1 Jun, 2018

9 Practical Tips for Motivating Oil and Gas Teams

This TOTM discusses practical tips that have yielded strong positive results on oil and gas projects.


Reports are great and useful tools, but the most important factor to a successful project is PEOPLE. This Tip of the Month discusses practical tips that have yielded strong positive results on oil and gas projects. The most important factor to a successful project is PEOPLE.  There are many books, processes, measures, graphs, reports, meetings, web pages and software products for monitoring projects, but most of these miss the key to a successful project.  Processes and skills, with the right tools, at the right time coupled with MOTIVATION is the major key to success.

Many cost estimates are based on the average productivity of the average worker. Welding, for example, has many tables calculating inch/day completed for a given pipe diameter and pipe schedule.  But what if you could get superior results, and not spend more money?  What if you could create a project culture that motivates your workers to dramatically exceed expectations for no additional money or even save money?  And that there is a scientific basis that has been known in business schools of management since the 1950’s. Develop a MOTIVATION MINDSET for your project…How can I increase motivation?



Herzberg [1] describes how to motivate employees. He presented a hypothesis which  has been validated in 12 investigations (Figure 1), and the results are repeatable and should resonate with you. It will with your project team!  Herzberg indicates that there are two factors that motivate or demotivate people.  He calls them intrinsic motivators and extrinsic hygiene factors.


Figure 1. Factors affecting job attitudes as reported in 12 investigations [1]   

Extrinsic Hygiene Issues: These are things that normally exist in any project and are similar to table stakes.  For example, salary is not identified as a major source of motivation.  You need to meet competitive salaries, but increasing the salary past that point will not increase or decrease motivation.  You can see from Figure 1 that the major source of job dissatisfaction is the hygiene issue, company policy or administration. Herzberg indicates that these issues are extrinsic and can result in disciplinary action. (Bureaucracy)

Intrinsic Motivators: The strongest motivators for job satisfaction were achievement and recognition.  This is why the polo shirts work every time.  It couples recognition and achievement.

The take away from this as a project manager is to look for ways to recognize achievement and remove red tape and bureaucracy!


9 Practical Tips for Motivating Oil and Gas Teams

Tip # 1:  Team T-shirts/Polo Shirts/Baseball Caps/Coverall Patches/Hardhat Stickers

Motivator(s): Team Spirit / Achievement

Most projects use these, and this is nothing new.  But you can spend the same amount of money and get dramatically different results.  How?

AVERAGE PROJECT: Project polo shirts are given out to team members/workers. It builds a team and increases esprit de corps.

MOTIVATED PROJECT: The same number of polos are purchased, but only handed out to a few people that you recognize at a project meeting in the office or the field.  The difference is how the game is played. In order to get a shirt, you have to find a way to reduce cost, improve productivity, shorten project schedule or improve quality. After you pass out the first shirts and recognize the staff, after the meeting ends you have 100 people looking for ways to reduce cost and improve performance.  They are all going to get shirts eventually, but you will have people looking for and finding ways to improve your project performance/success. People find what they are focused on.

This option costs the same amount of money, but the results are dramatically different simply by the way the game is played and how it is implemented.


Tip # 2: How a $40 Buck knife can change the mindset. 

Motivator(s): Achievement / Recognition

I had Buck knives engraved with the project logo and had them ready to pass out to reward achievement. The game was you had to complete your task safely and meet the scope-budget-schedule. If you were a technician with a one day job or a welder on the job for the duration you were presented the award when you completed your task.  How did this save money?  It costs the project $200 per worker to drug test. We could prevent/reduce attrition by playing this game and saving not only drug testing money but also not constantly having to retrain workers and fight the learning curve. Other projects in the area had a 10% attrition rate and workers were hard to attract and retain. Fluor Daniel sent several VP’s to the work site to find out what kind of Club Med we were running since our attrition rate was extremely low. Our project had a base load of 100 workers and a one year schedule.


