Creating Tomorrows Workforce Managing and Developing the Talent Pool

By Tom Bartridge

Oct. 3, 2006

In April 2001, the Abu Dhabi Gas Co. and Abu Dhabi Gas Industries Ltd. merged to form Gasco, one of the largest gas-processing companies in the world. The new company, a joint-venture partnership between Abu Dhabi National Oil Co., Shell, Total and Partex, provided Gasco a chance to look toward the future and discover ways of making two good companies into one great one.

    Making this vision a reality required two things: having the right equipment to get the job done and building a culture that ensures the workforce is able to meet current and future business challenges. Not surprisingly, those challenges are a global phenomenon and a strategic concern for companies everywhere. Gasco then built a culture that focused on ensuring its people—the company’s most valuable asset–were up to the challenge.

Getting started
   From the beginning of the merger process, general manager Mohammed Sahoo realized that cultural change would require the support and involvement of the entire company. To start, senior managers from both companies attended a strategic workshop where they completed a strength, weakness, opportunity and threat analysis and discussed the new organization’s future. This led to the creation of a new vision and the development of an initial change strategy for the organization.

    Since the efforts needed to be easily identified by everyone in the company, the name Gasco 21 was adopted—for “Gasco in the 21st century.” Because the company was embracing the idea of continuous change with the ultimate goal of making the company vision a reality, a new slogan incorporated the principles that would help the company change from a good company to a great one: “The Gasco 21 Journey—Realizing the Vision.”

Creating a new culture
   Although branding the changes created awareness and buy-in, there was still a need for clear and substantial goals. Otherwise, it ran the risk of being seen as just another management fad. That is why the Gasco 21 Journey was designed to be a companywide initiative that promoted performance-centered change while increasing the company’s and the employee’s individual capabilities.

    Establishing this performance improvement culture would require more than printing and distributing vision and mission statements. To be successful, a systematic process was needed that would get the entire workforce involved with the change program. This was accomplished using focus groups and surveys to identify employee issues, concerns and areas for improvement. Employee involvement had two major benefits: The commitment level throughout the organization was enhanced, and future opportunities were identified.

    Thousands of comments, suggestions and ideas were collected from the focus groups that were sorted into eight major categories: performance; innovation; adaptability and learning; teamwork; open communications and transparency; health, safety and environment; family and community; and professionalism. These became Gasco’s cultural attributes, and they formed the foundation for the changes being introduced throughout the organization.

First, the leadership team
   Why start with the leadership team? In his book Good to Great, Jim Collins points out that business leaders feel one of their biggest limitations on successful business growth is the difficulty of attracting and keeping enough of the right people. Yahoo CEO Terry Semel is also an advocate of having a strong leadership team in place. He has stated that getting top people is his organization’s No. 1 concern, because the strength of the leadership team has a major impact on Yahoo’s overall success. Considering the new challenges Gasco faced after the merger, the executive committee wanted to ensure the current leadership team had the required skills to meet today and tomorrow’s business objectives. But what skills were needed?

    Leadership workshops were conducted at its headquarters and each operating plant to identify the strengths and weaknesses of the current team. The results of these workshops were the starting point for developing Gasco’s leadership curriculum. The management team was then asked to predict where they saw the organization in five, 10 and 15 years, to ensure that future competencies were included in the curriculum. Training and development activities were then designed to ensure that Gasco’s supervisors and managers would have the skills, knowledge and abilities to be successful. The leadership curriculum also created a pool of talented individuals who were ready to assume greater responsibilities in the company.

    The result of Gasco’s efforts was the creation of a leadership development program that supported the changes taking place under the banner of the Gasco 21 Journey while improving the employees’ capabilities and overall company performance. The leadership curriculum targets the five levels of management within Gasco: supervisors, section heads, department heads, division managers and executives. Within each of the levels, specific programs were created that prepared people for their new supervisory roles. Altogether, there are 22 programs available that range from time management through building stakeholder relationships. The intent of the leadership curriculum was to ensure that Gasco developed a reservoir of successors at every level with the ability to assume greater responsibility as positions became vacant.

