He became upset with me when I told him that his stakeholders didn’t know, didn’t believe or didn’t buy in on his Intelligent Oil Field ideas and project proposals. After one-and-a-half years talking and explaining, this consultant was convinced that stakeholders “bought” the concept and were ready for it. This is a true recent story.

What happened that this consultant strongly believed that the DOF concept he had introduced was accepted while in reality my stakeholder analysis showed the contrary?
It’s a classic case of a “sender” projecting his own believes and views upon a group of “receivers”, while assuming that those receivers with reports would take care of further casting down the message.  In this classical transmission model, or sender-receiver model we all learned at some point, the belief is that a sender can transmit his/her idea to the receiver as such. Practice showed that this usually isn’t the case. However we still act according to this model in various moments in business as well as in our daily lives. For instance comments such as ”…but I’ve told you thousands of times…” represent the idea that what we say no matter how many times or how loud, it should be understood as we understand it. If the other one doesn’t seem to understand we start to repeat and re-phrase the same thing over and over again until we become frustrated and give up: ”You just don’t get it”, ”You are not listening”. Sounds familiar? In business we often don’t even bother to try and find out if the receiver did understand the messages. We drop them upon him in the format of newsletters, posters, and websites and in best case a pep talk, trusting the audience will understand or even (re)act upon it.
Communication is much more complex than just sending or receiving messages through different channels. Over the years many models have been developed and it will still take time before some global consensus will be reached upon them but my fellow consultant underestimated the complexity, especially in matters like DOFs, were existing tools and ways of working are challenged and denial and resistance can be expected.

The constructionist model

Out of the many models I feel closest to the constructionist model *) of communication to help describe this complexity. The model sees communication as a process of co-creation of the social worlds we live in and says the process of communication is in itself the only messages that exist. The packaging cannot be separated from the social and historical context from which it arose. We live in communication and it’s the essence of being human. Whereas in the classic transmission model our focus lies on how clearly the message was transmitted and how accurately it was heard, the constructionist model draws our attention to what we are making together and how we are making it.
Imagine thinking that only in a conversation between two people there are actually many other voices speaking. In a sense, there are at least six people:
1.    who you think you are
2.    who you think the other person is
3.    who you think the other person thinks you are
4.    who the other person thinks he/she is
5.    who the other person thinks you are
6.    who the other person thinks you think he/she is

Add to this thinking the emotional layer like described before (you want to change the way they work) and you have an idea about how complex communications actually is.

I have been many times challenged about why I am a “fanatic” of in depth stakeholder analysis, spending time on interviewing as much as possible individuals. I have been smiled upon when I insisted on having psychology expertise on my team (Bernard Luskin, UCLA, 1970) and accused of wanting to spend so many resources on developing repetitive strategies that go way beyond the traditional information facilitation. Over the years I proofed to be right, voices stopped and companies started to take “internal communications” more serious. This however seems not yet the case in the oil & gas industry.

DOF project managers see communications as a FAD

In the DOF/RTOCs projects I have seen so far, I noticed that communications (and change management) are often still seen as a fad. I might be wrong but I think it’s mainly because most of the people involved have a strictly technical background which is their comfort zone and seldom bring previous experience with the people management piece.
Project Managers for example, never studied change management or communications (the PMBOK dedicates 19 of its 580 pages on the topic while bringing the outdated earliest sender-receiver model!).
Upper managers in industry behave conservative and are not comfortable with more open and collaborative work styles DOFs need.
The “Big 4” vendors are no experts in people transition either. As a result, I would adventure that most of the DOF projects end up using the outdated traditional linear sender-receiver communications model as a basis, thus building in failure risk.

I admire the above mentioned consultant for his tenacity trying to get the message across in such an adverse environment but I am convinced that on his next project he will develop the strongest possible communications support he can get; using new models, much closer to marketing- and sales strategies than anything else.

*) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Models_of_communication#Constructionist_Model.