BEYOND THE HORIZON
Getting the most out of your relationship
with a university
New technologies enable the energy industry to access a bounty of
oil and gas so large that worries about running out have melted away.
And yet abundant and growing supplies have not eliminated the industry’s complexity. New challenges such as industry consolidation,
service sector growth, and workforce demographics dictate sustained
investments in human capital to maintain competitive advantage.
Continued industry consolidation requires more sophisticated
levels of fnancial and organizational leadership. Since service frms
are increasingly taking risk positions in oilfeld development and are
forming direct relationships with national oil companies, leaders in
this sector—along with the E&P frms with which they work—are
being forced to increase their ability to assess risk, form alliances,
and navigate in the global industry.
And the “great crew change” is occurring at a time when many
frms lack suffcient younger talent to backfll the wave of baby
boom generation retirees. This trend has created a “barbell” shaped
workforce with a glut of inexperienced new hires and large numbers
of experienced and aging senior workers on either end of the spectrum and a dearth of mid-level and emerging leaders in between.
These kinds of industry challenges demand new leadership skills.
In response, many frms are beefng up their approach to leadership
development, using some of these tools:
• Professionalizing the learning and development function – Many
midstream and service sector frms are bringing in learning and
development experts with sophisticated educational backgrounds
and strong corporate or consulting experience.
• Learning from the industry – Increasingly, industry leaders and
experts serve as credible instructors to orient, develop, and align
new talent, particularly new potentials who come from outside the
• Evolving content – Service sector frms in particular look at risk,
alliances, and marketing differently than do operators. So, program content is being developed that serves the needs of this sector, particularly in the areas of fnancial risk assessment, merger
and acquisition analysis, and business-to-business marketing.
Establishing a relationship with a university business school is
another tool that oil and gas frms can use to help develop organizational leadership capabilities.
There are several reasons why frms should work with a univer-
sity business school. These include:
• Access to research-based content that is true and tested
• Availability of purpose-built learning environments where partici-
pants can separate from the day-to-day business setting and feel
free to think and behave in new ways
• Involvement of professional educators who are dedicated to build-
ing capability rather than dependence.
Some companies are reluctant to consider engaging with a univer-
sity business school, believing that it will be too theoretical and aca-
demic, or too irrelevant and inaccessible for busy working managers.
On the contrary, university business schools welcome the opportu-
nity to work with companies. Schools beneft from this because they:
• Expand their relationships in business, government, non-proft com-
• Enhance their reputations
• Disseminate new research fndings
• Identify student opportunities
• Provide faculty opportunities to work with experienced practicing
managers on real and current business problems.
However, working with a university is not like working with a
training vendor. When working with a business school, frms should
adopt these fve key success factors to maximize the benefts of the
• Select a partner who shares your vision and fts with your organization’s culture. When frms recognize that they choose to work
with a university because of its subject matter expertise and skill
in adult learning, the result is an atmosphere of question, challenge, and healthy dialogue based on mutual respect.
• Clearly articulate a business case for management development.
For example, a frm’s growth plan and projected retirements can
reveal the number of managers and executives needed to achieve
the plan and the number that need to be sourced with experienced
people. This sort of analysis drives management development.
• Work with a proven curriculum model. In today’s oil and gas industry, in order to be effective leaders, highly educated technical
professionals must develop self-awareness, interpersonal discernment, organizational savvy, and the ability to serve multiple stakeholders inside and outside the organization.
• Blur the line between the classroom and workplace. When practices like leader-led instruction, executive dialogue, and company
projects are part of the instruction, it is hard to defne the line
where the classroom ends and the workplace begins.
• Commit to using best practices that support on-the-job application of learning. These include high-level executives who serve
as class advisors and mentors to individual participants, peer accountability among participants for application of program content, and support of participants’ supervisors and management.
Using these best practices in academic partnership will help oil
and gas frms maximize the value of their relationships with university business schools. They will help frms upgrade their learning
and development functions and secure a larger and more sophisticated fow of future leaders.
Associate Dean, Executive Education
Southern Methodist University Cox School of Business
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