Creating a Competitive Edge out of Talent
One of Aggreko’s main focuses is using their talent to create a competitive edge. Global Career Company’s Tadiwanashe Mandivenga interviews John Lewis, Managing Director for Africa; Edward Kite, Finance Director for Power Solutions; Edna Malavolonek, HR Director for Power Solutions; and Brano Kollar, Area General Manager for South & East Africa to find out more.
How has the new year been so far for Aggreko as we draw towards the end of its first quarter?
Brano: 2020 was an important year to learn how to do business in the new environment presented to us by the pandemic. We had to quickly adapt to the situation, which was completely unprecedented. We had to switch overnight from conducting business face-to-face, to having to do most of it virtually. I am very proud of my team and how we managed to overcome this challenge. We learned how to live and work around the pandemic.
2021 continues unfortunately, with the pandemic. In some countries, it is even worse than before. I must say though, we are well established, and we know how to maneuver during these times. The way we conduct our business, the way we communicate and the way we service our customers with all the necessary protocols in place. It is a continuation of what we learned in 2020 but of course, we all hope that it will be over soon, or at least under control so that we can at least get to some level of normality like we knew in 2019.
We’re talking about talent creating a competitive advantage. What does that mean to you, particularly in relation tothe current times?
Edna: We are facing a significant transition in terms of the strategy and future direction. The world is changing and so is Aggreko. We did revisit our strategy and communicated our position towards the energy transition. We therefore want to focus on greener environments and different types of energy that will enable us to fulfill the promises that we made to the world and to the customers in terms of leaving heavy fuel behind and going after renewables in hybrid and greener energy.
With this in mind, if I think about our existing and future talent, there are three main things. The first is that we want people who are passionate about powering progress and delivering energy anywhere so that people can relate to the purpose and feel that they make a difference to our customers, their colleagues and the communities that we work for or in. When I travelled a lot around Africa to our different sites, one of the things I found was that whether I spoke to a technician in Gabon, or a service team leader in South Africa, they always had a sense of pride knowing that they work for a company that makes a difference somewhere, by delivering energy.
The other aspect is that we want to be a learning organization. We want people with a growth mindset and who feel safe about talking about their personal growth, development and bringing new ideas. As a result of the strategic shift which is driven by the energy transition, we need to continuously learn and need to create an environment where people feel that it is safe to do so together and freely. A lot of the things that we do from a people agenda perspective is around building the foundations to facilitate learning, so we are trying to take advantage of digital capabilities and leverage these learning platforms to share knowledge to our teams all over the world.
In terms of the third aspect, I would say it's about skills, capabilities and leadership. There's a lot of work that we are currently doing to understand what existing and new skills and capabilities we have to bring that we don't already have. In the context of the energy transition and changing environments, we need to bring new skills, whether we focus on sales, engineering, or leadership. We also need to understand what our products and technology road map is to be able to execute the strategy. In terms of leadership, this quite a big area of focus for us and I think it is the base for great transformation and in any organization. We really need to focus on leaders and how they grow, develop and become effective.
Those are the three main areas that to consider when thinking about how to keep our existing talent motivated and challenged while also attracting new talent.
How does creating a competitive advantage out of talent differ from a typical approach to talent management? Whatdo you have to do differently?
John: I think it's about finding the best in the field, or if you are looking for less experienced talent or early career professionals, then the best in terms of their capability to grow. There are two sides to this; those who are experts in the field or function we are seeking who are great to have. However, on the other hand, it is equally important to find people who have the appetite and capability to grow, take on increasingly important roles and help to shape the future as things change rapidly in this industry. The real differentiator is the people who design efficient power solutions, deploy them effectively and run them successfully.
Ed: Recognising that talent can be your competitive advantage is the first step and something that we do in Aggreko. Our people are the most important thing. Having talented people in the right place and the right roles can help us to be ahead of other players in the market.
What does the competitive advantage mean for employees themselves? What is the employee experience likecurrently at Aggreko?
John: I think people would say the Aggreko takes care of them, first and foremost. During what was a pretty challenging year, we guaranteed that we would support people's jobs even in business areas where they could not do anything because of the pandemic.
An absolute priority for us has always been health and safety. We operate quite dangerous equipment and if they are not handled properly, there are physical risks that need to be considered. We also operate in some places where there are diseases such as malaria and cholera and the like so, taking care of people is absolutely crucial. I think our people would agree with that. They would recognize that this is the first thing I always talk about when we talk about business performance. That is not to say that we always get it right, but it is always at the top of the agenda.
Then there is opportunity and being able to grow. We work quite hard to develop talent throughout the business, finding people to develop further and give them those opportunities. We make sure to engage them in the process so that they are involved, know what is going on and have the ability to express their opinions or generate ideas and feel valued for what they do.
Ed: For African talent in particular, we are really focused on developing the talent within our business, especially looking at those who are less experienced and asking ourselves where and how best to invest in them as we allocate more resources into development.
Being a global business, there is the benefit of being able to move talent around the world and give them experiences in different parts of the business. This allows us to take talent from Africa, give them experience in other markets, develop their skills and then bring them back to Africa and allow them to utilize those skills and experiences in their local market.
Our employees are going to see increasing amounts of attention on development plans that we may not have had before. This is one of the key discussion topics in our senior leadership meetings around talent development and training.
We also put out an energy transition strategy last year which over time is going to see us transition to become a net carbon neutral business. This means that we have to invest in lots of new technology, which will require our people to be trained and have the necessary skills and knowledge.
