Applying the No-Asshole Rule in Marine Seismic
Politics is more difficult than physics. ~ Albert Einstein
Every enterprise requires commitment to common goals and shared values. Without such commitment there is no enterprise; there is only a mob. ~ Peter Drucker
When I encounter a mean-spirited person, the first thing I think is: ‘Wow, what an asshole!’ I bet you do, too. You might call such people bullies, creeps, jerks, weasels, tormentors, tyrants, serial slammers, despots, or unconstrained egomaniacs, but for me at least, asshole best captures the fear and loathing that I have for these nasty people. ― Robert Sutton, Professor and Author of The No Asshole Rule.
Toxic workplace behavior is all actions that erode trust, dignity, and respect of others within organizations. These elements are imperative to the organization’s sustainability and impact everything from safety to profitability. Organizations function more efficiently and effectively where there is civility and trust. This is why organizations define core values which establish the guiding principles that are supposed to dictate their behavior and action. A company’s core values are important because they determine the decision making process, describe what the company is about and its commitment and responsibilities to employees, investors, and customers. Core values are a type of social contract or promise to behave civil and follow through on commitments. Petroleum Geo-Services (PGS) website shares that their own core values provide the foundation for all our goals, policies and actions and we behave with integrity and honesty in all aspects of our business. Really? The public is intentionally led to believe that these core values are credible and represent the true beliefs which direct decision-making within PGS. Employees sign their policy handbook which include the written proclamation of these values. Potential customers receive copies of these values in brochures and within pages of business proposals. Investors are told them at the start of meetings. However, under the leadership of CEO Jon Erik Reinhardsen, PGS has abandoned their commitment to their core values. PGS top executives are making decisions for self-serving reasons with shameless disregard for these core values and promises to employees, shareholders, and customers. PGS’ top executives have accepted and promoted dishonesty above honor, personal agenda above company objectives, and malicious edict above company policy and processes. This kind of leadership imperils PGS with substantially more risks. Toxic leadership is allowed to transform these values to hold less intrinsic worth than lavatory tissue paper. Broken promises – trust – flushed down the toilet. PGS is being guided by a façade – an unreliable lie – which is dangerous. This is not an attempt to harm PGS, but to redirect the organization to get back onto its prescribed course. This is what has prompted this call for PGS CEO, Jon Erik Reinhardsen to resign.
Marine seismic surveys are carried out over hundreds or even thousands of square kilometers. 3D seismic streamer vessel spreads are the largest moving objects on earth. A normal azimuth spread towing fourteen eight-kilometer cables equipped with different sensors and separated by one-hundred meters covers 10.4 square kilometers and moves at 4-5 knots/hour. Operations must plan for environmental factors, such as prevailing tides and currents, marine fauna presence and migrations, surface weather conditions, and refuse disposal, to list only a few. Marine vessel activity from fishing, cargo and logistics operations, as well as other geophysical survey activity must be communicated and coordinated. In a growing number of areas, security issues from pirates or contested international borders must be considered. These functions are all on top of the main objective of collecting data for imaging the subsurface which uses the highest technology systems. The personnel on seismic vessels combine from different specialized work groups to complete projects within specifications. The marine crew operate and maintain the vessel and steer it to the correct location for data collection. The seismic crew operate the seismic source, seismic sensors, and sensor positioning equipment that then collect the data which is combined and processed to create subsurface map images which will guide future drilling and exploration decisions. Seismic streamer operations present many risks that require an understanding of hazards – all hazards – and how to deal with them. Within the corporate offices, on vessels and remote offices the promise which core values hold are very important and at the center of a safe, healthy, efficient, and productive workplace. Global workplaces involve the interaction and coordination of entities from different countries and disciplines bound by such core values. The fact that PGS executive management ignores dealing responsibly with the top-ranked workplace hazards is troubling and dangerous to workers and the public. Instead, PGS denies and hides these hazards and punishes those who are affected by these top-ranked hazards; stress, harassment, and bullying which contribute to a toxic and unsafe work environment. Their actions speak volumes about what PGS’ real values and safety culture is, and the conclusion is unsettling.
