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How an advisor can unblock a ‘stuck’ opportunity


Is there a project or investment opportunity that’s lying dormant in your organisation? Perhaps it’s been tried a number of times in the past but it’s ground to standstill each time.

Your technical and commercial teams might have analysed it, completing several studies, the results of which are now gathering dust in a digital cupboard. At Rockflow, we have often seen plenty of these kinds of situations in late life facilities rationalisation, infill drilling campaigns and near-field tie-back opportunities.

The project might have lacked a clear owner, the management team might have been in conflict, or – and this is sometimes the case – people simply had different perspectives on the opportunity, coloured by their own area of expertise.

Your organisation might not have hit pause at first. It could be that people jumped to a solution concept too quickly and the technical feasibility was always a challenge, but no-one stepped back to look at very different alternatives.

Why the opportunity might still be stuck

You see this sort of situation in the North Sea, where the production cost per barrel have risen due to ageing facilities – and it’s been difficult to agree on the future reliability and cost of 3rd party infrastructure.

Opinions are divided: Commercial says there isn’t a solution for the proposed concept, others say it should have been done two years ago or not at all, engineering are demanding more data and studies, and one person reiterates time and again that they’ll never get corporate to agree on it. This scale of opportunity needs real alignment and commitment from the whole leadership team.

These positions might be entrenched, and may well not shift when new data is acquired, or even after the organisation spends a great deal of time studying how to mitigate the challenges involved. ‘Stuck’ opportunities can get a bad label and it’s usually difficult to get them back on the agenda with new thinking behind them.

And yet, while there is seemingly no way forward, someone – possibly you – might recognise there is still a real opportunity here. You could have legitimate concerns about raising the subject again with your leadership peers, and it might be difficult to reframe the opportunity to get wider support. But that doesn’t necessarily mean you shouldn’t act. You can begin by talking to an outsider.

The role of an independent advisor

You could start by simply talking through your situation with an advisor. You might have someone in mind already, or be able to get a referral from someone in another part of your organisation. New ideas from a fresh perspective might give you a new approach to make the case internally.

Often things about the situation change or new information becomes available, but the ‘bad’ label on the opportunity makes it difficult to find the moment to kick-off a fresh look at it. Talking helps to begin with but, if you want to unblock the opportunity you see, an advisor can go further, formally gathering all the relevant parties’ perspectives and leading a structured dialogue to get this opportunity out of limbo.

We’ve found that it’s often easier for an independent outsider to move a project forward that’s  repeatedly got stuck. They take the pressure out of the conversation. They can bring fresh ideas to the table that people are less likely to be predisposed against. And with an intermediary providing some structure, it’s easier to get everyone involved and find traction.

A process to recover the opportunity:

 1. Clear off the dust and get the big issues on the table

So how would we propose to help as outside advisors? Well to begin with, we’ve learned it’s important to ensure all the right people are involved from day one – if a key person of influence is missed out, they could derail the process later on.

A Rockflow advisor would start by having one-to-one conversations with the key people, in order to learn what their perspective is on the stalled project. It’s critical that these discussions are carefully prepared and get to the heart of each person’s perspective

We’re careful not to rush ahead here. This needs to be particularly rigorous and accurate, if people or issues are miss-represented trust in the process will quickly falter. Synthesising all the perspectives without finger pointing is important to allow frank, constructive discussion. It needs to be clear where everyone stands, but the focus must be on issues, not personalities.

The first facilitated group workshop is about placing all the facets of the problem on the table where people can see them.

We raise all the issues people brought to light in a structured way, not pinning blame on anyone but playing back the brutal truths that need to be addressed. A candid but respectful environment helps everyone listen and understand each others’ perspectives, an important starting point for moving forward.

These workshops can provoke people to vent and air concerns but, once these anecdotal points have been made, people will eventually switch into a listening mode. At that point new ideas can be voiced and, if the advisor presents these with care, people will usually react constructively.

2. Establish a constructive way forward (and get ready to re-evaluate solutions)

The team will now be ready to relook at existing concepts and incorporate new information to look at alternatives building on all the work the company has done to date. Scrutinising all the facts and studies in a structured manner to avoid unnecessary re-work.

Now the advisor is not trying to force anyone down a particular path here. It’s about expanding ideas and exploring new avenues based on what’s already been done.  Importantly the company can come out of these sessions with an agreement on the key questions that need further work.

By this point, the management team are over the worst of their inertia, they’re bought into the process, and they realise good work has already been done.

It’s possible that the team could do more studies and then bring the advisor back to help facilitate the next steps and evaluate the alternatives. But they also might be able to progress alone, sometimes with richer relationships and smarter structures for how they work together.

We’ve known this process to give the whole leadership a fresh start, with new rules of good practice, and a greater capacity to resolve blocked opportunities in future.

What if you’re not ready yet?

This is all an extensive but surely worthwhile endeavour. That said, if you’re concerned you might not be able to get buy-in from your peers, an advisor can start by playing a very small initial role: having discussions with a few key people and setting out a recommended approach. You can then have internal discussions on whether to go ahead with the next step, your colleagues now having worked with the advisor first hand.

Get in touch

To learn more about the management and advisory services we can provide, see our pages on organisational development or strategy & governance, or get to know our resident managing consultant Adam Mitchell.

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