Licence to Drill

Trojan Global working after conflict

As the dust of war settles, the civilian companies sitting patiently across the border start to get mobilised.

Pitching camp on their new extraction, refinement or distribution projects, they can’t ignore the multi-headed political situation they’re about to enter.

Unable to influence it, the ground rules and parameters within which they’ll have to function are not negotiable.

The consequences of not playing by the rules can be fatal. So how do companies overcome the challenge of attracting staff to run these projects?

Assume the heart of the matter is the huge proportion of the world’s remaining oil and gas reserves sitting under that settling dust.

The revenue it generates will fund the reconstruction and social integration programme, among other things.

The growing success in resolving conflict around the world in the past decade has resulted in a big increase in the number of companies working in countries affected by conflict.

The current price of oil and gas, together with the need to diversify supply, has not only made these projects viable but probably drove the peace process in the first place.

This hasn’t resulted in a money-is-no-object situation when it comes to employing staff. High costs, risk and the volatile price of energy all have a commercial impact.

Those people working in ex-war zones know the going rate for salaries, benefits and the minimum provision of facilities. Finding the right combination of incentives to encourage them to change employer is key.

For executive staff this is usually a blend of money, promotion, travel/holidays and career prospects. Good, secure living/working accommodation is taken as read. Secure and relatively happy in their current role, executives need to be approached with care if they are to see the benefit in changing employer.

Headhunting is the most effective way of achieving this. With the economic slowdown in the West, there’s a potentially larger recruitment pool of relevant talent there today. But as many of the individuals in this pool are unlikely to have worked in a post-conflict situation, it’s important to establish if they have the attributes to succeed.

A spirit of adventure, good health, being street wise, ability to live on ‘bachelor’ status, robust personality, sound technical knowledge, cultural empathy, preparedness to work long hours and bravery are among the traits we’d be looking for.

That recruitment pool, however, is being fished extensively by the organisations constructing the many other major projects, in peaceful locations, around the globe. Our experience in the Middle East, Western Europe, Asia and Africa shows that having a deep understanding of the geographic location is essential if future employees are to be attracted while having a clear appreciation of the real situation.

The challenge is how to win the hearts and minds of candidates; research is the key to success. Before making contact with any senior individuals it’s important that the new employer understands all the remuneration elements associated with attracting them and that their expectation can at least be matched.

The personal risks associated with working in a conflict zone must be carefully considered by every employer. Security will be the main concern, whether it’s protection getting to and from work or how staff will be evacuated should there be an upsurge in violence.

Traditionally provided by the armed services, the Iraq war saw a large increase in the number of private companies providing security services. Frequent contact with the armed services is essential, to assess the risks and review the associated plans and procedures.

Today, the international community is well co-ordinated. Organisations include the local embassies (that will hold regular co-ordination meetings), UNOCHA (United Nations Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs) and leading non-governmental organisations (NGOs). Registering with them and attending their briefings is vital.

In addition to being a good source of networking they keep everyone up to date with other relevant issues, for instance, health. With the new staff in place, maintaining morale in a country where their movements are restricted is important.

Usually cooped up for long periods, they should get time off regularly to leave the country for R&R. Even small things, for instance, providing different food and drink, can make a big difference – especially at key times such as Christmas.

Facilitating a PX store can pay dividends. Whether peanut butter or Marmite, the vast range of home product they supply makes the expat’s life that bit more palatable. Ensuring every expat is fully briefed on local customs and culture is essential.

Having respect for the indigenous population is vital if potentially dangerous situations are to be avoided. In a post-conflict country, the rule of law will be weak and many people may have access to firearms, etc. Interaction with local women is a prime area for concern, as often is blatant consumption of alcohol.

The war, of course, doesn’t have to be violent. The threat of a cold one can have just as dramatic impact on the likelihood of attracting and retaining senior-level talent. Most recently, expats contemplating new roles in Russia are thinking twice about what might be in store if the Cold War revisits us.

Discussions with them are now focused on ‘what ifs’ rather than ‘how much’. Finding locals prepared to work for a foreign company under this circumstance will also be more of a challenge.

The secret to finding and retaining senior-level talent to work in conflict areas is twofold.

Firstly, it is devising a complete recruitment solution, from salary to security, and being able to articulate all aspects to potential employees in a way they respond to positively.

Secondly, it’s the employer creating and maintaining an environment/ culture that makes employees feel valued, safe, motivated and as happy and enriched as possible.

The recruitment solution needs to be bespoke for each location and senior role. With forethought, a precise action plan and tightly choreographed interaction between employer and headhunter, there are few strategic recruitment gaps that can’t be filled – wherever they are.

Have You Been Framed?

Trojan Global competency framework

Just when the Millennium bug was first mooted and France was putting its mitts on football’s World Cup, businesses in the UK were grasping the competency framework concept then hotfooting it from across the Atlantic.

Being driven by the quest ‘how do we make exceptional performance in our people the norm?’ was complemented by the overwhelming need to retain talent, as well as attract it. Now, a decade or so on, we thought it time to see how things have got on and whether the panacea worked?

