Overview of the People in Energy East conference in Kuala Lumpur

A few weeks ago I had the pleasure and honour to be one of the guest speakers at the People in Energy East conference organized in Kuala Lumpur by Lucy Brennan from The Talent Management Alliance.

It was my first visit in Malaysia and I thoroughly enjoyed the warm welcome I was given by everyone at the event – it put me in a great mood for the Compensation training I delivered in Kuala Lumpur a few weeks later !

There were excellent speakers, mostly from the Oil & Gas industry and the atmosphere was an open one with delegates asking interesting and relevant questions, and very candid and open presentations from organisations such as ABB, Schneider Electric, Scomi Group, Philips, GDF Suez, Weatherford, GE Oil & Gas, Shell, PetroVietnam, Weatherford, Aperian Global and Dice International.

Here are some random learnings from the event :

First I was very interested to find out that even in Asia (with young populations and booming demographics), the O&G industry has a major focus on hiring and developing local graduates, especially engineers and technicians, in their countries of operation. Almost all the O&G companies that were present mentioned their graduate program as one of their key initiatives to prepare for the future and make sure they have enough skilled staff to replace the current ageing workforce.

One great example was given by the HR Director of Petro Vietnam, who not only presented the topic, but was accompanied by one of his brilliant young engineers, who explained what it is to be part of such a program and how it teaches engineers what the reality of working on a rig is… and the sense of pride linked to doing “real work”, having an impact and being able to do things, not just not the theory of engineering. It was an excellent reminder of how these programs affect the lives of the graduates who are enrolled in them, and shape their work ethics for years to come.

Another common point of focus was around how to localize the workforce and grow talent from the local pool, to reduce reliability on expat skills and make sure the organisations are staffed with national talent equipped with the right set of skills, needed now and in the future.

For instance, Scomi Group highlighted some talent strategies for emerging markets, focusing on glocalisation with country-specific aspects of C&B or career development, regionalization with more regional initiatives such as South to South employee moves (vs traditional North to South moves), and of course, internationalization.

Weatherford explained their integrated approach to localization, with a specific example on Myanmar, for example through establishing relationships with newly reopened educational institutions, reviewing and adjusting their local C&B structure to respond to the rising cost of living, and trying to differentiate themselves from other multinationals that are very active in this market.

On a related topic of developing transnational talent pipelines, GDF Suez highlighted how they tackle their biggest challenge, which is to bring local talent on board, and ensure that leaders of tomorrow will not be overwhelmingly composed of expats.

Henry Zinglersen from Aperian explained how culture impacts collaboration styles. Their company has analysed leadership styles along specific axes such as independence vs interdependence, egalitarianism vs status, risk vs restraint, being direct vs being indirect, task vs relationship. They teach global leader traits to multicultural teams and organisation, and how to have quality discussion with another person despite the cultural differences. We performed some fun and eye-opening exercises at the beginning of the session, a nice way to become aware of individual and cultural bias.

At Shell, diversity is important in order to attract and retain the right talent. There are women development programs, family-friendly practices etc. The one thing that really stood out for me is an initiative whereby each meeting has a diversity champion, who looks at who is speaking or does not dare to, who might be brushed aside etc… These diversity champions help ensure representation in diversity of thought and creativity. It’s a great approach and I hope more companies will start to implement such an easy but impactful “twist” to their meetings.

Succession planning was the topic of a roundtable. It was interesting to see that all agreed that Talent should be identified through sustained high performance, but also from being a role model for the company values. The focus is now not only on the what, but also on the how of performance and potential, as behaviours have a massive impact on employee engagement, especially as staff tend to replicate the values they see adopted and practiced by their leaders.

Many of the companies who presented were very open in sharing some of their talent management models and tools. Within ABB, one such tool really captured my attention and I plan to use it in my future consulting interventions.

It’s a matrix that links business drivers to HR Solutions : a very simple yet effective way to demonstrate that tools and processes developed by HR, are actually tied to business needs and drive results. For example, to the driver “How to find external candidates”, corresponds HR Solutions such as employer branding, e-recruitment, social media or fairs.

Schneider Electric had a similar approach, mapping out industry trends vs company HR initiatives. I believe these kinds of approaches are excellent in building legitimacy for HR within the business, and helping get “that” seat at “that” table.

Finally, let’s talk more of C&B related topics.

Dice, through their Rigzone Compensation Tracker, explained how overall salaries might be looking down in Australia & Oceania, despite 2/3 of respondents receiving salary increases : factors such as fewer drilling profiles, more localization, more junior hires tend to drive down average salaries in that region.

This is a good reminder that numbers need to be analysed in order to understand causality whenever possible, otherwise you might get to an incorrect understanding (in this example, you might just think that companies decreased salaries of existing employees, which is not the case).

GE Oil & Gas presented its HR philosophy : collaborative – experiential – meritocratic, which is done in 3 ways :

  • Tell people what’s expected
  • Help them get there
  • Hold them accountable

As Jeff Imelt their CEO says :

Performance standards are about simplicity and accountability.

This reflects in the performance management system, which only allows for 5 goals maximum. The CEO publishes his own goals and objectives every year on January 1st in order to allow for cascading and alignment throughout the organisation, a process that take sup to 3 months.

As we all know, despite the fact that GE abandoned the forced ranking system it was famous for under Jack Welsh, there is still a very strong sense of accountability and employee differentiation in the organisation. For employees rated “unsatisfactory” and “role model”, the business needs to “convince HR” before making the rating official in these extreme categories. Generally speaking, performance ratings can be changed by HR if they don’t fit the distribution guidelines, but the result has to be owned by the business.

There is an employee grievance process related to performance evaluation. In 2010, there were only 10 cases in the whole region. The process works : in 2 of these cases, the manager was unfair : the employee rating and related salary increase were re-instated, the manager received a verbal warning, and employees are protected by a specific policy against retaliation (in line with the integrity value at GE).

Finally, I made a presentation on the topic of linking performance management and pay-for-performance, where I first shared a case study, then gave some tips for such implementation to the audience, and took questions to help delegates see how these principles can apply to their own organisation and how they can do it despite a culture more focused on face-saving than employee differentiation in Asia.

Overall it was a great conference and I look forward to attending more events from the Talent Management Alliance in the future :-).

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  1. Thanks Sandrine for sharing your experience of conference with us. The way you presented each& every important delicate’s idea is really wonderful.
    Got insight of market Leaders, I am sure HR professionals got an idea to develop their own strategies.

  2. Ahsan Qureshi says

    Dear Sandrine,
    As always great stuff. Thanks for sharing your rich experiance.

  3. Ayesha Asad says

    Very insightful. Thanks for sharing.

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