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Career Talk with Frank Wantland, Part 1

AAPG Energy Insights Podcast Episode 10

AAPG Energy Insights Podcast Episode 10


Part 1: How Conversational Self Discovery and Personal Reperception Empowers Long-Term Success on Your Terms. Career Talk with Frank Wantland, career coach and former AAPG EXPLORER columnist. AAPG Energy Insights Podcast Episode 10.

Watch Part 2 of the interview here.

Full Transcript

VERN STEFANIC: Hello. And welcome to this installment of AAPG's Energy Insights podcast. I'm Vern Stefanic. And today I'm having a conversation with Frank Wantland career coach and consultant, talking about things geoscientists may need to know about surviving or even advancing their careers in today's rapidly shifting oil-and-gas industry. Now some of you may remember Frank as a former columnist for the AAPG Explorer, where he authored an ongoing series on career possibilities and strategies, but that was then. This is now. And new times bring new realities and new strategies. So let's talk about him. Frank, welcome to Energy Insights.

FRANK WANTLAND: Thank you, Vernon. I'm glad to be here.

VERN STEFANIC: Still here, still going strong, still helping people, still very active in dealing with today's industry and people who are trying to figure out what in the world they should do with their careers-- how they can make their career be more effective in their careers--


VERN STEFANIC: --especially in the oil-and-gas industry, which is where you had your start, right?

FRANK WANTLAND: Exactly, yes. I came out of Rice and joined Cities Service, the old Cities Service company, and became head of their geological research. And that's where I really learned the whole issue about how do you manage people smarter than you? I mean, in order to advance their careers, and launch their careers, and keep them, I had to know them in depth. So that launched me into the area of talking to people at great length, so that's one of the foundations of this. OK?

VERN STEFANIC: OK. And so your specialty is helping people in career development. Career development is kind of an interesting loaded word. To different people, it might mean different things. When we say it, what do you talk about?

FRANK WANTLAND: OK, here's my take on career development-- career development, people development, personal development. It's all this. It's all the same thing. From my standpoint, when I talk about career development, I'm talking about all the things that an individual does or as a company does, on their behalf, to help them have the opportunity to add value to the company. I mean, that's what they're paid to do. They're paid to add value. So everything in career development should be focused toward how do I do that? So that when a person goes in for a performance review, they may say, oh, I achieved my goals. But their comeback is, well, OK, you achieved your goals, but how did you add value to the company this year?

And that's the thing that they really ought to be aware of. How do I develop myself, and learn, and grow, so I continuously add value? That's what makes me relevant now and into the future.

VERN STEFANIC: Do you find that, in the people that you've talked to and the groups that you've talked to-- is that a common challenge that people have today?

FRANK WANTLAND: Oh, absolutely.

VERN STEFANIC: Yeah, talk about some of that.

FRANK WANTLAND: I talk to people, and I hear people say, I don't really know what drives me. And I don't know what drains me. I don't know really what's expected here. I don't know. I don't know how to navigate this culture, you know. I don't know who to trust. Who do I turn to? Who has my back?

And that really is-- to me, it's kind of discouraging to have that. Because from my vantage and my experience, all those questions could be resolved by conversation-- taking the time not only to talk to people but to listen. There are people who say, Frank, you have a real gift for understanding people. No, I listen, and that's really the only gift you have. And I'll talk about that some more, but it's in that vein.

And so when we talk about value, that manifests itself as performance, so all of our effort in career development is really to increase performance. And then the question is how do you do that?

VERN STEFANIC: Yeah, right. Right. Which right now, I'm sure there's more than a few of us who want to know a little bit more about that. But let me ask you kind of a basic setup question in establishing these conversations of value. Just in the general terms, is that the responsibility of those of us, who are trying to advance our careers, or management to try to give that opportunity to people to be able to develop?

