Navigating the World’s Social Geology

There is a saying in the energy business: “It’s all about the rocks.” In other words, our business is driven by geology — we go to where the resources lie. And depending on where those resources reside in the world, the complexity of the geology can vary greatly. Navigating the geology of the deepwater Gulf of Mexico is more challenging than dealing with the shallow waters of the Gulf of Thailand. As a result, we must adapt to differing geologies, using technology, data and ingenuity to extract oil and natural gas safely, economically and responsibly.

But mastering the earth’s geologic formations is not enough to ensure business success. Our success is equally dependent upon our ability to manage above ground risks — the social geology. And just as the geology below the ground differs from location to location, the social geology differs, too. Managing the above-ground risks in Nigeria’s Niger Delta is more complex than tackling the risks we see in California’s San Joaquin Valley. And the stakes couldn’t be higher. If we don’t get the social geology right, we won’t gain access to the geology below the ground — no matter how promising it might be.

The stakes for businesses outside the energy sector are equally high. Their success, too, is contingent on negotiating a more complex social geology that is characterized by ever-changing and disruptive technologies, shifting demographics and political trends, and more emboldened and activist stakeholders

In response, companies are examining the central role and purpose of communications within their organizations. At the same time, smart communications teams are reinventing the function, taking full advantage of emerging technologies, new platforms and their access to vast amounts of data to better understand and interact with their stakeholders and increase the value they offer.

Here are four steps every communications team should take:

1) Advance from being a proactive function to being a predictive function. Many communications groups have evolved from being little more than corporate-reporters to being proactive, stakeholder-focused teams. But it shouldn’t end there. The aim should be to become a predictive organization that uses data and advanced analytics to create real-time, actionable intelligence and the ability to predict business risks and opportunities. With this step-change, communicators move from driving advocacy to driving actions that enable business outcomes. They become data and results-driven. And they establish themselves as indispensable business partners versus valued advisors.

2) Transform your stakeholder engagement models. Many of today’s stakeholder engagement models were created in an analog world, targeting a maturing baby boomer generation. We’re now in a digital world defined by millennials with different world views and changing habits for consuming information. Smart communicators are changing their engagement models within this new context.

3) Rapidly acquire new skills and keep advancing your capabilities. Every communicator must develop and acquire new capabilities in digital engagement, advanced analytics and content creation and distribution. Three years ago, most companies did not have a head of digital strategy and engagement. They did not have a head of insights or analytics. They did not have a data scientist, content strategist, behavioral scientist or stakeholder intelligence advisor on their team. These are some of the new roles being created by leading communications teams.

4) Optimize talent by deploying a “trading floor” model. Hierarchical models suboptimize talent, retard people development and diminish the collective contributions teams can make. Leading communications teams are evolving to a “trading floor” model, deploying people based on skill, interest and initiative as opposed to tenure or where one falls on an organization chart. This approach is promoting reverse mentoring, faster talent development and the ability to take full advantage of everyone’s unique capabilities.

These are some deliberate steps communicators can take to stay at the forefront in a world of constant change and disruption.

Dave Samson is the general manager of Public Affairs for Chevron Corporation and chairman of The Arthur W. Page Society