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Lessons from the leagues

Oilfield Technology,

Play to your strengths. That’s what winners do.

Just look at Leicester City’s remarkable English Premiership title run. Locked in a relegation battle with a few games left last season they changed approach. Instead of responding to opponents’ tactics they chose to play to their own strengths, outrunning the opposition and defending tightly – only turning to attack when the opportunity presented itself.

The result? Not only did Leicester avoid the drop, but fast forward a year and they’re on the brink of the most unlikely league triumph in soccer, if not sporting history. The story is so remarkable there are even rumors of a Hollywood movie in the works telling the tale of star striker Jamie Vardy’s rise from factory work to the England team.

Leicester City is an excellent example of an organisation harnessing its core competencies to achieve great success.

But what exactly are core competencies, how does a company identify them and why are they important to organisational success? These are questions we get asked a lot in our business.

Since core competence means many things to many people, it’s worth considering a common definition. Harvard Business Review defines core competence as ‘the collective learning in the organisation’ and ‘where a company’s competitiveness derives from.’

So, be like Leicester. Sounds simple enough, right?

The challenge for most businesses, however, is defining exactly what their core competency is. Every organisation will have an idea, of course. But focusing in on the specific attributes upon which your company is founded can help you unlock its full potential.

Unsurprisingly, there’s no “one size fits all” approach. And there will be an element of the trial and error for which Leicester head coach Claudio Ranieri is renowned. But there are some steps that can help you start out.

Below are some basic guidelines that can help you gather and analyse the necessary data to hone in on the precise qualities that give your organisation its competitive edge.

Start at the source

The first place to start is your target market – clients and prospects. Anecdotal evidence is great when it comes to gauging client satisfaction, but a formal online survey can be a useful and efficient method for gathering invaluable insight relating to how your organisation is perceived by this core group.

A market perception audit can you tell you a lot about how your business is viewed externally – what you do well, what your competitors are doing differently and what areas need improvement.

And it makes sense. There’s a reason sports coaches listen to the fans. For one thing, there’s wisdom in crowds and you can learn new insights. But perhaps most importantly for businesses, it can tell you what your clients value the most!

Here are some key considerations for generating meaningful results from an online market survey:

  • Keep it anonymous. Respondents tend to speak more freely when they know there is no risk of their comments being attributed to them.
  • Target a large audience. The average response rate for online surveys is usually around 30%. The larger your response pool, the more credible your results will be.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask tough questions. You might not always like what you find, but once you’re aware of where your weaknesses lie you can do something about it and – crucially – turn them into strengths.
  • Name your competitors. Ask respondents to rate certain functions of your business against your biggest competition. Then you can truly define what you do better than others and vice versa.
  • Online market surveys can unlock the secret to what your clients – both current and potential – really think, value and need. Once have you this information, you can take positive action.

    Understand your employer brand

    There is another important, but often overlooked, source of market intelligence available to every company. That source is potential candidates. Because candidates usually stay within their chosen industry, they have a wealth of knowledge about your sector and your competition. They can tell you how you compare to your peers in terms of benefits, culture, offerings, recruitment processes, working environment and more!

    And this is no different in sports. Ball players joining Golden State know they’ll need to contribute to three-pointers. Join the Cavaliers and you’ll need to support Lebron. And players hooking up with Phil Jackson’s vintage Lakers team knew all about the triangle offense.

    Partnering with companies like Airswift, which have access to an extensive talent network, can help you run analyses to map out candidate perception about your company vs. your competition.

    Attract the best and brightest

    In a services-based industry like oil and gas, people are arguably a business’ most important asset. Therefore, the ability to find, attract and retain talent should be high up – if not at the top of – your organization’s core competence agenda.

    The historic skills shortage and ageing workforce in the oil and gas industry present similar challenges in terms of the recruitment and retention of both permanent and contract staff. The ability to get the right people at the right time, in the right place and for the right cost, can mean the difference between success and failure of a project.

    Again, Leicester serves as a great case in point. Its first team was put together for under US$35 million. Which may sound a lot until you compare it to the likes of last season’s champions Chelsea, whose starting lineups regularly come in at almost US$280 million.

    The key to Leicester’s success lay in ensuring that every recruit was the right fit. It’s a well-organised team and everyone has a clearly defined role – something a lot of teams, and indeed organisations, struggle with.

    So start by reviewing your talent acquisition strategy. Do you rely on job postings? Do you have a referral programme? Do you use the expertise of a recruitment firm?

    In the case of permanent recruitment, if you don’t have an internal referral program, you need one! You cannot put a price tag on a strong, internal referral. Specialist workforce solutions providers can work with you to put a program in place to compensate your employees if they refer a candidate that ends up getting hired.