FRANK WANTLAND: Absolutely. I think that there's many things, that people don't do, that they could be doing on their own. I talk to a lot of people who are in, what they would say, this isn't really the optimal environment for me. I mean, really, my manager doesn't pay much attention to me. But that's no excuse for not developing themselves and maybe just talking to each other, because bottom line is the individual's responsibility to add value to that company. When they stop adding value--

VERN STEFANIC: And that's something--

FRANK WANTLAND: --they're gone.

VERN STEFANIC: Yeah. I don't think today's curriculum takes much time to work with people on the understanding that you are here to add value. What we've all seen is that workers today in the oil-and-gas industry have tremendous technical skills, right?


VERN STEFANIC: They're just so far ahead of things, even just 10, 15 years ago, what the geologist and geoscientists would have had.


VERN STEFANIC: But this other-- this skill of realizing of how to add value. Not just skills, but to add value--

FRANK WANTLAND: I'll tell you how that manifests itself. There are reports that say that some 30% of what we call the creative class of people that deal with symbols, and ideas, and numbers, and all that sort of thing-- 30% of them in the industry today are disengaged. That is they're going through the motions. They're not really excited about what they're doing. That's a terrifying number to deal with, and we have the problem of trying to retain top talent. And that, too, is something which, you know, you say, well, I'll get five years from them. That's good enough. They go on, and that's in their culture to do that.

Well, that's nonsense. That's nonsense. You want to keep people for longer periods of times, so that when they mature, they really add value. So it's retaining talent and increasing performance are just vital parts of the organization, and it's the responsibility of both.

VERN STEFANIC: Right. So when somebody comes to you, and they say, as you just said, well, I feel disenfranchised or disengaged from the company, what would you tell them, right off the bat?

FRANK WANTLAND: I would ask them to take inventory of themselves. There are three or four basic questions. What are your strengths? Not just your strengths-- technical strengths. But what are your strengths of character? Perseverance, and challenge, and drive, and all that sort of thing? What are your strengths? What do you bring to the table?

How do you fit in? One of the biggest problems that I find in talking to people in industry is that they're in a poor fit. Their talents aren't being used to the max to meet the challenges that they have. They're out of sync with the organization in that respect. What are your choices? One of the things that we teach in my other life-- which is as a volunteer to help people get re-engaged, you know, reemployed in the industry, 501C3, that deals with people who've been laid off-- is you are where you are because of the choices you've made. Have those choices been good, or bad, willy nilly, thoughtful or not-- we don't teach people how to make good choices.

And that's a topic that I would go into deeper, but it's something that we really dwell on with these people, because they have to make better choices, going forward. And those choices have to be in sync with their core values and their strengths. You know, ta-ta ta-ta, the whole package has to govern and drive those choices. And then the question is who cares? You know, you've got to have some people in the company that give a darn about you-- champions or, you know, mentors. Who cares about how you succeed or not?

So if you say-- for starters, just take inventory. What are your strengths? How do you feel like you fit in? What are your choices?

The worst thing is for a person to say I have no choice, because they have just given their career over to someone else. They're no longer in charge of their career. I have no choice, and you talk about disengagement-- that's when people get disengaged. I have no hope, you know. And hope-- one of the things that. One of the most interesting lines I've read from a psychologist named Rollo May-- he said that depression for most people. I mean, not clinical depression but depression for people like this that just don't see any way forward, and they don't have any choices. Depression is the inability to construct a future.


FRANK WANTLAND: Then that is really a bell ringer for people. So one of the things that we do, that most outplacement people don't do in our group, is that we talk about not just your future but three or four alternative futures because things change. And it's better for you to have, what we call, two or three scenarios. When I first took over as head of the Geologic Research Group, I inherited a group of people, of course. And I was given the charge to-- the Cities Service company was not exactly a high tech company.

We get no respect, you know. They want our money, but they don't care about what we say about how to do things. So he said, Frank, I want you to be one of the spearheads, one of the groups, that gets us technical respect. So if I had that as my goal, then I had to make sure that everyone in my group was reaching their absolute potential. They had to be really driven to do what they do. We didn't have enough people to have someone just says, I can do it.

