excellence and safety are still going to exist. So I talk a lot about the behaviors and the culture. That will continue to evolve into the future and our technology will continue to evolve and to make us more safe or more efficient at what we do, give us more job satisfaction. What have you.

Mark Hutcherson:

But we’re going to continue to work as safely as we can. We’re going to continue to hold to our values on environmental stewardship. We’re going to try to drive the most value out of our daily decisions and so we just, I guess, got to wait and see, stick to our fundamental foundational principles in doing what we do to operate and be a leader in this industry and then we just got to be able to be willing to make adjustments along the way and evolve with the technology.

James Tehrani:

Great. And I guess while I have you on the podcast, I guess I should ask, so how is the COVID-19 situation affected you and ConocoPhillips?

Mark Hutcherson:

Well, it’s obviously touched us in many ways. We, just like most folks did, most other organizations and companies, went through a pretty long period of working out of our houses. And now in parts of our company, we’re starting to return back to the office in a very safe fashion. Obviously we’ve had to make significant adjustments to many aspects of our daily business. But so far we’ve found that we can do that safely. But that’s very location specific and we got to be willing to adjust because of course different regions are going to go up and down I’m sure. This isn’t going to be over next month. We’re going to have to ride this out for a while.

Mark Hutcherson:

One thing that I think has helped us to improve significantly is that collaboration across utilizing technology, right? Utilizing those different communication paths that we’ve always been told to utilize as best we can. Just like we’re doing today through audio. Yeah, it would be a lot nicer if I could sit across from you in the room but it’s not necessary to achieve a lot of the same goals. And I think we’ve all found that out as well. That being said, there always is going to be value to that personal touch and to the handshake and to having those face-to-face meetings. So I think it’s not just me, I think we all look forward to getting back to that someday.

 

Latest Insights from Sphera
The Best of Spark Delivered to Your Inbox
Sphera
Sphera is the leading provider of Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) performance and risk management software, data and consulting services with a focus on Environment, Health, Safety & Sustainability (EHS&S), Operational Risk Management and Product Stewardship.
Subscribe to Spark
Receive expert content from Sphera about Safety, Sustainability and Productivity.

 
close-link