    Engaging a strategic recruitment partner can also help you acquire talent that you wouldn’t otherwise have access to. Recruitment firms spend years networking with the best talent in the market. Good recruiters will have also have relationships with passive candidates that wouldn’t necessarily respond to a job posting.

    Next, take a hard look at your interview process. Is it overcomplicated and drawn out? If so, you’re going to lose out on talent! Even in a down market, the best talent is still in demand. The company that can move the quickest will secure the best candidates every time.

    So, consider streamlining your process. For example, if a candidate must first complete a phone interview with an HR representative, then a phone interview with the hiring manager, followed by a face-to-face with the hiring manager and so on and so forth, that could take weeks or even months to complete.

    Streamlining your recruitment process to access and secure the required talent in a timely and systematic fashion can reduce long-term costs and deliver operational efficiencies – enhancing long-term growth prospects as a results.

    In short, when you see good talent, move quickly!

    Combat the contractor crunch

    Most workforces are made up a combination of permanent and contract staff. When it comes to recruiting and mobilising a contingent workforce, do you have an accurate understanding of the factors that influence their decision making?

    Recent research between Airswift and Queensland University of Technology demonstrates just how much emphasis oil and gas professionals place on the attractiveness of a project itself. The appeal of the project location for example, depends on whether a location is considered safe, if taxation arrangements are favorable, and whether there is a high number of competing projects in the same area.

    Having a positive company brand and being known as an attractive employer is also important, as is the ability to offer long contracts, appealing rosters, substantial benefits, competitive rates, and an exciting phase in the project lifecycle.

    Unsurprisingly, it is difficult to attract the skills, experience and temperaments needed should a project be deemed unattractive by prospective employees. To put it another way, the best players want to make the playoffs. And failing that, you’ll need to pay them well.

    Learning and development

    Take a hard look at your learning and development strategy. What initiatives do you have in place to onboard and continuously train your people? Is this aligned to what your clients are saying is most important to them? Where does your workforce struggle the most? How are you addressing those skill gaps? Find a way to align your training programs to your defined core competencies and measure their effectiveness.

    Airswift has seen direct evidence that companies are combatting the industry downturn by scaling back on learning and development. At present, there is a very real possibility that the required skills and experience may be lost as a result of industry-wide retrenchment – much like the England football team’s gradual decline as other nations better drill technical skills into their young players. A key challenge is therefore retaining the vital skills and extensive expertise of the mature workforce and sharing their knowledge with the younger workforce.

    Review your talent retention strategy

    Once you attract top talent, retention should be a priority. All too often less glamorous teams fail to keep their squads together after a good year, with the best players being lured away to the so-called ‘big’ clubs. Remember ‘The Decision’? That’s a case in point. And now if Leicester sell top scorer Jamie Vardy over the summer they could be remembered as one season wonders.

    So ask yourself, what motivates your workforce? Professional development opportunities, flexible schedules, and recognition for achievements often outrank money as the key factors to employee satisfaction. So work hard at building strong connections with your people and provide the most compelling rewards to successfully retain them.

    This is particularly important in a downturn. Companies should prioritize the retention of their top performers, as they will need them when the inevitable recovery occurs.

    Knowing what is important to each individual on their team should be every manager’s priority. They should ask each new member of their team to write down three items that are considered rewarding. If time with their family is rewarding, then granting them a half day off for a job well done can be considerably motivating. If advancement opportunities are what they value most, then you know that special projects which give them exposure might be a way to motivate them. Since motivating factors are unique to every individual, a manager must ask and not assume!

    And don’t let people get away without learning something about yourself and your company. Conduct exit interviews. Generally, employees will not be honest about what is wrong unless they have nothing to lose. This is why exit interview data is often some of the most real feedback we can get. Exit interviews should be conducted by an independent third party, when possible, to guarantee non-biased feedback. And the results should be taken constructively and as an opportunity to fix what might be broken internally in order to retain your best people.

    Act on the results!

    None of these activities are worthwhile if you don’t actually do something with the results. Don’t spend the time, money and resources to conduct surveys, analyse your marketplace and refine internal processes if you aren’t committed to listening to the data and incorporating the findings into your strategic priorities.

    A top coach will make regular changes, iterating to perfect their team’s style of play. So should you.

    And always focus on your strengths. Your core competencies are what set you apart from your competition. Even though you may already have a good idea of what yours are, it’s important to listen to the market.

    In addition to analysing the marketplace perception, it is important to take a good look at your internal processes as part of this exercise. Every company should want its core competencies to include attraction and retention of top talent. A strong learning and development programme, a hiring process that acts quickly and a talent retention strategy are items that are worth being analysed and further developed to ensure your most important competitive edge are your people.

    Now we’re getting somewhere!

    Edited from an article by Airswift

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