When talent departs, make sure the knowledge doesn’t.

How compliance and risk management software can mitigate key person risk in the oil and gas industry.

The departure of key staff is considered one of the hardest risks for businesses to mitigate. On top of this, employee retention is a now a bigger issue than ever. Not only do companies have to worry about losing key people due to sickness and death anymore, but with job-hopping now being a regular occurrence – by age 35 over 25% of workers have had at least five jobs[1] – companies must prepare for how they will continue thriving after a key person loss.

While human resource and people management teams put a lot of time and effort into company culture, career progression and training programs, relying on talent retention and the cross-training of employees is no longer enough when it comes to holding on to your business-critical knowledge base. A vital strategy for oil and gas businesses that want to stay competitive after a key person loss, is to shift their focus to mitigating the impact by using smart technologies to capture information and processes, ensuring seamless compliance and risk management regardless of changes to personnel.

So let’s take a look at the various methods traditionally used by upstream oil and gas businesses to reduce key person risk, and how oil and gas software, particularly RegTech solutions, can be used to prevent companies being bought to a standstill by one person’s departure.

How far can the cross-training of staff and talent retention go?

Previously, companies across a range of sectors have attempted to soften the blow of unexpectedly losing workers with a highly specific skill-set through cross-training staff. This approach, encouraging a ‘three pair of eyes to every job’[2] mindset, is good on paper, but the reality is that many businesses (especially smaller upstream oil and gas companies) do not have the numbers, resources or time to educate an employee to the level that specialist training and many years of experience provided another.

It is true that the cross-training approach is suitable in some sectors. Examples of this are often found in the finance sector, where the customer is reassured in the fact that their funds are being managed by a few people rather than an individual.

The oil and gas industry however, couldn’t be more different. The sheer amount of knowledge required from key people working in the petroleum sector means that specialisation is a requirement in the industry. Risk in the oil and gas industry is higher than in most other sectors, and with very expensive non-compliance costs arising (both fiscally from oil regulator imposed penalties, and in terms of health and safety), only a certain amount of basic cross-training can take place. We therefore want to ensure individuals are responsible and knowledgeable in their field so as to minimise risk.

Another method often used to mitigate the potential to lose skill sets has been to work hard on keeping the staff you have. There is no doubt that talent retention efforts should always form a critical part of a company’s business management plan, especially within the oil and gas sector where experience is a huge benefit.[3]

Oil and gas management teams can promote retention through smart hiring, ensuring employee values match those of the company, providing employee benefits, incentives for jobs well done, and valuing employee efforts and contributions.[4] Remuneration levels and the opportunity for career progression also form part of the talent retention picture.

Employee retention is, however, only controllable to a certain degree. Beyond that, companies should ensure they have another coping mechanism for insuring against key person loss, because the downside of losing business critical knowledge, even temporarily while a new hire is made, is significant.

The impact of specialist skill loss

BDO USA found 100% of oil and gas companies surveyed said that regulatory and legislative changes and increased cost of compliance was of high concern.[5] In the same study, they also found 78% said the ability to retain key personnel was a major issue.[6]

Losing an employee with seemingly irreplaceable knowledge and skills, crucial to a company’s success, can cripple business, especially when the skill set relates to regulation, legislation and compliance. Companies can be bought to a standstill if no-one else has the specific skill set or knowledge used by the key person in their job. We see this through a loss of morale, productivity and confidence within the company internally.[7]

Externally, the consequences are even worse, particularly given the importance in the oil and gas industry of demonstrating pro-active and effective management of health and safety and environmental risks. The impacts of less experienced people attempting to fill empty shoes can result in errors and omissions and can damage the company’s image, lose trust with stakeholders and significantly impact on shareholder value.[8]

Using a range of strategies aimed at maintaining a business’s knowledge base and its ability to manage its obligations, is the most effective way to make sure the impact of any employee turnover is reduced.

The role of oil and gas software

In an industry facing increasing regulation from governments and legislative bodies (and pressure from the public to put these in place), companies in the oil and gas sector should be looking to regulatory technology as one of their underpinning strategies.

Compliance and risk management software is reasonably new to the oil and gas industry. The potential is very real however for specialist oil and gas software to help businesses operate successfully in the face of people change and dynamic regulatory frameworks. The people-based benefits from using oil and gas RegTech solutions are twofold.

Firstly, specialist oil and gas RegTech software provides team members responsible for E&P licence management and oil & gas risk management with a highly effective tool. This helps them deal with increasingly complex requirements while focusing their time and skills on their core roles. This also allows people to work smarter, leading to an increased capacity.

Secondly, having such a tool in place goes a long way to mitigating the issues that can arise when key members of such teams leave. The software is highly shareable, trackable and responsive and brings together knowledge from across the business in a central platform.

Compliance and risk management software can help foresee, measure and manage risks effectively, all of which are especially critical after a key person loss. A company with software containing knowledge and information that the key person held will ensure that in the aftermath, fewer mistakes are made by whoever is now performing the key person’s role. This saves company reputation, trust with stakeholders, company morale and confidence in leadership, as well as helping prevent any unintentional non-compliance disasters. Furthermore, it reduces stress on the person tasked with taking over the role.

[1]Forbes 2017/11/10 Sarah Landrum “Millennials arent afraid to change jobs and heres why”.

[2] https://www.fm-magazine.com/news/2019/jan/how-to-manage-key-person-risk-201819925.html

[3] https://www.bain.com/insights/large-project-management-in-oil-and-gas/

[4]Forbes 2015/03/03 Steve Olenski “7 tips to better employee retention”.

[5] https://www.energydigital.com/utilities/top-20-risk-factors-facing-oil-gas-industry

[6] https://www.energydigital.com/utilities/top-20-risk-factors-facing-oil-gas-industry

[7] https://www.fm-magazine.com/news/2019/jan/how-to-manage-key-person-risk-201819925.html

[8] https://advisorsmith.com/key-person-insurance/