The moral values, ethical codes and laws that guide our choices in normal times are, if anything, even more important to help us navigate the confusing and disorienting time of a disaster. –Sheri Fink
The decisions you make are a choice of values that reflect your life in every way. — Alice Waters
PGS employs morally decrepit top executives to guide the company during one of the most challenging predicaments the industry has ever experienced. The previous CEO of PGS, Svien Rennemo, introduced PGS’ current core values as a critical component toward redemption, growth and profitability as the company rose out of bankruptcy. Current PGS executives have formed and executed decisions based on frivolity and ego. They have empowered toxic management practices which increase top-ranked workplace hazards. Through cooperation and conspiracy, PGS top-executives have been allowed to bypass Company policy and National laws to exert tyranny and control. Toxic behavior has included withholding and destroying their own requested occupational health and safety reports to hide the impact of their toxic management, falsifying, and forging official employment records and misrepresenting these records as factually accurate to government personal data compliance organizations. This is above and beyond a general low-trust atmosphere of poor communication, manipulation, and deception. Top PGS executives have demonstrated abject indifference to the established values and norms of business relationships. In such a climate, it is certain that there will be non-optimal outcomes prior to any final decisions actually being made. This is because the base information used for decision-making is corrupted and self-serving. Decisions are no longer focused on organization or project objectives, especially safety, but on personal political interests and diverting responsibility and accountability.
Such decision-making processes not only debase an ethical and safe workplace culture, but just as significantly expose PGS to increased operational and commercial risks. The evidence is abundant and easily available. Trust and civility are the foundation of all business relationships, both internal and external to the organization. Without trust and civility, decisions become, at best, guesses based on substantial uncertainties. Outcomes become chaotic and performance is unpredictable and over time diminished. PGS is a low-trust and toxic organization and the best way to rebuild this needed trust is through renewed strong and ethical leadership which will cull such compromising elements that are currently present within the fabric of the executive hierarchy. Because of this current dynamic, license operators should carefully consider all the elevated risk factors involved in working with toxic management structures as contractors. At a time of vessel over-capacity and a market with high project liabilities attached, such basis used in determining awards is reasonable and practical to justify. The marine seismic and offshore sectors especially need to apply the no asshole rule moving forward. The no asshole rule is the clear objective for companies to rid the work environment from the influences of toxic workers and all the negative consequences which they introduce to business. Assholes negatively impact operational morale, safety, quality, and the environment. Assholes impact the bottom-line productivity of organizations which they too often lead, as well as the entire industry. Assholes are liabilities. Progressive and efficient workplaces need to be asshole free.
Some may consider this article just a brash condemnation from a former employee of over fourteen years. And they would be correct. However, the unethical and malicious nature of actions carried out through conspiracy and breach of their base social contract has been intentionally directed to cause me and my family harm and it demands voice. Top management has cooperated to deflect responsibility and protect toxic elements – assholes. Top PGS executives have breached most every ethical standard of decency. They have bordered or likely breached levels of criminal behavior. With company financial support along with the cooperation and assistance from multiple individuals within the corporate hierarchy who participate directly or look the other way, executives have been allowed to serially falsely represent and withhold information. These intentional deceptions were recorded in my professional employment record to impact me professionally and personally. I pointed the finger at a toxic regime which breached core values and policies, as well as many other business norms. Individuals who ignored or were complicit to the toxic behavior and actions were protected, promoted, and otherwise enriched — core values be damned! The despicable dishonesty and cowardice of PGS top executives should not be tolerated. And it will not be by me. At the very least, it will be exposed to the best of my ability and to every extent possible. Top executives are being allowed to waste “shareholder value” to exercise their demoniac behavior for their own psychopathic entertainment. These executives are not of an ethical mindset and certainly are not upholding core values. They are dishonest, insecure, incompetent and professionally deranged. They excel and retain control through cronyism and breaking the rules, policies, and processes which they themselves define and control. They are not working for the best interests of PGS. How and why these assholes are tolerated in such important roles within an organization which lauds such lofty core values is repugnant. These assholes shouldn’t be engaged in a contract for toilet tissue delivery, much less complex and integrated marine seismic operations. They manipulate and deceive like antagonists within an Aesop fable.
