Erik Wiik had more than 20 years in the oil and gas industry but he knew about a year ago that the market was coming back — and it was time to step up recruiting efforts.

But Wiik and his management team were looking for a longer-term solution: offering employees a safe workplace that would help engage, retain and attract talent.

The worker shortage started when the federal deep-water drilling moratorium of 2010 had started to fade away and more work was coming to Aker Solutions North America, where Wiik is regional president.

However, there wasn’t a supply of new employees available to add to the company.

“We just can't get enough people, and a lot of our leadership has been asking ourselves, how do we attract people, how do we develop them, how do we develop leaders, how do we make sure that we maximize the human capital,” Wiik says. “It's really my biggest challenge.”

When the traditional methods of recruiting employees weren’t bringing the results he desired, Wiik turned to some nontraditional methods. For example, NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston was reducing its activity, and Aker Solutions sought some of the engineers who were available as subcontractors.

The company obtained about a dozen engineers and has set a target to obtain up to 50 people from the NASA environment.

“They have skills that apply to what we are doing,” Wiik says. “Not directly, but some of the experiences they have are actually very relevant.”

But the value proposition of a safe workplace seemed to be a better offering than stopgap measures when it came to filling vacancies and keeping employees engaged.

Efforts to have a safe work environment were nothing new; in fact, the company had started a program, Just Care, in 2003.

“We had to reduce the hazards that we were working under,” Wiik says. “We set out on a journey we called ‘Just Care.’ “It was all about the individual’s attitudes toward himself or herself, their working environment and their colleagues; it was about making the company be more aware of hazards, and thereby taking action and changing behaviors so that no one gets hurt.”

Aker Solutions was able to reduce the number of incidents to one-third of what it had 10 years ago just by changing the attitude. The company drives home the message that the focus is on personal responsibility for health and safety issues.

“One of our values is to make sure that nobody gets hurt, and that when they leave for home in the afternoon are as healthy as they were when they came to work in the morning,” Wiik says. “And that is really a value proposition that we have — that we are able to stand behind both for the employee and their family, of course.”

Here’s how Aker Solutions has expanded the role of safety as a value proposition for the 1,273 employees in North America.

Make your values criteria for success

Many companies Wiik was familiar with all had similar values — the ideals were all about results and integrity. It was obvious these terms were in the public domain of businesses and were commonplace in mission and value statements.

“But I think it is important to pick values that actually reflect what you intend to do,” he says. “So if you are a company that plans to work very closely with your customers and is going to be very intimate with your customers, you need to make sure that you have values that reflect that.”

Aker Solutions sees its values as the compass that guides its policies, operations and ultimately, behavior.

“That way, you can make sure that you are describing very important success criteria for not only your employees but for the company as well,” Wiik says.

Taking the example of safety, one of the most important concerns a company should have for its employees, Wiik drew the picture how as a company value, health and safety really mean something.

“That vision was that it must be possible to have zero incidents, meaning that we should have a vision that nobody gets hurt,” Wiik says. “That was kind of hard to accept for any of our engineers; they know statistics, and they say, ‘Well, eventually somebody is going to get hurt, right?’ And we said, ‘No, you cannot have that. You need to have a vision that everybody believes it is possible to avoid any of the accidents that you have had and may have in the future.’

“So we set that as our vision and everybody accepted it: ‘Yes, we will work toward that and do everything we can in order to reduce the hazards.’”

While some hazards are less likely to present themselves in the workplace than others, if a company takes a proactive stance to prevent accidents, it’s important to assess which hazards are the highest risk to your business and employees. If it is part of a company’s values that it will do the planning, training and documenting to manage financial and human costs of injuries, it says a lot about the company’s attitude toward employees.

Get a vision and training

To begin a campaign to inspire employees to use safe practices or achieve another goal, it starts with a vision. A vision doesn’t have to be as extensive as constantly picturing in your mind a group of factories humming along, producing a product consumers are clamoring for. Basically, it is a certain condition at a point in time.

For Wiik’s health and safety vision, it was to have so few episodes of injuries in a period of time that the company over time was actually measuring the contributing factors more than the incidents themselves.

Working toward that goal involves developing an extensive training program for the procedures. All employees should receive the training.

One example includes the advanced 3-D simulators, which enable Aker Solutions and customers to train personnel for offshore oil rigs while they learn at safer onshore work environments. The simulators increase safety by allowing crews to train as long as they want without concern for rig downtime.

