“When ONEOK separated its natural gas distribution business and created a new, independent utility called ONE Gas, the utility faced a daunting task of communicating organization-wide changes.”
By Joe Tecson
In 2012, ONEOK Inc. began an enormous effort to improve the performance of its natural gas distribution segment by applying best practices and aligning disparate technologies and business processes across its three distribution companies — Oklahoma Natural Gas, Kansas Gas Service and Texas Gas Service. The goal of this extensive initiative, called “The Journey,” was to improve performance and safety in the organization’s operations and maintenance activities in order to create a long-term, sustainable competitive advantage.
To add to the complexity of “The Journey,” in the middle of the multiple-year initiative, ONEOK separated its natural gas distribution business in February 2014 and created a new, independent utility called ONE Gas. This new utility, one of the largest natural gas distributors in the U.S., was faced with the daunting task of communicating organization-wide changes to its geographically dispersed employees, while preparing them to embrace and operate under a new work management system and integrated business processes.
ONE Gas partnered with Mosaic, a national training and workforce consulting firm, to assist with organizational readiness related to the implementation of the new work management system and the alignment of business processes across the organization.
ONE Gas’ organizational readiness approach took the workforce through a progression of information and learning that went from a high-level to a more granular focus. Initially, the purpose of the messaging was awareness — what changes were being implemented and how they would impact the business and individual employees’ jobs. From the workforce’s perspective, the communication they were receiving wasn’t change management or training, but rather consistent messaging from end to end that prepared them to enter the training ready and willing to learn the “how.”
A change team was created, made up of midlevel leadership including directors, managers and supervisors, who were responsible for cascading communications and coaching front-line leadership and the general workforce (end users) through the change. A structured, intentional program was established that made alignment feel natural, because multiple levels were being held accountable for communicating and ultimately embracing the change.
By the time employees entered the classroom for end-user training, they had bought into the new system and processes and were informed as to why certain changes were crucial for business success. The first lesson of classroom training essentially echoed what the change team had already been communicating to the workforce for months.
Readiness surveys, administered over a period of 16 months, measured what employees already knew and what they expected to learn. The surveys examined the workforce’s strengths and weaknesses in understanding the new technology and business processes and provided insight into the state of readiness employees felt at any given stage.
Surveys were not just quantifiable data, but also qualitative data that was aggregated from focus groups, surveys, pulse check calls and feedback at meetings. This data gave ONE Gas leadership a level of awareness that enabled them to make adjustments to the change management and training programs along the way, based on where end users were at on the readiness spectrum.
Change management is often hard to measure. However, by the third survey—which was administered after the first round of training — employee and organizational readiness dramatically increased. This approach enabled ONE Gas to point to ROI as an output of change management.
Although the changes were not as dramatic for all groups, the gap in the standard deviation was. This demonstrated to the change team and leadership that the entire workforce was less polarized and that a majority of them did not indicate significant concerns or negative views. In other words, they emotionally understood the need for change. This was clearly demonstrated in end-user training; employees arrived asking “how,” not “why.”
The “golden rules” of effective change management are captured in a few guiding principles:
Change management isn’t going away at ONE Gas. As a dynamic organization, the utility is continually evaluating itself, identifying new opportunities to improve and seizing those opportunities. In fact, the change management efforts from this initiative provided so much benefit that senior leadership and lines of business recognized that and as a result have created a group that is responsible specifically for ongoing change management. That is true testament to the value of a strong change management program.