For Drilling Contractors, Talk Isn’t Cheap
David Bardsley Communication: We all communicate with our spouses, friends and business associates every day. But what exactly is communication? The Merriam-Webster definition is: “the act or process of using words, sounds, signs, or behaviors to express or exchange information or to express your ideas, thoughts, feelings, etc., to someone else.” Note that the definition includes the word “exchange.” This means that the act of communicating is a two way street. We have to listen and understand, as well as speak, during the process of conveying ideas or thoughts.
This two way exchange is the most important part of the process. If I am talking and you aren’t listening, communication is not taking place. For example, I recently “listened” to my wife as she instructed me to pick up eggs, bacon, bread and aspirin from the store on my way home. I was also thinking about designing a horizontal well and listening to the news on the radio during the conversation. What happened when I arrived at home and unloaded the bags from the truck? No aspirin. Communication did not take place. My wife then stated, as Paul Newman in “Cool Hand Luke” said “What we’ve got here is (a) failure to communicate.”
Communication failures can be aggravating in our daily lives, but how can poor communications affect business you ask? Let’s look at the Airbus 380, the largest passenger aircraft in service today. The plane was designed and constructed by the Airbus Corporation, a consortium of mainly European business. The 380 aircraft is massive, designed to carry up to 853 passengers (imagine that boarding process). Each aircraft has more than 98,000 wires with 40,000 connectors, totaling more than 330 miles of cabling. As we all know, complex engineer drawings today are completed using computer aided design, or CAD software.
During the planning process of the 380, multiple sites were using CAD software for the wiring designs. Unfortunately, the German and Spanish Airbus facilities were using one version of CAD, while the British and French sites had migrated to the newer version of the software. This resulted in wiring that would not meet up without being changed. Not only did this result in significant cost overruns, but it added to delays in the production and delivery of the aircraft. The delays ultimately led to a 26 percent decline in the stock price of the Airbus parent company and the departure of the CEO.
How can this be important in the drilling business? Let’s look at just one tiny aspect of a well installation project: the start date. How many times in your career has poor communication impacted the start of a project? Let’s examine how the very beginning of a project can get delayed due to simple a communication\ error.
It all starts with the phone call from the client. He has a date in mind based on his schedule. He calls and gives you his start date: Monday in two weeks. You look at your rig schedule, call the client and state, “I think, if the creeks don’t rise, I might be able to get there on that Monday. I’ll call you back in a couple of days to confirm.” Now, you think you have a couple of days to make sure you can meet the schedule. However, the client heard, “Come hell or high water, I guarantee that I can be there on time.” Did you follow up your conversation with an email? Did you call the client back in a couple of days or did it slip your mind? Now, it’s the Wednesday before the start date and you realize that your crew will be a couple of days late. You call the client and get their voicemail, but you leave a detailed message about the delay.
Now is where the communications break down on the client’s side. He is out of the office until the job starts and failed to add that fact to his voicemail. He also remembers your “commitment” to be on the site Monday and fails to follow up with you. Monday comes and the rig is not on site and the issues begin. If you’re lucky the damage is not too bad, and the project can be rescheduled. If luck is not on your side, the client had already scheduled three other subcontractors, his boss and the owner to be on site for the start of the project. Things could get ugly and you may damage a long-term relationship with a good client. We all know how delays at the beginning of a project cost money; think of the old adage “time is money.” In this day and age of shrinking margins and increasing competition, every penny of profit lost is important.
How do you avoid business communication debacles?
• Listen to the conversation. Don’t multitask during phone calls or face-to-face meetings. Put down the cellphone and turn the ringer off. Do you really need to respond to that text in the middle of a phone conversation/meeting?
• Follow up all verbal conversations with a quick email detailing how you understood the meeting. Be very specific, especially regarding any issue that may impact cost or schedule. Remember, people will hear what they want to hear; your “I will try my best to have the crew there on Monday” may be “I will be there on Monday” to the client.
• If you make a commitment to provide additional information or get back to the client, specify a date to get the data or to respond to the client and then follow up on or before that date.
• Communicate early and often—stay engaged in the process. Do not assume that since no one is talking that everything is fine.
Excellent communication skills are important in life and in business. In the drilling industry, it is easy to make simple mistakes in our everyday client interactions that can lead to confusion, angst and lost profits. We need to learn to listen as well as speak as we convey our thoughts and ideas. In the words of George Bernard Shaw “The greatest problem in communication is the illusion that it has been accomplished.”