Fashionable as the competency-based assessment solution was for some, the intent behind its introduction was a matter of critical importance for many. For organisations that saw their people as a key differentiator and, therefore, a vital asset, attracting and retaining the best talent was, and is, a vital ingredient – particularly in the ravaging ‘war for talent’.

Replacing leavers is ever-more difficult as employers fight tooth and nail to dissuade staff from resigning. Enlightened employers, realising that prevention is better than cure, saw the 360° review process and structured personal development that accompanied the competency framework process as the ideal solution.

They also saw it as a way of enhancing competitive advantage and leveraging human capital investment. Introducing frameworks for the first time took longer than almost everyone anticipated.

Budgets were generally insufficient, as the internal cost of approvals, training and implementation was underestimated. Not every organisation’s culture and business planning sat comfortably with the training, promotion and corporate commitment that went hand-in-hand with every staff member’s development programme. Relating business objectives to each role profile tended to prove more complex than expected.

However, putting a competency framework in place has generally proven to be a successful contributor to organisations wanting to modernise. They have been highly effective at removing the ‘glass ceiling’ syndrome.

The jury’s out on whether they’ve reduced churn but they do seem to help in the recruitment of new talent. Enlightened, prospective employees appear to be more impressed by organisations that illustrate a commitment to a robust competency-based review process.

There is a wide diversity in the scale and scope of the framework documentation. Some are captured on spreadsheet, squeezed onto part of a single A4 sheet. Others are highly structured, professionally printed and extend to half a dozen pages or more. Many are electronic and posted on intranets.

There’s little doubt that the most effective frameworks relate the competencies to the corporation’s core values. Not every organisation has taken the essential step of linking their competencies to role profiles. Those companies tend to have let the application of their framework slip and pay them lip service.

Although accepting that espousing the competencies from the top is essential, not all leaders/senior managers have complied. Many think they’ve got away with not practising what their frameworks preach, at least on occasions – but we know otherwise.

This can have the impact of reducing the competency model to a farce. On occasion, the original compilation of the framework has put pressure on brand definition and key differentiators, as well as the internal perception of the corporate culture.

In predetermining what excellence in their people looks like, it became obvious to some organisations that they were actually promoting themselves in an identical way to their competitors and making statements that were ineffective as they couldn’t be measured. This became most apparent when relating the review process to reward (something we don’t recommend) and having to establish KPIs that were quantifiable.

Role profiles, where they existed, had to be re-written to accommodate the new demands. The major impact of newly introduced frameworks came from the review process and accommodating the subsequent staff training and development.

At the beginning, reviews were generally taking about twice as long as expected, ie, three to five hours (some took days). Now, they are slicker and more focused, lasting about two hours on average.

Some training/development programmes have been extensive, eg, funding of MBAs. Employers realised they were making their people even more desirable and therefore had to work even harder to hold onto them.

With the removal of ‘glass ceilings’ and open encouragement of all staff to achieve their potential, it was inevitable that more titles would have to be created and, eventually, increased equity participation.

While this has helped companies hold onto their talent it has tended to make them top heavy. Over the years, frameworks have encouraged companies to adopt a more mentoring approach and empower employees at an earlier stage in their career.

Managing the expectation of overly ambitious employees has been a lesson hard to learn for some employers. With the openness created by the framework, the genie was let out of the bottle.

Staff members who had an over-inflated opinion of their ability, and yet were valuable to their organisation in their current role, have had to be handled carefully if their loyalty and motivation were to be maintained.

So, have competency frameworks been successful? For us, the answer is ‘almost’. They’ve made a lot of organisations contemplate how they engage with and nurture their staff. They’ve also tended to remove barriers to promotion and create meritocracies.

But the pressure on management to carry out reviews and the cost associated with training and development have been an issue. Developing staff that are made even more valuable to competitors is also a concern.

Relating brand and culture to the competencies, business objectives and reward structure has flushed out key questions that have not necessarily been appropriately answered by every organisation.

Time now, we think, to take the competency framework philosophy a step further. The process should be rationalised, made more IT friendly and real-time orientated.

Brand and culture need to be reviewed to ensure they fully align with the promises being made to staff. Indirectly, reward should reflect what individuals have done to take the business forward, as well as improve the bottom line.

So then, when the cry goes up ‘competency review time again’ the MD’s face doesn’t grimace like someone whose tie has just gone through the shredder.

Then every company will know it’s on the road to true enlightenment – and sustainable profit.

Why Engineering Should Fear the Rise of Nigerian Pottery

Trojan Global Nigerian pottery

I remember a discussion about engineering at University.

Hinging on our choice of course it certainly wasn’t raising any eyebrows, that is until a Scot chimed in with “I’m studying the changing face of Nigerian pottery in the 20th century”.

Not totally familiar with those artisans, using “Who’s your favourite potter?” didn’t seem appropriate to break the ensuing silence, so I played my Geoffrey Boycott: “Why?”

The response was quick and telling. “Because it’s not engineering.”