    Recently, talent management has taken on a more significant role. In the 2005 Towers Perrin study “Talent Management: The State of the Art,” 40 percent of companies said they felt talent management was a “very critical issue” that needed to be addressed by senior management. In 2006, the Society for Human Resource Management Talent Management Survey indicated that 76 percent of HR professionals believed talent management was a top priority for their companies. The recent push toward talent management makes Gasco’s leadership curriculum efforts even more noteworthy. During the past two years, more than 3,000 employees attended leadership training sessions throughout the company.

Second, improving customer service
   Gasco also realized the merger created an opportunity to improve the skills and capabilities of the entire workforce, not just the management staff. Although this would be an ambitious undertaking, the potential benefits for the company were enormous. With this concept in mind, the Customer Service Journey was developed. The program’s goals were to promote the new cultural attributes while building a climate of trust, open communication and transparency.

    The plan called for half-day workshops that would be conducted at its headquarters and at each operating plant in order to get the maximum number of personnel involved. Since the audience would include support staff, technicians, operators, engineers and shift supervisors, the workshops needed to be designed to encourage participation and team involvement. The Customer Service Journey introduced a new theme each quarter. The first such theme was “Mind Leap,” which was designed to change the way people think while encouraging participants to focus on the company’s new culture. The exercises showed the value of using a cooperative approach, so by the end of the workshops, participants realized the benefit of working together.

    The other three themes introduced during the year included “Understanding Others,” “Listen Up” and “Pro-Act.” The Customer Service Journey was used as a structured program to gradually build the staff’s ability to understand their customers’ needs and work together in a proactive manner to deliver results. Interest in the workshops continued to grow quarter by quarter. By the end of the year, more than 1,400 had attended the programs. Feedback on the interactive sessions was extremely positive, and each workshop provided an opportunity to continue building grass-roots support for the new culture of performance centered change.

Third, understanding the business
   In the process of establishing the leadership curriculum and conducting the customer service workshops, it became apparent that a significant portion of the workforce was operating within silos and didn’t understand how their efforts affected the company’s overall success. This discovery resulted in the creation of a commercial awareness game to break down silos while improving performance and teamwork. Although the management team approved the concept of the game immediately, it took more than six months to create.

    The game was designed to explore Gasco’s business and operational environment. During the workshops the facilitator ensured each participant understood:

  • Gasco’s key stakeholders.

  • The hydrocarbon chain.

  • Gasco’s feed and products.

  • The company’s financial operations.

  • How different parts of the company work together.

  • The way incidents affect the entire company.

  • Key performance indicators.

  • Why key performance indicators are important.

    During a half-day workshop, delegates operating in cross-functional teams analyze business priorities and discuss challenges Gasco faces. The teams also look at the company’s budgets and revenues, then explore how operational incidents can affect Gasco in terms of money and key performance indicator achievements.

    During the first year, more than 1,000 people participated in commercial awareness workshops. Feedback clearly showed a greater understanding of business operations, an increase in team performance, and that delegates had fun while learning how to help the company succeed.

Measuring success
   Although Gasco implemented a comprehensive plan to introduce a culture of performance-centered change by improving the skills, knowledge and abilities of the entire workforce, many wanted the answer to one basic question: “How successful was the Gasco 21 Journey?”

    One factor is measuring the number of people involved with the development activities. Even though Gasco’s workforce consists of 3,500 direct-hire employees, shareholder representatives and contractors, more than 1,400 people attended the customer service workshops, and 1,012 took part in the commercial awareness programs. The leadership curriculum was even more impressive. During a two-year period, 200 individual sessions that consisted of 22 different lessons were held, and there were 3,325 participants. But did the changes taking place make a difference in the company’s bottom line? They did: By empowering the workforce, the company’s overall performance rose by more than 20 percent during the first three years of the journey.

Lessons learned
   The journey has become a vehicle that is moving Gasco forward as a larger, stronger and more effective organization by leveraging the strength of its people. By creating a culture that supports performance-centered improvement through the development of its workforce, the company has benefited in a number of ways.

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