Re-inventing Industries: Releasing the Power Within

Christopher Arbid | 21 April 2019

Change and transformation. What does it mean and why does it cost so many businesses more than a pretty penny?

The energy markets industry has various juggernaut organisations across oil and gas, mining and renewables. How can they move away from the ‘this is the way we do things here’ mindset or urge to call in a management consultancy when challenges are faced?

Mike Astell knows a thing or two about change and transformation and its power to reinvent industries.

Through his refreshing leadership methodology, Mike has built an impressive track record across traditional manufacturing, oil and gas and nuclear at Shell, Centrica Energy, Alstrom and British Rail.

I caught up with Mike to get his take on transformation and its ability to release the power from within.

Christopher Arbid (CA): What does it mean to reinvent industry and release the power from within?

Mike Astell (MA): It requires insight and determination, combined with the belief that something much greater can be achieved. You must see the potential beyond what currently seems feasible.

With a clear understanding of industry fundamentals and dynamics, it’s possible to start identifying the challenges that lend themselves to new thinking.

Steps can then be defined and taken to move current best practice to a higher level. This can be a tremendously uplifting process, especially when breakthroughs prove possible and major shifts in performance are achieved.

CA: What is holding back innovation within the energy industry?

MA: The issue is existing industry ways of working, combined with some resistance to taking proven solutions from other sectors.

To breakthrough, it takes a strong case for action with a clear benefit. This can be difficult to make without tried and tested solutions. And, unless there is a crisis to act as a catalyst, it can be tough to challenge existing mindsets and structures. You must find those open to new approaches, whether that be individuals or companies, perhaps with urgent needs for change. They are the ones willing to try the novel and yet unproven.

CA: What are your biggest challenges when looking at change and transformation as a senior leader within large organisations such as Centrica and Shell?

MA: The main barriers are the relentless short-term focus on day-to-day delivery of performance and the rituals of business processes, combined with the structures that define how work is sanctioned, implemented and subsequently managed.

How do you gain traction for new insights and ideas outside the mainstream, when everyone is focused on meeting this year’s challenges? It requires a strong vision and the assembling of a guiding coalition. This coalition can drive new approaches, create plans, direct resources and maintain the discipline to keep up momentum.

CA: Where do you see opportunities for change?

In many ways energy companies have been at the forefront of the application of new engineering technologies. Yet there is even greater potential in their mainstream operations adopting applications and approaches from other, lower margin sectors. This offer opportunities to radically transform business operations, ways of working, cost bases and capability. Companies in the sector have the resources, capability, scale and global reach to undertake a remarkable makeover.

What part can interim managers play in transformation?

Interim managers provide an injection of specialist expertise and can bring new insights and capability from other sectors that have overcome similar challenges. Their skills, experience and credibility are a huge asset in guiding, supporting and accelerating change.

Final thoughts

Thanks to Mike for giving his time and thoughts on this topic. My biggest takeaway is radical improvement and innovation are possible when you have the right vision and people behind the change.

This reaffirms my belief that at only a fraction of the cost of a traditional management consultancy, interim managers will and can support a business to set and/or achieve its objectives.

What are your thoughts?

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