Know what you don’t know

By Ole Brandt

We had asked Flemming Horn Nielsen how he tries to get the best out of his team in his daily work and in his dealings with his employees. And he went on to say:

“At the same time I want to make sure that everyone know the frame within which they are working – safety policy, rules, procedures etc. Also it is important to create a dynamic group. I try to do this by making sure that there is diversity within each group – people with different backgrounds, education, skills and so on. Diversity means that we look at things – and the job at hand – with different eyes and that again results in many diverse questions being asked as opposed to a very homogenous group. Diversity is important for job safety because it is a good way to avoid biased decisions.”

Can you give us an example to illustrate this?

“When we planned the repair work of the Siri platform, we spent about a year going through all the risk assessments. And we made a great effort in gathering people from different companies with different skills and different backgrounds in order to make sure that we would cover as close to all details as humanly possible.

The repair consisted of installing huge clamps and cables underneath the platform; it was an installation method which had never been done before in the industry.

It was carried out without any incidents or accidents, on time, and on budget – I am sure to a large extent because of the diversity of the people participating both in the planning and in carrying out the actual job.”

Trust and passion

What personal leadership principles guide you in your role as leader?

“I strongly believe in trust and passion, for me they go hand in hand. Trust in the sense that the people you have on board have the necessary skills to do a good job. This allows us to trust the colleagues we are working with. Trust in my colleagues gives me greater freedom to express whatever concerns I may have for instance at a tool shop meeting before a job. Because: If I trust my colleagues it is ‘safe’ to expose my weaknesses. All in all this makes it much easier to bring forward safety issues. And trust generates passion, passion to do a good job.”

What does “Working together,” mean to you?

“To me it is closely linked to what I have just said about trust and passion. That you create an environment – a culture – in your team, where you can have a free and open discussion allowing everyone to speak his or her mind; an environment where it is OK to show that you are vulnerable, OK to show what you don’t know.

When a group works in an environment where risk is involved, it is extremely important that you know, what you know; know what you don’t know and that you are very conscious about understanding what you don’t know that you don’t know. It is lack of the latter that often leads to incidents and/or accidents.

Thus, for me ‘working together’ is having the right people in the right places, a diversified and dynamic group and a culture based on trust and passion,” says Flemming Horn Nielsen and he continues:

Flemming Horn 2

The new generations

“A truth in working with safety is that you can’t use initiatives/communication next year  which you have used this year. You have to change focus at least slightly in order to keep/regain attention. Also we are working with new generations and we need to adapt our communication accordingly. Based on my 26 years of experience in the oil industry I know that there is a vast difference between now and then. Dealing with a young person 20 years ago is very different from dealing with a young person today.

Therefore you have to be very agile in working with safety and constantly look around for new ideas and inspiration on what is the best to do to enhance safety even further. What do we do to create the greatest impact?”

Critical young people

In what way do the young people differ compared to 20 years ago?

“In many ways, communications is one. If we 20 years ago handed out a brochure in the coffee shop, chances were that it would be read. Today young people use social media, the brochure does not work anymore. You have to be much more interactive when communicating. You need to work in a much more inclusive way. Also young people today are more critical, they ask more questions when given an assignment. They want to know the background, why it is necessary and why they are required to do certain things in a certain way. What is the background for this and that decision? “This is the way we do things around here”, is no longer a good enough reason.

This critical attitude is good, good also for safety.

Cuts create uncertainty

Right now there is a certain amount of uncertainty in the oil and gas industry. Cuts and reductions are on the agenda in many companies. People fear for their jobs. Will I be the next to go? This situation requires attention and on the job safety leadership because this uncertainty may lead to distraction – people not having their full attention on the job at hand. We all have to be very aware of this as lack of attention is a serious safety risk.”

Have you picked up some valuable learning points from your colleagues/competitors in the industry and if so, what are they?

“What I have learnt from colleagues and from my own experience has to do with how to avoid biased risk assessments and decisions taken on an incomplete basis. It sounds very simple, when you say: all you have to do is understand and identify the risks around you. But many incidents happen because we have not been able to identify all the potential risks. The reason for this gap is often lack in diversity in the group planning the job. That is why I stress this point. Never compose a group with people who look like yourself, if you do, you end up partly blindfolded. Thus, lack of diversity always involves a potential risk.”

Collaboration with regulatory bodies

Is greater collaboration in the industry necessary?

“I would say ‘yes’, but not in the sense that we need more meetings, more seminars, more courses. To me it is a question on how we can work even better together – oil as well as and service companies – using our combined resources even better. I am thinking on safety, certification, regulations etc., but also at becoming even better in sharing our learning from incidents and accidents.

Let me add especially in these times with the low oil prices that greater collaboration with regulatory bodies is called for. Let us discuss if we have the right legislation and the right regulations in order to get the right results and promote the appropriate behavior.