There are three things in the world that deserve no mercy, hypocrisy, fraud, and tyranny. ~ Frederick William Robertson
Things gained through unjust fraud are never secure. ~ Sophocles
Per Arild Reksnes, PGS Executive Vice President Operations, Terje Bjølseth, PGS SVP Global HR, and John Greenway, SVP Marine Contract along with executives based in Weybridge, England:
- Forged official employee record documentation
- Conspired to withhold requested employee record documentation
- Conspired to withhold Company requested occupational health and safety report
- Conspired to falsify official employee record documentation
- False representation to the Norwegian Data Protection Authority
- Conspired in the false representation to the United Kingdom Information Commissioner’s Office.
- Shared personal data outside Norway/UK/EU in violation of DPA
- Conspired in the false representation to the United Kingdom Border Authority
- Did not follow PGS Company prescribed policy and procedures
- Did not adhere to PGS Core Values
Simon Cather, PGS Regional President – Africa, Marine Contract, Edward Von Abendorff, PGS Vice President – Africa, Marine Contract Sales, and David Nicholson, PGS EAME HR Manager collectively and with substantive support from executive management support based in Lysaker, Norway:
- Assisted in the forgery of official employee record documentation
- Withheld requested employee record documentation
- Withheld Company requested occupational health and safety report
- Falsified official employee record documentation.
- False representation to the United Kingdom Information Commissioner’s Office.
- Shared personal data outside UK/Norway/EU in violation of DPA
- False representation to the UK Border Authority
- Did not follow PGS Company prescribed policy and procedures
- Did not adhere to PGS Core Values
Civility and trust are of key importance. The coordination, effectiveness and efficiency of operations are optimized through prescribed processes, best practices, and communication between the different specialized work groups. These are all controlled through management decisions. License operator’s contract deepwater geophysical data acquisition and processing services in similar ways that they contract deepwater drilling services. Service companies own and operate the vessels or rigs that perform the specified work. Both of these technically challenging offshore endeavors rely on strong trust networks for optimal performance. Air time is given to the big failures that seem implausible to most situations that workers and enterprises confront, while the smaller accidents or near misses which lurk within their own operational domains are hopefully recorded, but often ignored. Great disasters or successes are not the result of single significant decisions, but come about from the culmination of outcomes from several prior decisions. The Deepwater Horizon disaster was not a technology failure. It was a failure of management and communication. According to Project Management Institute the reason for most project failures is given to be communication – knowledge sharing. When trust networks and knowledge-sharing are interrupted and impeded, risk is elevated. Toxic leadership increases operational and commercial risks.
It’s a very sobering feeling to be up in space and realize that one’s safety factor was determined by the lowest bidder on a government contract. ~ Alan Shepard
Public trust is essential to public safety. ~ Martin O’Malley
BP was the principal license operator for the Macondo prospect of which Anadarko had a 25% interest. As license operators, they shared ultimate responsibility – the court decided – for the outcome of the very complex deepwater drilling project which they essentially planned and then mostly only oversaw. BP and Anadarko contracted the rig and its drilling operations. Each contractor working for BP had their own culture, processes, and procedures and were collectively responsible to deliver their products and services under the umbrella requirements which the license operator defined. But, there was a system breakdown which ultimately resulted in the largest environmental disaster of all time, as well as the loss of eleven workers lives. There were 126 persons on the Deepwater Horizon when the catastrophe happened. Transocean was the owner and operator of the Deepwater Horizon and had 79 of their personnel on the rig. BP had seven personnel. The other personnel were from Anadarko, Halliburton as well as other companies. BP may have had ultimate management and fiduciary responsibility over the outcome of the failed operation, but did they actually have the dominant control over the safety culture on the rig which allowed the disaster to happen? This is a vexing problem for any license operator – contractor relationship. What dominant “safety culture” actually prevails on a projects where the actual operator and contractor cultures diverge?
During the disaster inquiry with Transocean, it was asked if their safety culture relied on luck. This question is not too far off the mark. The Transocean CEO stated that he believed they had had a good safety system in place. However, at the same time, he also believed Transocean rig workers should have done more to prevent the catastrophe. HSE reports conducted on other Transocean rigs and projects prior to the disaster highlighted that Transocean had a toxic bully culture. Again, Transocean was mostly dismissive, but did acknowledge there were isolated episodes of bullying on different operations. Bullying is anti-social behavior and often contrary to written company policies and values. Bullying is toxic behavior. While there is no universally accepted definition, bullying involves the targeting of an individual or group of workers who are often isolated and without support. Bullying occurs where there is a power imbalance between the bully and the target. Most often, targets are bullied directly by their supervisors. However, bullying has to be empowered or allowed through the formal power structure and practiced cultural norms. BP bore the majority of the blame for the Deepwater Horizon disaster, meaning that license operators need to be concerned about the fidelity of the published culture of their contractors. This is where abiding by core values and policies is most important. Core values should establish the behavioral constraints which should not allow toxic workplaces to develop and prosper and elevate risks in the first place. If they don’t, then what is the point in lauding core values?