Well, we had one of those. We had a guy that we had hired-- that had been hired. He was from a good Midwestern school-- got his PhD in a good Midwestern school that was known for computer applications. What we call a computer geologist that time-- someone to look at all the ways that a computer could help in geological mapping and things like that. Pretty rudimentary stuff at that time, but anyway-- and he was OK. But he wasn't performing at a high level.

And he came to me, and he said, Frank, we need to talk. And he said, I don't feel comfortable in what I'm doing. And what we discovered was that, in his background, he had another set of skills that he really preferred, but no one had advertised for that. So he took this job in computer geology, saying, I can do it. But it wasn't good enough. It wasn't satisfying him. It wasn't satisfying us. So we said, OK, let's talk about that. And it was it was sandstone pathology, and diagenesis, and sedimentary geochemistry, and that whole field, which is another strong point of the school he came from. And he really loved it. I mean, this was what he really wanted to do.

And I said, OK, you are no longer a computer geologist. Tell us what you need to set up this area. And his career just exploded.

He brought value. He solved problems. He was so good at what he did, we hired another one, and he was equally as good. And we were-- just one of the things that got us technical respect was the work in sandstone petrology, of all things, because we were in a partnership with Shell and the Dutch North Sea. I mean, can you imagine the technology of Shell at the time? And they were having trouble in this production stuff.

And we turned to-- actually, I asked Shell for samples, and they said, oh, and what would you be doing with them? So that's what we were thought of. Is this going to be a paperweight on your boss's desk, or what? And I said, no, we don't have to explain. We have the right to have samples. So we turned them over to these two guys, and they took those things right apart right down to the molecules. And then we sent them over to a technical meeting at The Hague.

And Shell hadn't done their homework completely, and they had. And they blindsided them with the solution to their problem. And as Old Glory be, this was like the 49ers beating the Patriots, you know, at least for one quarter. And that's the great joy of having people doing what they truly love. And one of my-- one of the ways that I dealt with people was I would say, I want all of you to believe that you can leave at any time-- that there's nothing here holding you back. We're not going to hide you.

I want you to be-- for us, if you're out giving papers, it solves my problem with technical respect. You know, we just didn't have you give papers. Publish as long as it's not proprietary, and not much we had was proprietary. So we did a lot of that, and so they always had the feeling that they had choices. And that, to me, was just essential that everyone has a feeling that they had choices.

VERN STEFANIC: And that was such an interesting example. I'm curious. How did your superiors respond to you remaking the career of someone they hired to do something? Because sometimes what I hear-- and the reason, I'll tell you. The root of that-- what I hear sometimes from some of our members-- is that management doesn't always appreciate that kind of a creative approach to career development. Did you get any pushback when you tried something like that?

FRANK WANTLAND: Absolutely not. Along the way, I was making my boss look good and his boss look good, and I was solving the guys-- the top guy who said, I want technical respect. As long as we were doing that, they didn't care what I did. I mean, I had a lot of latitude. I'll put it that way. I had a latitude. Sometimes, they wondered.

Sometimes they would say, this isn't a geological research group. This is a zoo. I mean, because people were in the halls, and they were talking, and there was always action going on. And they would call us unbusiness-like, but they never argued with the results. They never argued with results. So in a way, yes, if this had been something that had been done widely, I probably had been retired long ago and on a yacht in the Mediterranean, but this is the only way I knew how to do it. And there's a principle that, if you put high skills with high challenge, what you get is a concept called flow.

Flow is when high challenge meets high skill, and you just drift. You just feel strong. It's like being in the zone. It's like being in the zone as an athlete. It's the same thing with the scientists.

My father told me, one time, he was on a team that was developing insulin for production. This is back in the '20s before they knew what insulin could do, but they couldn't produce it in large quantities. And that was his team's job-- was to put it. And he said, Frank, I sat there in 1923-- or 1924, something like that-- and the first crystals of this insulin, that we had manufactured by this process, started rolling off. And he said, and I sat there, and I just rolled them and rolled them under the microscope.

