Aggreko Adapts to the New Normal
The following interviews provide insights into they way different departments within Aggreko are responding to the lingering effects of the pandemic. The interviewees also share their respective experiences in their roles within the organisation.
The QHSE and leadership perspective
After the challenges and uncertainty brought about by the past 2 years, how has 2021 been as we come to the end of the year?
The challenges still remain, even though they may not be as intense as they were at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. It will indeed be what I call a new normal that many businesses, including Aggreko will have to get used to.
What I mean by this is that in our line of business in the past as an example, logistics was an area that was smooth and predictable, but now it has become extremely challenging, not just for us, but for many global companies. It is in the news, in the public domain, the supply chain constraints, and we are no different in Aggreko.
That is one example of a key challenge within our business that still remains with us, and we have to navigate through it. So, 2021 has been better than 2020 however, challenges still remain.
In terms of QHSE, what were some of the challenges that your department faced and how did you overcome them?
An inherent part of what we do requires us to have ‘boots’ on the ground. A physical presence is important as it enables us to observe behaviours, patterns, and rules being followed which became extremely difficult as a result of the travel restrictions. So that was one of the key challenges we faced, and we tried to overcome this as best as possible with our remote working protocols, taking videos, listening to people, having more frequent conversations with them and seeing pictures that were being sent from the sites to get a sense of how QHSE was functioning across our various locations.
The second challenge we faced is to do with fatigue as a result of getting used to a new normal way of work where we don't do what we used to do in the past. In addition to not being able to travel like we used to, the “new normal” also required us to adjust to a lot of remote working, working from home, not visiting/meeting with people and not having conversations with people face-to-face. This required significant change not only in the QHSE team, but across the business. This new normal way of working is going to require what I call a “sustainable level of adjustment” in order for us to get used to it, because COVID is not going to go away, but will instead come in waves and cycles. We will have to adapt, mitigate the risk, and adapt our working practices in the years to come.
These are the two challenges that stood out to me - the new way of working and getting used to it and managing the fatigue around it as well as being able to connect with people who are spread across 70+ locations in Africa.
Aside from the expected support that employees and staff may have needed, are there any unique initiatives that you put in place for those in your department to support them in being able to effectively carry out their tasks and feel safe and secure during the pandemic?
Yes, indeed. What we found worked really well for us was connecting through having conversations more frequently. We initially set up daily check-in calls that worked extremely well, especially during the ramp up phase of the pandemic. These then became weekly check in calls to get a sense of the team’s mood, the challenges and risks being faced, and the support and intervention required. These weekly check in calls are still continuing and have helped us to provide the level of support that is necessary.
We also move to a mode of working as I mentioned earlier where we get videos and pictures to be sent from sites which helps us to form a somewhat accurate and view of what is going on over and above just having the conversations about the physical layout, behaviours, patterns, standards, protocols, and whether they are adhering to our minimum expectations.
These are some of the unique modifications we have introduced to work around the lack of physical presence and face-to-face interaction.
Can you give some insight into diversity and inclusion within the QHSE department?
Indeed. My QHSE team in Africa is made up of approximately 15 people. I am really proud to say that we have a very diverse group – a predominantly African team and we have a fair representation of women as well. We have a really capable, competent, courageous woman as the Senior Coordinator in Angola, another one in South Africa and another one based on one of our sites in Burkina Faso.
In terms of aspiring talent - graduates and early career professionals, what advice would you give those who are interested in QHSE? How can they prepare for the new world of work?
My advice would be for them to try and find ways to get their ‘feet wet’ on the ground. When you are new in the field, it is really important to establish a presence and get a feeling of what it takes to do well in the QHSE field. As challenging as it may be, it would be beneficial for them to find creative ways to get in the field where the action takes place to get first-hand experience.
The second piece of advice would be to find a mentor. This is really critical particularly in this new way of working as they can guide them and facilitate learning in an organised and professional way.
Lastly, aspiring talent should immerse themselves in exploring, understanding and appreciating different people, behaviours and cultures because this will allow them to develop in their personal lives and professionally by enabling them to manage and understand situational challenges that they may face in the years to come and how to modify their approaches to get the best results.
What are you most looking forward to in 2022? Within QHSE and Aggreko as a whole?
We are embarking on a very ambitious energy transition journey where we are transitioning in a very organised and structured manner away from diesel to more renewable energy sources. So, from a QHSE perspective, I'm really looking forward to contributing substantially to the energy transition journey that has been charted by Aggreko where we aim to contribute and play our part as a recognised industry player providing temporary power.
Another area that I am looking forward to playing our role towards sustainably reducing our footprint. Our role withing QHSE will be to identify and develop new areas for reducing our energy footprint, reducing our scope emissions (one, two and three) and developing plans for these. These are not just short-term plans but plans that will take us through the next five to 10 years to sustainably reduce our energy and emissions footprints.