“New employees should go through the same training just to make sure that they are aware of their surroundings, to make sure that they take the time they need in order to plan their work and make sure they do everything they can in order to avoid getting themselves into trouble,” Wiik says.

In addition, management needs to be trained from the lowest level all the way up to the CEO to make sure that you are able to lead by example. In addition, leaders need to adopt the attitude and behavior and demonstrate that they do care about the initiative.

“You also need to train leaders to do risk analysis on the workplace, and also to intervene in the workplace with people who plan to do certain operations — how do you go about and do some intervention in order to make sure that they don't get into something you don't want them to.”

The company will help build its relationship with employees by providing tools employees will need such as rulebooks on specific methodology on how to do work-safe analyses, how to prepare for work and how to identify hazards.

Make your observations

Measuring performance and feedback is by no means a new method of management. While the idea may go back more than 50 years, the application of the process changes each time it is molded into use by a company.

Incidents should be recorded not to point fingers but to find out why and how they happened.

“First of all, you've got to be positive,” Wiik says. “So it's not like you are reporting your buddy because he didn't put his hard hat on. You are not looking for that kind of reporting. You are looking for neutral reporting.”

You will gather more useful information if you record not only the accidents and near-accidents that occurred, but also any activity seen to be contributing.

“We started to measure every time an employee submitted an observation card indicating that there might be a hazard or even promoting good behavior,” Wiik says.

“We count every inspection any leader makes, we count any activity, training hours and all the things that we were hoping would lead up to a reduced incident rate. So by measuring all that, we also changed the behavior of everyone because everybody knew that they would be measured.”

Once the measurements process is about to start, it is essential to point out that the company is seeking a balance.

“Employees can either report bad behavior or good behavior. Also, it is all about participating,” Wiik says. “So we measured participation more than content necessarily just to get everybody engaged.”

By making such a practice a competition, people will want to participate.

“When they saw that the team that submitted the most reports and the most assessments of safety got the coolest rewards, it became a sport to be active and to participate,” he says.

Getting employees to participate in program may take some effort. If a firm is small, you can get everybody together easily and frequently. If it is large, it takes conscious planning of what you want to do.

“Have an employee engagement plan; I think that’s important, regardless how big the company is, because then you at least have a plan,” Wiik says. “Make a conscious decision of what you intend to do. You put it down on a piece of paper that you share with your colleagues and then you go about and do it. Then you can make adjustments of things don’t work.”

Several types of criteria can decide rewards. Aker has a monthly drawing among those who had submitted observation cards. They win a gift card and similar prizes. The company also picked certain observations that added the most value and the nominees got special rewards. An annual President’s Award for Excellence is given to recognize outstanding improvements in safety.

Encourage employees to contribute across the company to step out and do more than what you just ask for.

“You are part of a team, you are part of a department, but you really need to see how you can contribute to everybody in the company, and if you have ideas and so on, you want them to do that,” Wiik says. “That’s how we also measure that sort of engagement and activity, so the more people reach out and help others in the company to resolve their problems, the more engaged they are.”

How to reach: Aker Solutions North America, (713) 685-5700 or

The Wiik file

Born: On the west coast of Norway, in a fishing village close to Molde.

Education: I went to Texas A&M University and majored in engineering.

What was your first job?

I was 9 years old, and close to my house there was a fish factory. They processed cod from the Atlantic Ocean. Back then, with the fishermen chopped the head off the cod and then they turned in the fish — that became filet. But the head also had some valuable food. Cod tongue is actually a delicacy in Norway. What I did with my friends during the cod season was to go to the fish factory, get all those heads for free, and we would tear out the tongue and sell it on the street. That was my first job. I made a lot of money, enough money to buy a bicycle. So it was a good business. It was all profit. They were happy that you took the fish heads.

What is the best business advice that you have ever received?

Share my leadership role with my team. Everybody in my team has at least two jobs: One is the job that they have which is to run a business unit or run a department, and the other job is to share my job and be part of the team to run the business. I have really seen some great results of that. A mentor that I had gave me that advice.

What is your definition of business success?

I think the definition of success is if you can do it again. If it can be repeated, then it’s success. So if you had a good project and did a good deal once, that’s not good enough. If you can repeat it, that’s a success for me. The other part of the definition would be if my team can do it on their own next time without me, that is also the definition of success.

Published in Houston