Your Most Important Employee – at 2 o’clock in the Morning

Your Most Important Employee – at 2 o’clock in the Morning

Just another late night shift. Just like it’s been many times before. Tough to stay focused when everything is carving straight lines.

And then the alarms start. Things go south – REALLY south.

The board operator has seen this before. They recognize the pattern – the “footprint” – of the alarms and the problem and take the steps necessary to undo the situation. Another crisis averted – another simple notation in the shift logbook. And then back to straight lines.

Any assistance called in? No. Any consultations, committees, or “running it up the flagpole”? No. Just the knowledge and experience of a skilled board operator managing the situation – like he or she has been trained to do – and has done many times in the past.

At 2 o’clock in the morning, THIS BOARD OPERATOR is your Most Important Employee.

Without the proper response  – or without a timely response –  the trouble could have escalated further, resulting in loss of profit, loss of equipment, or – worst of all – loss of life.

For those board operators who have been there before – seen this thing unfold and been a part of the solution – putting together a proper, timely response may seem to come easily. They can approach it a little more calmly and with a little more deliberateness. They can put together a planned approach with more methodology and less “let’s try this…or this…or this….”

This is called “EXPERIENCE”. And it takes time to build it – and the confidence and competence which comes with it.

In the rapid ups and downs of our Industry today (they only SEEM to be worse than the past!), decisions have to be made quickly and accurately – or opportunities will be lost. Yet everything in today’s world seems to be conspiring against the knowledge and experience necessary to make the good decisions:

  • Our experienced employees are headed out the door – taking their “corporate knowledge” with them;
  • Their replacements are smart, energetic, but – by definition – they are inexperienced;
  • Technology is evolving and changing almost daily;
  • The demand for longer runs between turnarounds and the emphasis on equipment reliability minimize the opportunities for board operators to observe startups and shutdowns.


We need good training to carry us successfully into the future. We need to fill the expanding knowledge gap. As technology evolves more quickly and changes almost daily, we need good training to help us to wring the last dollar out of our constant upgrades and investments. And as reliability improves and minimizes our employees’ opportunities to observe “a blip”, we need good training to substitute for on-the-job learning.

But what about the experience gap? Only properly-constructed training can be helpful here.

The refinery manager – or the Investors – will never stand for anything less than full profitability. And exercising the equipment to grow familiar with its response will never be acceptable to “The Street”.

How to simulate that exercise? Repetitive, participative classroom examples, where the students are all subjected to sharing their thought processes with their peers. Properly facilitated, ALL must be a part of the action, NONE are subject to ridicule or disrespect, and ALL will build the mental methodology to approach the problem systematically. More is better.

For those fortunate enough to have unit simulators, the exercises must be built around the models. The students must learn the functionality of the unit first – be truly comfortable in its parameter relationships – before approaching the simulator. The model must NEVER be used as a videogame. Hypotheses should be developed first – and then shown to be right or wrong on the TOOL. A final thought: a generic simulator is good; one which simulates MY UNIT is the BEST!

Properly-constructed training WILL NEVER REPLACE on-the-unit experience. But properly constructed, properly delivered training with a timely refresher program built into its schedule will help to build the competence – AND CONFIDENCE – necessary to your Most Important Employee. Contact Becht Performance Group to review your current training programs and help keep your most-important employees ready!

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About The Author

Mr. Bober is an Advisor in the Becht Performance Group, focused on recommending effective technical and operational training to clients worldwide. Mr. Bober holds a BS in Chemical Engineering from Newark College of Engineering (now the New Jersey Institute of Technology). He served as a Process Engineer, Project Developer, Economist, and Manager at Exxon’s Bayway Refinery for twelve years. He then joined Mobil Research and Development as an FCC Specialist. He managed technical training for Mobil Engineering, worldwide, until Exxon and Mobil merged in 2000. From this point, he managed worldwide technical training for ExxonMobil Research and Engineering and then retired from managing the Technical Portfolio for ExxonMobil’s Global Manufacturing Training initiative – with a combined service of 37 years to the two companies.

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Your Most Important Employee – at 2 o’clock in the Morning

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