What is your recruitment strategy for 2021 and how has it changed since last year? How does it help secure acompetitive advantage?
Brano: The recruitment strategy is around finding the right skill and talent for a specific task or role. The recruitment process changed quite dramatically compared to what it was in 2019. Normally when you look for a talent, you have face-to-face or in person interviews which is no longer possible. We had to conduct interviews online in a virtual space which is definitely a different dynamic because it is difficult to get a sense of things like body language and chemistry and so on. This was one of the first challenges.
Secondly, the market has also changed in terms of the talent. Many people who were planning to change jobs did not end up doing so because of job security issues so, the talent pool reduced to some extent in some sectors.
Edna: From my perspective in a global role, I cannot give you one strategy because it just doesn't work. Our strategies vary depending on the geography and are predominantly region led. For example, Africa has one strategy while Asia has another and so does Latin America or the Middle East, depending on each business strategic capability requirements which will drive the way we manage talent acquisition.
We operate in 80+ countries and have 6000+ employees across the different geographies. Given the nature of our business, we place significant efforts in building technical and engineering capabilities in the various disciplines (mechanical, electrical, etc.). So, we tend to look at people that have this core technical expertise and can apply this experience from deploying through commissioning and operation of our projects and sites around the world. We also have high focus on building sales expertise, with deep understanding of customers and sectors, with focus on expanding solutions for our existing customers in the markets in which we operate, as well as developing new ones across the different sectors, Oil & Gas, Mining, Utilities, etc.
Overall, we look primarily at managing talent from within and make sure that people are getting the most out of their development, meaning that we actively manage succession planning and have a strong mobility policy which allows to deliver effective internal deployment to address our recruitment needs, as well as creating an environment for our people to grow and develop. We also adopt strategies that allow us to grow our talent pipeline for the future, such as recruiting through graduate and internship programs, and in some cases specific skills and experienced people where it is needed.
Diversity and inclusion are at the forefront of many conversations in the workplace in recent years. How is Aggreko approaching this and what initiatives have been implemented to support these efforts?
Brano: Having worked here for 14 years, I can say that we have always been a very diverse organisation. I have worked in Asia, the Middle East, Europe, Africa and even in Latin America and in all these places, we have multicultural and diverse teams with everyone coming from and having different backgrounds. We embrace diversity because we believe that it will give us a competitive edge. Our approach is to look for the skill and experience versus other prerequisites.
My team is very diverse. We have people from all around Africa as well as from outside Africa. We are also all in different places and although we rarely get to meet each other, each time we communicate or discuss various matters of the business, we communicate with one voice which is very rewarding to see in terms of inclusion. I also like to hear different views, opinions and even sometimes get challenged when considering options or making decisions. As a result, I involve my team and the wider team to give me their inputs and ideas. Many times, the ideas of others can be very powerful and much better than my own. I always believe in surrounding yourself with people who are better than you in various disciplines because that’s what makes teams being at their best, fostering right decisions and nurtures a culture of inclusion.
As a result of the increasing opportunities in the job market, what is your strategy for retaining your current andprospective high-potential talent?
Ed: It is a challenge. Especially in our business where we compete against other resource companies, mining companies, oil and gas companies for the same technical and engineering talent. Certainly, mining is going through a big boom at the moment and those businesses are competing to attract out talent.
We have to we have to look at a lot of things. Salaries are one of these things, but it is not the only thing. The employee experience is also important. When it comes to our training and development, we make sure that every single one of our people in Africa has a personal development plan, which they agree with their manager and discuss throughout the year to discuss their progress, aspirations and plans in the short, medium and long term to ensure that they maximise their potential. This could involve building experience in their current role, in other countries or continents, external training courses, and mentoring. We currently have mentors now for all of our high potential African talent. We can't always compete with salary and sometimes it can be a dull instrument, but we really try to make sure that our people feel developed in the business and feel confident that they have a pathway at the top of the business.
John: There are the obvious ones, where you put financial incentives in place, which we do where it is appropriate. For me, it is more about giving people opportunity.
We identify core talent and have an active plan to give them opportunities so that they feel like they are growing and have the chance to do new things.
Some people will always be tempted away by more money and some companies will always pay significant money for the right talent so you can't always avoid it.
My view however, is that if people feel like they have a long-term future and feel like they are growing and see the opportunities coming, then that is probably the strongest thing you can do to retain talent which is what we try to do.
We’ve found that African talent is highly aware of their potential and want to receive effective training from their employers. How do you ensure that your development program challenges your talent and remains effective?
Edna: We have a process that we use within the organization around creating a platform for each employee to have the ability to talk about their development needs and goals with their line managers and putting this into a plan which generates actions and then those actions are supported throughout the year.
There are a number of things that we do to support development. For example, we have a system called Kahuna which allows us to assess technicians’ competencies using a consistent framework across the different geographies and based on that, helping Managers and employees working together on the development planning on a consistent and structured way. This is quite powerful because it reinforces consistent standards across the globe, meaning that a technician in Asia or the Middle East can develop and operate at the same standards as someone in Africa and vice versa. For the employee themselves, it is also important because they will have the opportunity to advance their development and career, which creates a good employee experience from a learning perspective.
Then the second thing is that there are a number of initiatives that we created to make sure that we take as much advantage of digital tools as possible to provide learning opportunities and make sure that the learning standards are global and can be used by everyone, anywhere. So, we currently have a lot of simulation type of training that is done virtually. We don't need to actually move people around and we are using artificial intelligence to deliver those training initiatives, which becomes even more important in a context of remote work as we all experienced recently.