I have to admit the answer made perfect sense at the time. That should worry us all as it’s substantially why the energy sector’s lamenting the growing talent crisis.

There’s no doubt about it: too many creative, brilliant people are overlooking engineering as a degree choice, wooed by other, better sold, sexier alternatives.

Industry leaders, ignore this status quo at your peril. Countless young minds are telling engineering to ‘talk to the hand’ because it’s seen as a stuffy old game.

But had I known then what I know now, you’d be reading a completely different article. What’s more I might be a more interesting person. I’d have accumulated a plethora of interesting stories; tales of foreign lands, different cultures, technological wonders – but more importantly, the satisfaction I’d helped make a difference to people’s lives, creating wealth and sustaining society.

The face of engineering is becoming more wrinkled as the amount of young talent entering shrivels. By 2012, it’s estimated that 33% of today’s workforce in oil and gas will have retired.

The wide-scale redundancies made in the 90s recession didn’t help. Add to this the propensity for freelancing and the impact that it has on training and development (ie, the future), and the scene is set for a serious challenge in engineering recruitment.

Market forces continue to drive way above-inflation salary hikes. Employers appear to be forced to use remuneration as the primary weapon in attracting new people. This isn’t the only answer.

So, there are three main problems: attraction, encouraging freelancers to go staff and retention. I haven’t got a panacea but there are pragmatic steps to be taken; some by companies, some cross-sector.

Companies could aid their recruitment efforts by looking at their branding, communication strategy, structure and business model. Smart organisations today adopt a flexible approach, enabling them to adapt to suit the demands of high-performing talent.

This is quite a change to the time honoured like-us-for-what-we-are or-lump-us approach. It certainly makes jobs more relevant to employees’ lifestyles (a main driver in changing job, according to our research).

Dealing with brand needs to go hand-in-hand with embedding an honest culture that creates ‘spiritual’ employment. Concurrent with individual employers’ actions, there must be a complementary, orchestrated, industry-wide initiative that embraces government, learning institutions, a switched on marketing/PR organisation et al.

Grant support, tax incentives, non-cognisant degree transference and work visas are among the many things to go on the agenda for change. And let’s not forget about addressing the gender imbalance. Any takers to create and lead this initiative?

In making the energy industry funkier, the balance between the radical, new red sneakers and the necessarily solid safety boots needs to be struck, and the new image of the industry then needs to reflect it.

The sector’s got to be brave in its drive to get to the next generation of graduates before anyone else. It’s also got to prepare young engineers for the new world where they will be empowered, making important decisions and able to take the broadest of perspectives.

The hearts and minds of those academics who look down at CDT, technology and any other practical woodwork-esque subjects have to be reached.

The industry needs an oil-rig-proportioned strategy and hard-hitting communication solution, not spoon-sized sound bites. Like never before, engineering’s got to get into the schools, find the best teachers, actors if needs be, and make it very clear that it’s an exciting career, no better still a lifestyle with substantial financial and personal rewards.

In adjusting corporate brand to attract/retain new talent here are a few points to ponder: how genuinely people-focused are you; are you a truly great place for someone to attach themselves; can you holistically predefine talent; once you’ve got talent do you have a formal way of holding on to it; do you measure how much people flourish with you?

With freelancers money tends to be the overwhelming driver, but are you doing enough to build on their natural desire to belong? Have you thought about how to attract and retain those specialists, and in so doing lessen the competition’s capability? Alternatively, have you got a transition programme to bring freelancers back into the fold?

There’s nearly always a way of compensating for pure financial reward, once you’ve got to know the intimate aspirations and fears of an individual.

So in this virtual recruitment panacea there’s reinforcement of both individual corporate and industry-wide brand, culture and communication strategy. An overarching solution, agreed by all and with at least a ten-year life. Fiscal/government support will be essential. A diverse cocktail of reward and benefits will be necessary to address each new recruit’s needs and to keep incumbents happy.

Vital will be open, frank communication, underpinned by ongoing, relevant training and development for all. Enhancing the social standing of the engineer must also to be addressed.

For companies that can adopt these remedies I find that headhunting at executive level is little more difficult today than it’s ever been. Longer term, things might be different with pressure coming from many areas, eg, sustainability complexities, criminal bias of legislation.

But the industry has never been more open to change, opportunity is truly global and technological advance is making life more interesting. Also, energy (in its widest sense) is at the top of the world’s agenda, giving a global platform to anyone who wants to rise to the occasion.

I don’t see it as a war for talent. Rather it’s a serious skirmish that’s given the industry an important wake-up call.

How imminent and large the energy industry truly sees it I’m not sure. Whether the sector can act in concert and how much it’s prepared to invest is not clear.

How the industry reacts will also depend largely on whether it believes it can succeed. Engineering must become a transparent profession of highly articulated opportunity and success – an industry acting as a house of brands, encouraging talent to flourish in a variety of ways and to reap the reward.

Otherwise, it’ll fall foul of those of Nigerian pottery fanatics everywhere.