And he said, someone tapped me on the shoulder. He said, you know you've been sitting there for three hours? He had no idea how long he'd been there. It's just time stops. You know, that was the flow of it for him. That's what you wish for everybody is to have that pursuit of flow.

VERN STEFANIC: This sense of flow you're talking about-- and actually, the need to have people feel value or to be able to do the things that they really have passion to do, I love that. And I think most of our members would probably identify. Right now, if they're listening, they're feeling very, very close to what you're talking about. I think this is really resonating. My question is what would you tell the person who-- the very basic thing that you talk about is knowing what your core values are--


VERN STEFANIC: --and knowing who you are. What if a person just doesn't have that, because all they've done all through school has been on the technical end or in some area that did not emphasize a real self--

FRANK WANTLAND: Discovery kind of--

VERN STEFANIC: So yeah, self discovery. So some people get to be professionals without ever really having done something like that. For that kind of person, what kind of advice would you give? What do you do?

FRANK WANTLAND: Well, let me piggyback on that in a minute.


FRANK WANTLAND: We have 40 people a week that come to this program on job transition. And people come and go, but we have 40 or 50. And so we have new people every week. They're mostly mid-career people who've been laid off by economic change. And the thing we hear over and over again is why didn't they teach us this back then? Why is it I'm only now learning that it's important for me to clarify my values, and my values drive some of my decision making and my goals?

You know, a goal that isn't rooted in your core values is somebody else's goal. It's not yours, and it doesn't generate the kind of commitments that you want. So that's a whole other conversation about creating goals that are meaningful to you.

VERN STEFANIC: It's kind of a message for the management of today's oil-and-gas industry. With all the merging, and constriction, and the rapid acquisitions, and everything that's going on, at some point, the effective companies are going to be the ones that actually provide this kind of environment for their people.


VERN STEFANIC: So great, yeah.

FRANK WANTLAND: I'm going to give you another quick example. I was doing some culting within a company, and that was-- and I was visiting with people. I had six hours. They gave me six hours, with every individual, to experiment with this process. And the company had the integrity community-- all these core values labeled all over the place, you know. And I would talk about it. And I said, how do your values then mesh with the values of the company? I mean, do you share these values?

And they say, well, yeah. Certainly, integrity and things, I share that. But, you know, that's not really the core value here. And I said, oh really? What is? He says, stock price. The core value is stock price. Well, there's nothing wrong with that. We're talking about adding value, so say it, you know. Say it. Say what you're here to do is to increase stock price. Let's just be upfront about that.

I think there's some sort of a PR kind of notion that goes with all these corporate values, you know, that people don't pay attention to what people say. They watch what people do, so the value is reflected in your actions more than your words. You have to be committed to this, because it takes some time. It takes some time. It isn't where you go through and check some boxes. And like, there's a book you can get, and you check the boxes, and it tells you all about yourself, you know. I really don't think that's true.

I mean, it tells you how you compare with a group of similar people in their database. It doesn't tell you about you. You only know you, but you have biases. So it's really important to talk to someone else and say, these are my-- this is what I think are my core values. Does that ring true to you? Have you seen me? I mean, let me tell you about that. It's a kind of a pairing up through here, and it doesn't have to all be done at once. But it also goes with the-- who do you trust? And if you start talking to one another, you'll find people that you trust.

And trust is a-- without trust, there's no innovation, because innovation requires risk. And people don't take risks if there's no trust. So, you know, it's all of a kind. So I would tell them to-- there are a couple of books I would highly recommend that they read. One is called The Power of Uniqueness. That is just a powerful, powerful book, because what I was always doing was searching for what is unique about this person. What sets this person-- this isn't just a petrophysicist.

