Investing beyond the downturn
By SIAW MEI LI
The past couple of years have been turbulent for the oil and gas industry. Amid lowered crude prices and revenue, most businesses, especially in the upstream segment, have cut their costs massively to ride out what many hope is a passing storm.
This challenging economic backdrop is what makes one company’s unrelenting investment in its people stand out, even among global consumer brands that are less affected by energy price volatility.
In February this year, Technip – a leading global project management, engineering and construction company for oil and gas companies – was certified as Top Employer Global 2016 for the second year in a row. Out of the eight global organisations recognised this year, Technip was the only one from the energy sector.
“In spite of the challenging business environment, Technip’s employee attrition rate has remained stable and for the fourth year running, we were named Top Employer in Malaysia and in the Asia-Pacific region,” says Alain Souny, Technip’s vice president for human resource and communications in the Asia Pacific.
More recently, the company was also named one of 2017’s Top Employers in Asia Pacific by Top Employers Institute.
Souny and his team at Technip attributes these accolades to its efforts in ensuring quality and consistency in its human resources (HR) policies and practices, and to the continuous push for improvement in its global employment practices.
Although current industry conditions may not be ideal for new hydrocarbon projects, for Technip, the present is always a good time to build up their people – providing them professional development and international opportunities, regardless of their gender, origin or cultural background.
Regional talent exploration
A key thrust of Technip’s human resource strategy in this part of the world is the company’s proactive initiative to raise up future leaders among the ranks of local teams.
“We have a specific programme in Asia Pacific to identify young talent because we believe some of the new leaders of Technip are in this region,” says Souny, a key figure leading the charge on these initiatives.
Technip’s Asia Pacific Manager Academy develops managers from this region in targeted leadership competencies required to achieve the company’s Asia Pacific strategy. According to Souny, there is still an underrepresentation of Asian talent in the company’s top 200 positions, hence there is no time to lose when it comes to finding the right candidates for the pipeline.
We need to identify them while they are young – by that, we mean between the ages of 28 and 35 – to be able to give them enough time to develop and reach the top levels of the company, he says.
Equipping HR to develop HR
As Technip puts its long-range talent pipeline in place, it is taking steps to ensure the sustainability of these initiatives. One important measure is upskilling the HR function itself.
The company’s Human Resources Business Partner Academy delivers a competency and knowledge step-by-step development plan for HR employees, so that they are in turn, better equipped to develop the company’s talent pool by acquiring the technical skills to lead an interview or challenge a manager productively, for example. What’s more, the programme confers an external professional certification to successful participants, further boosting their employability.
“These people will be able to attain HR manager positions at the entity and country levels after this exposure,” says Souny.
Engaging now to embrace the future
While Technip is planning for the long haul as a company, its leaders also recognise that the little things matter in helping employees get through the here and now in this stressful, uncertain business climate. A recent initiative, executed at the start of this quarter on Oct 5, is Wellness Wednesday.
Designed by employees for employees, the aim of this event is to improve workplace wellness through a variety of social activities and learning opportunities.
Planned as a recurring feature to be carried out on the first Wednesday of every month, the inaugural event was launched at the Kuala Lumpur Operating Centre, where employees were welcomed in the morning with apples for breakfast. This was followed by a breathing exercise workshop titled “Breathe Right” and a positive-thinking talk titled “The Half Full Cup”.
After a healthy Eat Clean Lunch with their colleagues, employees had the option of relaxing with foot massages given by members of the Malaysian Blind Association. Later, there were Body Combat and silat activities to end the evening on an active note.
Throughout most of the day, Souny and his team as well as the Executive Management gamely played their part by donning aprons and handing out healthy treats to colleagues.
“This is our team that stays fully committed – ready to seize markets, retain and recruit the best talents and create long-term value for our stakeholders,” says Souny. “Although faced with unprecedented industry downturn, we never lose sight of the importance of our people – they contribute to our overall performance.”
Three questions for Alain Souny
Vice-president For HR and Communications, Technip Asia Pacific
What led you to a career in HR?
When I was a teenager, I was a geek. I was always programming, developing software, working 15 hours per day on my computer. I started my career in the HR software industry where I met several HR directors who advised me that, as I liked people and I was a good listener, I should move from IT-based activities into more people-oriented activities.
So I moved to HR, discovering a more complex and fascinating world in which a bug is not an option! My mother is still surprised by my HR career, considering the long-haired programmer I was 30 years ago.
Tell us an interesting cultural observation you’ve made in your current role.
In Malaysia, the level of humility is very high. I’ve encountered maybe 10 people who refused a promotion, saying “No, no. I am happy with my current role.”
I said, “You have the potential, you have the knowledge and the leadership traits to take on this role successfully” and this person just goes, “No, no, no. . .”
When we develop our talent in Malaysia, we bear in mind that it takes more time to convince them to take up an opportunity.
In a lot of other countries, in India for example, if you give someone an opportunity – while there is some exception – that person will jump on it immediately, asking you, “What’s next?”
What are some differences in workplace culture that you’ve observed between Technip and other industries?
I was in the semi-conductor industry for 13 years, where if you are in a plant – whether it’s a company like Intel or Samsung, whether you’re in America, Europe or Asia – everything is structurally organised on the same basis. You cannot feel you know the local culture. Everything is a process.
It is the opposite in oil and gas, where in the project’s execution and delivery, we have two most important focuses – people and project. If you compare among clients across the globe, it’s not the same culture, and a key success factor is to have a local team in place.
Some companies may think that one can deliver a project (in Asia) while based in Europe or the United States. I don’t think that works in our industry.
The expertise of our Western centres is obviously important to execute complex projects but local people and local management are also key to deliver a project successfully.
One of my main objectives is to develop local leaders to be sustainable in this region. The other is to implement modern processes for us to be the best in class in terms of HR and communication practices.
Technip at a glance
- Technip’s Kuala Lumpur office, also its Asia Pacific headquarters, was established in 1982.
- The company offers a comprehensive portfolio of innovative solutions and technologies in three key activities – Subsea, Offshore and Onshore.
- Today in the region, Technip is represented in most Asean countries, and in China and Oceania. It is an engineering hub with more than 13 offices and a workforce of more than 4,500 people in the Asia Pacific region.
To watch our Leaderonomics video interview with Souny: