Interview with Mick Beavers, Managing Director at Control Valve Solutions

Interview with Mick Beavers, Managing Director at Control Valve Solutions

Culture is notoriously difficult to mould and even more onerous to sustain. But Mick Beavers, Managing Director of Control Valve Solutions gets an ‘A’ from me for his deliberate leadership in cultivating an authentic company culture. I interviewed him on 27th June in their Portlethen office in Aberdeen. Here’s how he has built one of the most admired oil and gas services companies in Aberdeen. Control Valve Solutions (CVS) is a £4M a year business, founded in 2009. It was recently nominated for best customer service. The company culture has something to do with it. It is transparent, authentic and autonomous.

Culture

Mick says he stumbled onto his philosophy by accident. It emerged during a very busy time in the early days. He noticed that the more he left people to get on with what they were doing, the more productive they were and the better the business became. Mick says he suddenly realised that he didn’t need to micromanage his staff. He wasn’t worried about people management. He laughs as he explains,

“The simple recipe is not to hire assholes”

In the hiring process at Control Valve Solutions, Mick explains that himself and the team look for people who seem to be coping with life, people who are themselves. Mick himself remembers a time when he was in the job market. He describes several interviews for senior positions where he wasn’t himself. He says,

“I always said what I believed the interviewers wanted me to say…Looking back, the interviewers didn’t create an environment where I could be myself”

It is this relaxed, authentic environment that Mick consistently strives to create for his employees. The company focuses more on personality and appropriate coping mechanisms than on technical ability when hiring new staff. Mick admits that when it comes to personality and technical requirements, there needs to be a balance. One of the key areas of development at Control Valve Solutions has been hiring people from diverse technical backgrounds and conducting training programmes to increase the overall technical competence in the company.


Yet, culture at Control Valve Solutions has generated positive customer reaction such that customers feel comfortable and valued in dealing with the company. Less focus on technical capability has not hindered business growth. When I ask Mick what he does day-to-day to maintain his company’s culture, he says,

“It’s a team effort”

He walks around to see employees every single day he is in the office. He chats to them not necessarily about the job but about how they are doing and perhaps what they got up to on the weekend. Mick says he can pick up when people are having a bad day and acknowledge it. It’s not for him to solve but that acknowledgement goes a long way in making employees feel valued. Mick understands the pressures of the job and explains the reason for his approach,

“Myself and the managers try to make people feel human again, rather than just working away”

Mick has earned the respect and trust of the employees at Control Valve Solutions, occasionally getting involved with issues outside work. While there have been difficult times, he feels honoured to have earned the people’s trust. Mick is a naturally trusting person, which comes across in his dealings with friends and strangers alike. He explains,

“I trust people once they walk in the door but when they lose that trust, it’s gone”

He also explains that there’s certainly a hard side to business. And that leaders need to find the right balance.

Visibility

Mick is active on LinkedIn and explains that it’s instilled confidence in him. He notes,

“If you write positive things, you feel positive within yourself”

He continues,

“It’s really important to be positive just now because there are a lot of negative stories on social media because of the way the oil and gas industry is at the moment”

Mick says it’s disappointing to see such stories because we have to stay positive. He admits that he doesn’t like being in the limelight but says it is easy to hide behind social media. Mick finds opportunities to post something in areas of engineering, sales, marketing and leadership. Many in the industry perceive Control Valve Solutions as one of the fastest growing oil and gas services companies in Aberdeen. Mick believes this is partly because the company has done a great job of celebrating its successes on- and offline. Even in very difficult times, the team have found creative ways to push out positive stories about the Control Valve Solutions brand and its best-in-class productivity.