This is a petrophysicist who has these special qualities, and that makes him unique among petrophysicists and makes him uniquely valuable if he gets the right fit. What we did with that young geologist that we started with-- I have a word, that I use, called re-perceive. Re-perceive is to look at again but in a different way. So we re-perceived him. We perceived him as a classic photographer rather than as a-- and then we shifted his whole career track, his whole career thinking, to support that rather than the computer thing that he was sort of-- he was on sort of a Brownian movement kind of thing in this career.

As a matter of fact, re-perception, if anyone out there is with Royal Dutch, where I got that word was from a guy named Pierre Wack, who was an economist with Royal Dutch Shell in the '40s and '50s. And he was the one that said our linear planning model is going to lead us into some real difficulty. And he was the first one in the oil industry, I think, that asked what if? What if? He wrote a paper called Re-perceiving the Future. And that's what he did. And so I said, wow, that's a powerful thing. How can I take that down and talk about people-- re-perceiving people? And that's what we do continuously. That's what we do with these people that come into the transition group. We try to help them re-perceive themselves in light of their true skills and current reality.

VERN STEFANIC: OK. Is it often, that you find, that people are surprised by what they discover about themselves?


VERN STEFANIC: Yeah? Statistics would indicate the industry is changing a little bit-- maybe not as fast as some people would like, but it's becoming more diverse. Women are becoming a more important part of the industry. People from around the world are coming into the defining what the industry is, as opposed to just the US centric type profession now. And statistics and anecdotal evidence would indicate that the profession is kind of-- it's being influenced by that.


VERN STEFANIC: The very things that you've been looking for are starting to happen, I think.

FRANK WANTLAND: Yeah. Well, and then there's the generational thing.

VERN STEFANIC: And then, yes.

FRANK WANTLAND: There's a generational thing. I take people one at a time. I avoid desperately-- avoid categorization by being a boomer, or, you know-- because I'm attributing things to them that might not be them. I've got a grandson, out in Oregon, who has traditionalist values, and he's a millennial, you know. It is nonsense to talk to him about being entitled and all of that stuff they say. I think that's just because you've got to take people as they are, one at a time, and discover them.

I was interviewing a woman, tectonophysicist, for a position, and I asked her what she wanted. And she said, Dr. Wantland. I want to leave a body of good work. And I thought about that, and I said, I've never heard that before. I've heard people say I want your job, or I want to be president, or all kinds of things. But this was so well thought out. I want to leave a body of good work.

So what we did-- we entered into sort of a pact that, if she would do everything we demanded of her-- you know, add value-- I would make sure, one, that she got exposure That she could join professional societies-- that she could give papers, so that she could become recognized outside the company. I would not push her into management, because she didn't want to be pushed in that direction. I'd like for you to be a team leader, maybe among the structural combines and things like that. She says, sure, but I don't want to leave the science. I don't want to leave the science.

Well, she finally did leave us. I mean, after I left a couple of years later, she left. And I ran into her in the Chicago airport, and she was on her way up to New Jersey to accept a position as an endowed chair at Rutgers. And I said, she has done what she started out to do. She is leaving a body of good work, and I thought, wow. And so my role in that was just to hear what she wanted and launch it. That was my whole role-- you know, keep her from falling into any bad traps and things like that.

VERN STEFANIC: Which is great. And I think that's probably a good place to stop this conversation. I think we have so much more to talk about in terms of career, and career development, and navigating the waters. And maybe the next time we get together, let's talk a little bit about from the worker's perspective, really nuts and bolts on how to-- what they need to do. What the workers need to do to get going. But for today, thank you. Thank you--

FRANK WANTLAND: You're welcome.

VERN STEFANIC: --Frank, for being with us. We've been talking today with Dr. Frank Wantland, career coach and consultant. And I'm sure this is a conversation that's going to continue, so please check back again to the AAPG website for all of the Energy Insight podcast or go to your favorite podcast platform. We're available all over the place. Energy Insights is a production of the American Association of Petroleum Geologists. And today, thanks for listening.

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