With the strain on the world’s natural resources increasing year on year, pressure is intensifying for energy companies to use traditional resources more effectively and to find alternative, greener and more sustainable ways of producing energy. For managers, this translates into an increased pressure to deliver both efficient and frugal use of dwindling resources, while also motivating and inspiring their team to work creatively and productively. But how can this be achieved? Naysan Firoozmand, managing consultant at ASK Europe, considers this question.

Perhaps the first point to make is that the fundamental challenge – to supply energy sustainably and profitably – hasn’t dramatically changed. The biggest shift is arguably in the external pressure to actually address our use of resources, thus making the requirement on the energy sector to demonstrate environment and social responsibility far greater than before. Environmental issues, and the organisations that raise them, occupy an increasingly large and more vocal public space than before and, in the words of one placard seen at the Copenhagen Climate Summit in 2009, there is an increased public awareness that: ‘There is no planet B’. Accordingly, senior energy industry managers must now be seen to be more ‘leaderly’ than before in facing a burning issue (pun intended), and to inspire and motivate greater creativity in their workforces and organisations.

The latter challenge is, of course, far from unique to the sector and it may even have an advantage in that the technical/engineering bias amongst much of its workforce may be better predisposed to tackling complex challenges that require specialist knowledge and skills. It is, however, a highly-regulated sector that faces the challenges, not only of addressing a culture strongly influenced by a ‘compliance’ mind-set, but also one that may disproportionately view management as an activity governed by task and process. Creativity and innovation require openness to cultural and operational change if they are to flourish, and the tendencies of a process-driven, control-oriented culture are often in direct opposition.

In moving companies in the sector towards greater creativity and innovation, managers need to build and develop their skills in leading (as well as managing) performance, in delegation (despite the fear of ‘loss of control’ that some may feel in doing so), and in supporting their workforces effectively through mentoring, coaching and feedback. These skills are essential in delivering the interpersonal and intrapersonal changes that must accompany the required cultural and operational changes.

Although we often speak of ‘the creative process’, this is not ‘process’ as a compliance and control minded manager might understand and it may help to think of it as something that happens within and between individuals, rather than something quantifiable into an operations flowchart. Like performance, it comes from and through people; these people are a more critical focal point for managers’ and leaders’ attention if it is to be truly enhanced. To do so, managers must:

· Understand what motivates their people, and the dynamics that take place between them (topics that are drawn from psychology, such as emotional intelligence, interpersonal orientation, grip behaviours, and derailers)

· Understand and engage with the changes taking place within the organisation and the ways in which they impact on attitudes and behaviours (as well as on process)

· Ensure that staff have the resources and opportunities that they need if they are to develop (coaching, regular dialogue, sharing of successes, challenge projects, personal(ised) sources of motivation)

· Develop their skills for interacting with people, individually and collectively – creating and presenting a vision of the future that links what they do to the wider strategy, building a guiding coalition that can bring about change, influencing effectively, and dealing with the array of emotions that come about during times of uncertainty.

Managers also need to recognise situations clearly, identifying what employees around them need and to adapt their leadership and management style accordingly. They should also adapt to the tasks required of them and the operational context of the moment, as well as being familiar with a range of different models of management; this will include elements of the Hershey and Blanchard model of Situational Leadership, which requires leaders to adapt their leadership style – along a spectrum that ranges from telling to delegating – in response to ‘maturity level’ (which is best interpreted as a combination of confidence and ability, rather than age or EQ). This technique aims to develop both the competence and confidence of those they lead, so that employees become both skilled and self-motivated.

Managers should also be mindful of the working environments, cultures and atmospheres that work against the development of innovation and creativity. A ‘silo mentality’ is one example and there is truth in the cliché that ‘two heads are better than one’, although realistically the degree of improvement is related to the degree of difference between the two heads in question. Innovation is characterised by a multi-disciplinary approach, a melting pot that operates where only one ingredient may change its state from solid to molten, but it does not create anything that is truly new. While a vision that makes clear the operational context and the organisational aims and strategy provides a valuable framework, too emphatic an emphasis on division and control can act against the flow and exchange of ideas that allows them not just to circulate but to cross-fertilise. If this sounds like a significant personal challenge for the sectors’ managers, they should take heart that two of the biggest drivers of employee engagement and motivation are having a sense of voice within the organisation, and feeling that they are making a personal contribution. There is also an opportunity here for managers to model a valuable behaviour and to focus on what could be gained through changing rather than on what might be lost.