Social media has had mixed reception at Control Valve Solutions. Some employees are engaged online and there are some that don’t get it. The marketing team educates employees on the impact of social media on the company’s brand and why it is an important tool for marketing. Mick admits that he first got into social media to wind up industry peers – and he believes he was successful. He laughs,

“I’m surprised I didn’t get a black eye while doing it”

Control Valve Solutions has generated significant external engagement and has a group of employees who are engaged internally. The company’s social media activity has kept its peers on their toes. Mick adds,

“It keeps us on our toes too, we keep getting better. I know that if we need people to come together and make something happen, we have the people within the organisation to do it”

Sustained

About four years ago when PPI claims became popular, Control Valve Solutions launched their own KPIs for the business. There was a song on the radio that went, “♩ ♬ this month we will be claiming our PPIs, PPIs ♫ ♫”

Mick describes going to the shop floor and hearing the employees singing, “♩ ♬ this month we will be claiming our KPIs, KPIs ♫ ♫” Mick says it showed the team had really taken KPIs onboard. Mick smiles when he says,

“It was great feeling”

It was around that time that the slogan, ‘Living the dream’ emerged on the shop floor. The phrase caught on, with employees requesting the phrase to be put on the newly-introduced corporate clothing. Employees and customers have embraced ‘Living the dream’. Mick says it really sums up the culture at Control Valve Solutions, that the employees came up with this on their own. Sustaining culture is quite a separate matter. Mick says people join the company and immediately notice the authentic environment, compared to where they used to work.

But employees start to take the culture for granted over time. The management team wants to now focus on reinvigorating the culture. Mick explains,

“I think it’s good for the guys to remember how shit it used to be at their last workplace”

Mick sees his role as a supporting one, and advises leaders to keep business as simple as possible. He explains that everyone at Control Valve Solutions understands what it takes to run the company in terms of overhead costs, margins and revenue requirements. The team know exactly what it takes. When things are going well, Mick notes that it is easy to be everybody’s friend. Nevertheless, he intends to continue to be in tune with the business so that people can come to him with both good and bad news. Keeping the communications lines open is crucial to sustain the ‘A’ culture at Control Valve Solutions.

About Mick

Mick_BeaversMick grew up in Derbyshire and credits much of his success with his upbringing in which he was much rebellious as he was challenged. He cites a hunger for criticism and feedback as one of his biggest driving forces as well as a deep suspicion of complacency. It is this attitude which keeps Control Valve Solutions driving forward, always pushing to improve and innovate.

Mick has worked in the valve industry for 21 years with a brief spell working in IT from 2005 to 2007. This mix of IT knowledge and a passion for valves led to the creation of Control Valve Solutions in 2009; a valve company firmly rooted in the development of technology. One member of staff once described the company as ‘A software company that happens to sell valves’. Mick believes that you should always start as you mean to continue because it is much harder to add things to a business retrospectively, especially a focus on culture or technology. That you need to have a solid foundation and vision on which to build from the beginning

Technology-driven culture – IoT Oil & Gas Europe 2016

Technology-driven culture – IoT Oil & Gas Europe 2016

Energy Conference Network based in Houston hosted a conference in Aberdeen on June 29th. The topic was the Internet of Things (IoT) in the Oil & Gas industry. I was invited to speak specifically on cultivating a technology-driven culture that allows innovation to thrive. I argue that if Advanced Analytics and Big Machines are the A & B of IoT, Collaboration, Diversity and Experimentation are the C, D & E.

Slides used in my presentation

Based on my research on corporate culture over the last few years, I highlighted the key characteristics of a conducive organisational environment. Some companies I have spoken to over the years include IBM, Dell and SAS.

Here are brief snippets from my presentation covering “Culture that is well-to-do”:

I briefly discuss a 2016 report by McKinsey, published in HBR on digital advances per sector. It shows that the IT and Media industry thrive in digital innovation. The Oil & Gas industry appears to excel that equipping workers with digital tools.

However, the Oil & Gas industry still has some way to go in digitising physical assets for instance. Such assets include equipment and machines. Part of digitising assets involves ensuring that valuable data is collected, easily accessible and exploited for greater insights.

