Reading Time: 3 minutes

Bill WhitelawA participant at a recent executive energy roundtable in Calgary remarked that his two adult children work for major oilfield services companies – but they don’t tell their friends.

To their acquaintances, they work for technology companies. Knowing precisely who they worked for would provoke various reactions in their friends, ranging from ire and disdain to bemusement and sympathy.

The context for the roundtable: the public perceives the petroleum sector as less than desirable, rapidly atrophying and destroying the environment in its death throes.

For these young people, nuancing of the truth is a survival mechanism. And it’s pretty commonplace.

That energy employees aren’t always comfortable disclosing their occupations – or even engaging in energy discussions in social settings – is disheartening on many levels.

Unfortunately, these are also lost opportunities to tell intriguing stories about the oil and gas industry and build trust in grassroots Canada.

This is one example of why the sector needs a chief story officer (CSO) to help define and shape the industry’s destiny. The CSO needs to raise the power of storytelling to a truly strategic level and integrate it into the way the industry communicates with the ordinary Canadians who actually own the resources being developing on their behalf.

The chief story officer also needs to recruit storytellers who can weave compelling stories at the grassroots level, conveying truth and credibility.

If, for example, Canadians learned of the industry’s great innovations on the environmental front, through effective storytelling, they may well feel differently about the sector.

But talk to younger employees who yearn to be better storytellers and key frustrations surface. While they know their jobs, they don’t feel they necessarily know their companies – much less the industry.

Blame ‘corporate caprock’ – the impermeable barriers between staff, departments and upper management through which information and context don’t flow.

Certainly, some companies are quite adept telling their stories, internally and to the public. But not enough companies get the job done in order to make Canadians sit up and notice that the sector has been built on great stories.

Executives in Canada’s upstream sector – operators and their service providers – desperately want to build public trust, credibility and support. It’s necessary to counteract the growing momentum of anti-energy stories that threaten to erode the industry’s stability at a time when more than ever it needs public support and understanding.

In 2014 at the World Petroleum Congress Youth Forum – for industry professionals 35 and under – I moderated a panel on social licence. To warm up the audience of well over 250, I asked: “How many of you are challenged by friends and family for your career choice?”

Virtually every hand went up.

Then I quickly asked: “How many of you in some way believe your company and your industry deserve the reputation for which you’re challenged?”

Virtually every hand remained aloft.

That younger generation can be the storytellers. They are motivated by different values than their parents. They expect to do better by the environment and, through their corporate efforts, contribute more effectively to social good.

They can become credible storytellers because their personal ethos aligns more readily with that the ordinary Canadians who are increasingly concerned about climate and the environment. The ancient Greeks taught us that ethos – the personal ethical deportment of a storyteller – is central to persuasive and compelling conversation.

Storytelling isn’t difficult or complicated. You just need a compelling story, a credible teller and an attentive audience.

And here in Calgary, there’s plenty of storytelling expertise – folks trained in the art and the science of effective stories, and their presentation.

Bring their creativity and energy into your company’s boardroom. Tell your staff that storytelling is now a cool part of their job descriptions. Inspire them. Let them loose with your company’s stories and measure the outcomes.

Our industry’s future can be built one story at a time.

Bill Whitelaw is president and CEO at JuneWarren-Nickle’s Energy Group.

Bill is a Troy Media contributor. Why aren’t you?

© Troy Media

energy industry

The views, opinions and positions expressed by columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of our publication.