Last week, I had one of the most unique and memorable experiences of my professional life, when I conducted a site visit to our client, Alaska Clean Seas, at their base in the settlement of Deadhorse, on Alaska’s North Slope, in the Prudhoe Bay oil fields. Bill and I will be speaking for their annual meeting in Anchorage in April. We’re serious when we say that we’ll go to any length to do our homework in preparation for a keynote presentation or training session. In this case, the “length” was about 5,000 miles. And did I mention that I made this trip in January?!
I learned far more than I could squeeze into a single blog post, so let me hit the high points. My chief curiosity before making the trip was, “What’s the attraction? What makes somebody want to work on the North Slope of Alaska, where the work is hard, potentially dangerous, isolated from family and friends, and where winter means double-digit subzero temperatures, 21-24 daily hours of total darkness, in a labor camp with no private homes, hotels, restaurants, schools, stores, or anything else we associate with ‘community’? Most Slope workers work 2 weeks on and 2 weeks off. That means 12-hours a day, for 14 days straight, then 14 days off, back at home. The company flies them to the Slope for their 2-week hitch, and then back home, wherever that might be. In Alaska, Seattle, San Diego, Montana, you name it.
Why would anyone do this?
Is it the big bucks? Partly, yes. There’s no denying it. These folks are paid well. And the work schedule – work HARD for 26 weeks a year, and do what you want the other half of the year – that’s VERY attractive to the people who work here. But it’s more. And in the case of Alaska Clean Seas, it’s much more. Here’s what I learned:
1. Mission is motivating. Alaska Clean Seas is a not-for-profit coop of North Slope oil and pipeline companies, whose mission is to provide response and cleanup for oil spills on the North Slope. These folks clean up this unique environment after routine operations in the production of North Slope oil, and after larger scale accidents and mishaps, like the pipeline leak that happened just this week. Do the people you lead have a clear motivating mission? Something that’s important to them?
2. Professionals want to work in the company of equally committed professionals. Everyone I spoke to said they genuinely like the people they work with, trust them with their safety, and respect them for their professionalism. Lessons: high standards beget high standards. Nobody wants to work with turkeys. We should keep that in mind as we recruit, hire, and promote during the economic recovery…and always.
3. People like doing cool things with cool stuff. Regardless of the temperature, this is cool work. ACS employees tout the variety in their jobs, and the “toys” they get to work with: snowmachines, 4-wheelers, oil skimmers, airboats. Serious work, but fun, too. Lesson: work a little fun into some of what your followers do.
4. Creature comforts matter. OK, Prudhoe Bay is no resort. Conditions are extreme, and virtually no one lives here permanently. They don’t call the town “Deadhorse” for nuthin’! But employers here do what they can to take the edge off. Workers live in attractive “camps” – think upscale college dorm – with wide screen plasma satellite HDTV’s in their rooms, really good food (and lots of it), well-appointed (and well-utilized) fitness facilities, wi-fi, social gathering areas with nice furnishings, religious opportunities, and much more. Lesson: every minute your employees have to worry about taking care of their own needs is a minute they can’t be focused on your customers’ needs.
5. Finally, you can’t pay anyone enough to be miserable. One worker aptly pointed out that almost all jobs on the North Slope pay well, and offer the 2-and-2 schedule. “If it weren’t for the schedule, none of us would be here. But,” he said, “I don’t care how much you pay me, and how much time I have off, if I didn’t love what I did, I wouldn’t work in these conditions.” Lesson: nevermind…you get it.
My timing for this trip was uncharacteristically fortuitous. Not only did I miss the pipeline leak (in which case my client would have been very busy), but the low temperature during my 2 days on the Slope hit about minus 5 degrees Fahrenheit. The week before, it had hit -47, and it’s headed back in that direction this week. Minus five was quite cold enough for this Florida boy.
Richard Hadden (twitter at http://twitter.com/ContentedCows) is a leadership speaker, author, and consultant who helps organizations improve their business results by creating a great place to work. He and Bill are the authors of the acclaimed business classic Contented Cows Give Better Milk, and Contented Cows MOOve Faster, and the brand new book Rebooting Leadership. Learn more about them and their work at ContentedCows.com.