Beaver’s Avatar: Changing the Way They Drill

The first cohort for the Avatar program. Clockwise from top left: Luke Hardy, Paul Paziuk, Jordan Cawsey, Steve Schembri, Stephen Cullum, Jennifer Zieglgansberger (Haskayne School of Business), Derek Hassay (Haskayne School of Business), Simon Monette, Billy Plotner, Dion Smit, Sunny Baraich, Michelle Verburg (Haskayne School of Business), Marcus Hallowes, Russell Ray, Shaun Low, Jenn Rallison, Kevin Krausert (Beaver President and CEO), Ras Evarts, Jason Blahun, and Robb Phillips. (Photo by Anna Michalska Photography)

When the industry moved to top drives, it was a painful transition for contractors and producers alike. Ras Evartz who was a driller with Beaver Drilling through that time remembers it as a big change: all the rules of conventional drilling just went out the window, and getting the equipment to fit was a big challenge.

Beaver Drilling is attentive to the lessons learned from the shift to top drives. Top drives were still fundamentally mechanical in nature, and the company sees changes ahead that will come at a greater speed and have impact with wider resonance.

Remembering the pain points in the top drive experience proved to Kevin Krausert, Beaver Drilling President and CEO, that if rigs are going to integrate the kind of new technology based in software, the industry needs to rethink its approach to innovation.

The blended learning program was deliberately designed to ensure the business and leadership theories, concepts, and frameworks were relevant and could be immediately applied to the Avatar’s day-to-day work. As a result, between the two phases, the Avatars have worked virtually in Think Tanks project teams, learning teams, and received one-on-one leadership coaching. (Photo by Anna Michalska Photography)

“The new efficiencies from technology are astonishing. If the drilling industry revolutionizes leadership and innovation directly on the rig site, then we have an opportunity to unleash ten times the efficiency gains,” notes Krausert.

In partnership with the University of Calgary, this development program harnesses new resources and expertise in a phased approach. Sixteen Beaver field employees partner with UCalgary’s faculty and use real-world business research to explore solutions around integrating new technology. The outcomes of each phase of the Avatar learning journey? To further develop each participant’s critical and creative thinking skills to equip them to thrive in rapidly evolving drilling environments.

The idea in itself is revolutionary, and that’s the sense from anyone involved in the program. The participants—who completed Phase 1 last May and begin Phase 2 in September—are proud advocates of the approach.

Sunny Baraich (below, top row, 2nd from right) is among those employees. A derrickhand on Beaver Rig 6, he has a unique background to speak to adaptability. When he was 11, his family moved from India to Edmonton. Today, some 20 years later, he’s as settled in western Canada as any rig hand. He’s grateful to have learned young about the value of adapting to new environments. He believes it’s a lesson that goes beyond individuals.

“Adapting is how you survive,” he says. “This is equally true for businesses and for industries.”

A voice for everyone at the table

A diverse collection of expertise is at the table for Avatar phases. The field employees are joined by oil and gas producers, Beaver’s executive team, and the Executive Education team from the University of Calgary’s Haskayne School of Business. The group is introduced to communication and collaboration processes that guide how to explore business and leadership challenges strategically. Since each participant adds their own specialized skill set, discussions specifically avoid setting up hierarchies that might hamper outside-the-box thinking.

Always up for a change and a challenge, driller Evarts is a part of the Avatar program’s first cohort, and he’s looking for ways to help his crew adapt better to full-scale technology change. Like most drillers, he thinks a lot about the ideas that motivate his crew. If one comment characterizes Evarts’ leadership style, it’s “I want everyone to want my job.”

One particular element of Avatar that has been “eye-opening” for Evarts has been engaging with client companies. “There can be such a wide gap between (drilling company and operator) perspectives,” he explains. “Now that we understand how their perspective is different, we can incorporate that perspective and be part of the solutions they’re looking for.”

The Avatar program focusses on the head, the heart, and the hands. Thriving in rapidly evolving environ- ments often requires looking at situations from different perspectives— yoga, bootcamp, spin classes, and drumming circles were integrated into the Avatar experience.

Asked if he was surprised by any of the ideas that came from the other Avatar participants in Phase 1, Evarts’ response was “not really.”

“Every day we have this conversation: What can we do to make this better? It’s been that way since I started on the rigs. The difference in Avatar is we have a platform to talk to the people involved in the decision making process. It’s having both perspectives (from the field and from the client) that makes the difference.”

With Phase 2 about to launch, Evarts is looking forward to engaging more in the discussion around industry financing, a topic that’s always piqued his interest. And he’s eager to expand how the group applies new strategies, both for his crew in the near term and for the industry over the long term.

Baraich, on the other hand, is interested to hear how industry decision-makers are thinking about the future. After spending 2014 and 2015 building rigs in Texas, he has direct insight on how the historically mechanical operations of the rig are transforming.

“Software is becoming a bigger and bigger part of the industry,” Baraich observes. “Electrical engineering and programming are changing everything.”

Now back in the Western Canadian Sedimentary Basin, his frame of reference has shifted from the equipment to the teams running the equipment: “This is a big leap. We need to communicate differently with each other about these changes. It’s about having open conversations and conversations that understand a need for patience.”

And he’s keen to see this trajectory develop. I’m glad to hear about these changes,” he says. “If there’s new technology and changing attitudes, there’s going to be a future for the industry.”

Given the growing demand for oil and gas, and changing expectations when it comes to how it is produced and consumed, clearly the industry’s future lies in reaching beyond what it is today. And as CEO Krausert explains, that challenge is exactly what Avatar is about: the “idea that you can always become more.”