Other speakers at the conference came from Statoil, Maersk Oil, Shell and MOL Group, as well as consultants from the IT, Communications and Renewables sectors.

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Smart Sceptic TV – and check out more videos from the conference.

7 Ways to Revive Your Corporate Culture

7 Ways to Revive Your Corporate Culture

On Sept 11th 2015, I hoped for an honest discussion about why some organisations appear to have a cultural advantage over their peers. The right corporate culture provides an edge in several areas of organisational performance such as innovation, employee engagement and digital adoption. I got an honest conversation when I interviewed Enda Logan, CEO of The Fifth Business and Visiting Professor at Robert Gordon University, Aberdeen. The interview forms one of four case studies in my book, The Smart Sceptic’s Guide to Social Media in Organisations (Rethink Press, 2016), launched on Feb 16th 2016. I based the book on real life case studies from multinational firms, It is especially relevant to corporate culture.

The Smart Sceptic's Guide to Social Media in Organisations As part of Enda’s interview with me, he emphasises that change always starts at the top. This is true for all lkinds of change initiatives. These include the use of social media for business and regulatory changes in addition to other strategic initiatives. I couldn’t agree more. Culture eats strategy for breakfast any day. A 2014 Forbes article even concludes that your company culture is every bit as important as your pay cheque.

Here are 7 ways to ensure your corporate culture allows for sustainable change:

1. Cross-functional ownership

An organisational culture that supports effective change does not allow its business consequences and power to reside in one department. This can make it difficult to change quickly. Instead, smart corporate cultures ensure shared ownership across the organisation. They do this through aligned goals and cross-functional leadership.

2. Continuous improvement

Spend time reflecting on what’s working and what’s not, by observing and sharing lessons learnt and through tools such as root cause analysis. Identifying success and failure causes is not enough. When companies discover the causes, they must implement plans to replicate what is working. Then eradicate what is not working.

3. Honest feedback

Enda’s story of a man he once met with the job title, Corporate Jester fascinated me. This man’s job was to sit in his employer’s board meetings and say the unsay-able. He got paid to challenge ideas from senior executives. This was clearly an enlightened board that actively sought honest feedback. They consider different views to encourage a questioning mentality – starting at the very top.

4. Employee engagement

A corporate culture must enable employees to challenge and share ideas without fear of being penalised or fired. Engaging employees requires them to believe in your purpose and to share their knowledge, knowledge that they regard as power. If your employees don’t feel trusted and empowered by the organisation, you need to revive your company’s culture quickly.

5. Lead by example

It’s not lip-service. It is also not a matter of sending memos to announce new initiatives in the organisation. Senior leaders should be the first seen to live the values they want their employees to adopt. The traditional model of top-down is dead. Such models consisted of a manager telling his staff what to do and think without much responsibility for acting out those desired behaviours himself. It is crucial that change begins at the top to ensure lasting results.

6. Employee empowerment

The future of work is that employees will spend more and more time on social media, using their networks to share knowledge with colleagues, customers and stakeholders. Shama Hyder, author of The Zen of Social Media Marketing notes in a recent Forbes article, “People are now media… how organisations leverage people as media in a smart way is here to stay.”

Companies can leverage the power derived from having their employees share content online that is beneficial to the business. As a result, companies could increase brand awareness, effective recruiting, more sales leads and enhanced customer engagement.

7. Future-proof strategies

Finally, a smart corporate culture allows change to occur repeatedly and rapidly to survive the marketplace. There is a delicate balance between sustainable change and being agile enough to change again. Companies must become good storytellers, internally and externally to ensure that people are aware of the good things happening as a result of the changes. At the same time, operational processes should help to monitor the progress of change and flag when things need to be reviewed, and changed again.

In conclusion, these seven tips can help companies develop an engaging corporate culture to support lasting change whether you are introducing social media, a new e-learning system or an HSE policy.

This article was first published on The Fifth Business blog on 19 April 2016

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