Tip # 3: Paid Days Off

Motivator(s): Achievement / Recognition

During the project, we had several critical milestones that were MUST DO’s.  Paid overtime is extremely expensive but given a group of highly motivated employees the milestones can be met.  I offered two paid days off if we met the target date.  I had to use this tip several times during the project and was successful each time without overtime.  If you want to have significant results you have to give significant rewards….Achievement / Recognition.


Tip # 4: Give gift certificates instead of spending money on X-rays and rework.

Motivator(s): Achievement / Recognition

We are required to X-ray a certain percentage of welds by code, but if I can get the welder to weld well and not have any busts, I save on rework, waste, schedule and cost.  I’d tell them if all of their welds pass inspection for the day I’d give them a $100 gift card.  I got a lot of high welding productivity results…every time. 


Tip # 5: Take an interest in the work they are doing and complement them. 

Motivator(s): Recognition

If the client doesn’t understand or appreciate a job well done, why should the worker?  I am not an electrical engineer, but I remember visiting with an electrical contractor who was reading some drawings and using some tools and jigs to make certain that the conduit spacing and mechanical workmanship looked great.  I took an interest in what he was doing, learned a few things, complimented him, and left him feeling that someone appreciated the job and craftsmanship he was putting into his work.


Tip # 6: Remember, “People may never remember what you said, but they will always remember how you made them feel.”

Motivator(s): Recognition


Tip # 7: Build a Reputation of Delivering Services of Unmatched Value

Motivator(s): Relationship with Supervisors and Peers / Achievement

I learned this from a Fluor project manager.  We would meet every month to discuss where we were and where we were going.  He had the standard sets of project graphs and metrics, but with a few twists.  He never would drop off the report for me to read.  He always took me through the report to show me the added value. He never assumed I would read, decipher or understand what value was being delivered.  He showed the Achievement and Results.  Fluor Daniel had a motto at the time: “Delivering Engineering Services of Unmatched Value”…and they delivered.


Tip # 8: Reward Safe Working Performance. 

Motivator(s): Achievement / Recognition

The game was that I would personally cook steak for everyone once a month if there were no lost time or first aid accidents...  I had the privilege of serving steak every month for a year.  The cost savings are enormous.  As a side note, you need to start cooking at 9 am for a party of 100 hungry craftsmen


Tip # 9: Habitability

Motivator(s): Work Conditions

Give them a safe, warm, convenient, comfortable place to eat or take a break.  Require your contractors to provide employees with clean, well maintained, professional coveralls and PPE.  It’s a statement of professionalism and craftsmanship. Below is a sign at the entrance to a commercial construction site in Katy, Texas.  The local staff keep a “Cuss Jar” to eliminate or reduce profanity, and tobacco use.  They donated the fines to charity at the end of the year and had the team photographed for the local paper making a nice donation.


Figure 2. Set Expectations High


Setting high expectations and a professional working environment yields the following results:

            -Safer workplace

            -More productive workplace

            -Increased professionalism and respect.

As one engineer told me, “I have never regretted paying for quality”.

Figure 3. Remember to Supercharge your Project [2]



A motivation mindset generates successful results.  Remember to apply Herzberg’s principles [1] to your next project.  Supercharge, turbocharge and motivate your staff!

To learn more about similar cases and how to minimize operational problems, we suggest attending our FPM2 (Project Management in Upstream Development Projects), FPM62 (Advanced Project Management), G4 (Gas Conditioning and Processing), G5 (Advanced Applications in Gas Processing), PF3 (Concept Selection and Specification of Production Facilities in Field Development Projects) and PF49 (Troubleshooting Oil & Gas Processing Facilities) courses.

PetroSkills offers consulting expertise on this subject and many others. For more information about these services, visit our website at http://petroskills.com/consulting, or email us at consulting@PetroSkills.com.

Written by: James F. Langer, P.E.

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1. Herzberg, F, “One More Time, How do you Motivate Employees?, Harvard Business Review, Best of HBR, Reprint RO301F, Jan. 2003.

2. Chapman, A. free resource from https://www.businessballs.com/, 2003.