Finally, what was the biggest lesson that you learned in 2021 that will inform the way you lead, your approach to managing people and your outlook on work going forward?
If I reflect on this year, a big lesson I have learnt is about the mental health of employees. I would never want to underestimate the impact of COVID-19 on this area. Going forward, we have to find ways to better manage the emotional and the mental wellbeing of our employees, those that work on locations, as well as those that work remotely. It is an area that will always need attention as we move forward in the years to come.
Adapting to Change in a Senior Role
I understand that you started your career at Aggreko during the pandemic which also required you to relocate. Can you tell me what this was like in terms of onboarding, finding your feet and adapting to so much change?
I would say it was both challenging and exciting. I deliberately chose to come back to Africa, versus other opportunities I might have had with other corporations in USA. I had a deep feeling that I had the skills to help in the African continent, especially in the energy sector, so I wanted to come back and give back to the continent and Aggreko was offering that opportunity to me. The decision was not really driven by compensation, but rather by my desire to be part of the energy solutions in Africa. In addition, Aggreko has a unique energy and is dynamic in the sense that they can operate in large, developed vibrant cities as well as in extremely remote cities and villages where nobody wants to go which appealed also to me.
In terms of my relocation, I had to move from Columbus, Ohio to Dakar, Senegal which was a big change of environment. Aggreko did very well to help make the transition smoother for me. For example, they assigned a driver to me who knew the city very well and could help me get around locally. Accommodation was also taken care of so that I could settle in when I arrived. I had to hit the ground running from the day I arrived. Two days after arriving in Senegal, I had to travel to Burkina Faso for work.
Regarding onboarding, my onboarding plan was ready when I arrived and from day one I had one-on-ones with different senior leadership and colleagues to be introduced. The beauty of this is that I didn’t just sit around and go through a long and drawn out onboarding and training plan.
It has been an overwhelming 2 years with the pandemic and the world of work subsequently changing. Can you give me some insight into some of the challenges you faced in your particular role and how you overcame them?
My role requires me to change the continent and change the company. This meant that I had to adapt to new processes and tools and develop a new mindset. Luckily, I was born in Cameroon, so even though I was joining Aggreko as the Regional Head of Operations for West and Central Africa, I knew I would not struggle with a big cultural difference because I was coming from the States, so I could adapt easily. This also meant that I could bridge the gap between the cultural mindset in North America or Europe and the cultural mindset in Africa.
In terms of technical challenges, the tools are different, and I had not used them before, but people were open to discuss this with me. I felt comfortable to ask questions about how certain tools worked and when to use them. My colleagues were happy to just sit with me and explain how the local tools worked. That is something that I have appreciated a lot even though the science of power engineering in itself remained the same. I came from a very big power-driven company in the States, so whether you are in Asia, Europe, or in North America the science never changes but the processes and tools used may vary and that was probably the biggest challenge for me - adapting to the processes which I overcame by asking questions and doing my best to adapt.
Your role covers West and Central Africa, does your approach differ for each respective region or can you apply the same approach to both?
In Africa, things differ from region to region and even from country to country. Some areas have more bureaucracy than others, and things like administration can be a little slower in some places, right? So, my teams and I have to be able to patient and understanding of the regional differences. As a result of some expected delays, I emphasise a lot on planning ahead which gives us some leeway in terms of time to get things done. This applies to both the West African and Central African regions that I cover.
What are you doing as someone in a senior position to ensure that women are represented in the Operations team/s and included in important discussions?
I come from a very big family where my mom had a strong personality and was the cornerstone of our house and as a result, I see women as the cornerstone of our homes, societies, and organisations. My previous boss in my role in transmission and distribution prior to joining Aggreko was a woman and somebody who I learned from a lot and who mentored me. Because of these women in my life, it matters a lot to me that opportunities are given to women and that young girls are encouraged to go into STEM fields.
Whenever we have opportunities in my team, I make sure that my team circulates them to women in order to give them a chance to apply and compete for the positions – because they have the skills and qualifications. I think we will gain a lot by encouraging our daughters, sisters and mothers to come into the energy sector. When we see opportunities, I make sure that the ladies that we have in the organisation get the opportunity to apply and compete.
What has been your biggest learning from your time at Aggreko thus far?
My biggest learning is that people are different and do not do things at the same speed. There are processes in place which require training in order for people to perform their tasks and adhere to the process. Coaching after initial training is also available to ensure continuous improvement. We need to take people’s individual aptitudes and speed for learning into consideration and adapt mentoring approaches to suit them. One of my key tasks for 2022 is to develop people, make sure that we strengthen our leadership and technical abilities.
What are you most looking forward to in 2022?
This past year was about stabilising the region in terms of having strong availability of assets and also making sure that our safety standards were met which we are achieving. In 2022, we want to operate more efficiently through using the data we have about our historical performance and analysing it to ensure that that we make improvements going forward and ultimately spending less while getting more revenues without sacrificing the safety of our people. I believe this can be achieved.