From a system thinking perspective, the interrelationships and interconnections are compromised and so performance is not optimal with a toxic workplace. Strong relationships and process connections are built on trust. Where there is no trust, network connections fail. Decisions that are made from incomplete or incorrect knowledge mean problems are almost inevitable. At the very least, risk factors increase. Even worse, the problems are more difficult or nearly impossible to resolve in an unstable system. Corrective measures are guesses with uncertain outcomes. Most everyone understands that the interrelationships between workers can greatly impact performance and outcome. Highly variant process outcome are an indication of low quality and less safe operating processes. In chaos theory, unpredictable outcomes start to self-organize aligned to output norms. So, if a safety process is often done wrong or not at all, that becomes the process affecting the system, not the documented one. Further, management of the system accounts for between 85-99% of the system performance. This is why new versions of the certified OHSAS 18001 and ISO 45001 Safety Management System standards, which embrace many of the ISO 9001 Quality Management System standard concepts, will require more direct accountability for system outcome by organization (certified) system management in the future. High integrity trust networks are low variation, high quality and more safe. Trust does not just matter when top managers pen agreements. Trust matters in every decision made within a complex interconnected system. Toxic regimes thrive on the chaos they create. But, the future of business cannot afford empowered assholes.
PGS top executives are so cowardly and selfish that they remain silent to such accusations that impugn the company which they are supposed to represent. My challenge to them all is to prove the factual accuracy of the information held within my professional records and describe how their actions have followed PGS policy and values, or the law of contract and English law for that matter. And when they cannot, then they need to explain what the purpose and intentions of holding such inaccurate information is and why they have cooperated, conspired and spent company resources to retain it. PGS executives know I am not lying and this is a bane to their method of dealing with challenges that make them feel uncomfortable. In the meantime, these PGS executives allow the reputation and value of the company to be diminished. They are the epitome of weak, dishonest, and toxic leadership and they are at the helm during such trying times.
The deck is still stacked against individuals who confront corrupt corporations. The epic historical confrontation between David and Goliath is the classic representation of the underdog prevailing. But, when scholars review the confrontation more closely, it is the power dynamic which is really misunderstood. Goliath represents the conventionally well-armed and equipped adversary, while David represents the new approach. The sling was never a boy’s toy, but was demonstrated to be a very agile, accurate and deadly device which outperformed conventional weapons and armaments on that “modern” battlefield. Secrecy has always been the friend to corrupt organizations and fraudsters who operate clandestinely to undermine their targets through character assassination and financial disenfranchisement. Likewise, the best way to affect organization change is when those with vested interests are in the position to lose through their continued support of such toxic regimes. The UK Data Protection Act 1998 and Norwegian Data Protection Act, both derivatives of the EU Data Protection principles, are actually designed to address information sharing in the digital internet era. The legislation is in place to protect individuals from having false or damaging information irresponsibly held and shared about them. It addresses large scale – by numbers – sharing. On the other hand, social media is also a way to share truthful information beyond the traditional channels and expose corporate corruption, malfeasance, and dishonesty. The audience is always growing and the ink never runs dry. I believe job creation and disparate economic opportunity and prosperity in every sector of the economy are tied to toxic self-serving regimes that hoard and collect power amongst themselves and make chaotic self-serving decisions. The weakest ethical links cannot be relied upon to lead the marine seismic sector and the overall economy forward. The future of the marine seismic sector, or any other workplace, must not be determined by cowardly, insecure, incompetent, and dishonest assholes.
Character in leadership is the most important balance for leadership. Without character, leaders have no safety. Leadership has no protection without character. ~ Myles Munroe
Because power corrupts, society’s demands for moral authority and character increase as the importance of the position increases. ~ John Adams