By Nataša Kubíková

Two Egyptian companies, Middle East Oil Refinery (Midor) and Tharwa Petroleum Company, launched their alternative Leadership Development Program (LDP) some 11 months ago. The joint initiative has marked a significant success for both partners.

The training managers of Midor and Tharwa, Dr. Hanan Abd El Moneim, HR Executive General Manager, and Rania Ahmed Helmy, are persistent in their effort to continue with the program despite imposed cost reductions and remain determined to complete it by December 2016, as initially scheduled. Midor & Tharwa managed to create it in a way that proved financially sustainable in the current economic environment.

“There is one plan for both companies,” as Rania Helmy clarified. The plan contains a large scope of training modules which mainly target the middle management. Their innovative curricula are based on internationally recognized programs that were designed to meet specific needs of oil and gas companies.

The Concept of Change

Most recently, managers of both companies attended a highly relevant training module in Change Management. There were 15 participants – seven from Tharwa and eight from Midor, who took part in the five-day course in May and June in Cairo, in addition to Midor’s employees from Alexandria.

As Sara El Gammal, Tharwa’s Training Section Head, told Egypt Oil&Gas, the structure was prepared jointly by Tharwa and Midor, while Team Misr developed course material. “We chose the course that was suitable for both partners on different levels,” she added.

Understandably, Change Management module was prioritized by the two companies’ HR/Training managers, given the current economic conditions that bring turbulent changes to the industry on daily basis. For instance, following the devaluation of the Egyptian currency, the companies see a considerable change on the horizon that they need to tackle. And this reflects clearly on what Amr Helmi Sallam, Deputy General Manager of Team Misr, who advocated for the course selection, firmly stated: “In today’s world, the only thing that is fixed is the change itself.”

The course material designed by Team Misr, the Egyptian engineering and management consulting company, reads that “managers traditionally have the task to contribute to the effectiveness of their organization while maintaining high morale. Today, these roles often have to be balanced out with the reality of implementing changes imposed by senior management.”

In today’s Egypt, it seems that abilities of middle and top managers, especially in the oil and gas industry, are being tested more than ever before. “The industry has been seeing continuous and dynamic changes in applied technologies, shifts from oil to gas consumption, fluctuation of prices, and in raising awareness of safety, environmental responsibility, as well as in growing standards of products,” explained Amr Sallam in an interview with Egypt Oil&Gas.

It is therefore that Change Management module was introduced. “It is a part of Midor&Tharwa’s LDP because one of the major role of any leader is to learn to adapt the organization to changes in order for it to improve in performance and culture,” added Deputy GM of Team Misr.

Change Management for Oil&Gas Industry

There is a common perception that “managers who have an understanding of the dynamics of change are better equipped to analyze the factors at play in their own particular circumstances, and to adopt practical strategies to deal with resistance to accept the change,” elaborated Amr Sallam.

In the case of Midor, for instance, the expansion plans worth billions of dollars, as Midor’s Deputy Manager of Technical Planning Department, Ayman Elmohandis, previously revealed in an interview with Egypt Oil&Gas, mean that the size of the refinery’s management will grow. Amr Sallam believes that “the company’s production will likely triple, its international contacts will necessarily intensify, for which Midor will need to almost triple its management structures.”

Changes in the oil and gas industry happen rapidly. But not all of them depend on individual companies or domestic economic relations. Imported and externally imposed changes are more difficult to accommodate. In fact, “the Egyptian oil and gas industry has transformed its internal culture into a multinational one with many foreign companies becoming partners in the market,” said Amr Sallam. The industry is thus more open to external forces. It is therefore crucial, noted Amr Sallam, to acquire skills in Change Management for companies’ heads to make the most of incoming changes. A good strategy is necessarily to follow changes in a way that the companies can draw as many benefits from them as possible in the long run.

The training module thus offered multiple tips for participants to start adopting changes in their daily work routines, according to Wael Bazid, Assistant General Manager for Agreements at Tharwa. “From day one they [instructors] were giving us easily applicable and useful tips. The three principles are: Work as best as you can. Difficulty is the mother of greatness. To avoid criticism means to say nothing, do nothing, and eventually be nothing.” Bazid praised these additional light touches of Team Misr’s trainers, which he claimed became a part and parcel of his new approach to his work and his team.

Resistance to Change

Amr Sallam is nonetheless convinced that the remaining difficulty is that “people are generally speaking rather reluctant to accommodate change and alter their habits for many reasons.”

People may fear their failure when facing a challenge, they may be afraid of the unknown, or they may simply feel secure within the existing situation and prefer to remain in their comfort zone. Resistance to adapt to change impairs the ability to go through with it. There are various functioning strategies how to deal with this unwilling attitude, as the Change Management modules taught the participants.

Nonetheless, there are also people who are in general terms neutral to change, and also those who accept change, and even those who welcome it. The latter see change not as a threat, but as an opportunity, further explained Amr Helmi Sallam. This is the mindset that Change Management is trying to achieve with its trainees from Midor and Tharwa. And as it seems, they have been doing it successfully, as some of the attendees confirmed.

Wael Bazid spoke to Egypt Oil&Gas about the positive effect the training has had on him on both personal and professional level. “It taught me that people should not be frightened by change. It also showed me how to think out of the box and out of my comfort zone. It guided me to get along with the idea of change.”

Seeking Acceptance

Furthermore, the participants discussed the notion of gaining acceptance from people and implementing decisions that would lead to change in companies. “The idea behind the training sessions was that when change happens, one needs to be flexible enough to change the strategy to adapt to the emerged circumstances,” said Amr Sallam.

There are two key strategies to overcome resistance to change. “One strategy is to make people accept and adopt change by showing them the benefits that they will gain from it, on both personal and corporate level. This strategy focuses on one aspect – reducing the fear of change. Another possible strategy is called Participatory Strategy. It means that those who may be reluctant to accept change will be included into the processes of assessment and evaluation. Inclusion will turn reluctant team members into promoters of change as they will be put on spot to generate ideas for how to implement changes in daily routines and companies’ performance.

In order to achieve this, managers in oil and gas companies may need to “bring in so called ‘change agents’ that would help them execute their intended plans.” The important feature of this mechanism is to establish an understanding that accommodating change is not an individual task of managers only, but relies heavily on the ability of an entire team.

Hence, role plays were introduced in the training sessions as these would help participants see the benefits of team work. The general understanding is that change is easier to be successfully integrated into companies’ outputs through cooperative team work with members who accept and welcome change, than through individual directions. “A group of people with different minds and mentalities can contribute more than individuals to the decision making processes and help design viable strategies to deal with change,” concluded Amr Sallam.

Cycle, Pace, and Trends of Change

Overall, in order to counterbalance resistance, attention should be paid to the cycle of change, the pace of change, and trends of change. These elements become highly important factors.

According to Amr Sallam, in the oil and gas industry, “the aptness of a gradual change, as opposed to a sudden change, is based on the fact that managers are able to evaluate outcomes of each stage on its own before they decide to proceed further.” This appears to be a suitable mechanism to avoid undesirable or unplanned side effects as well as to minimize resistance to change.

Practical Implications

Graduates of the Midor&Tharwa LDP initiative seem to have acquired theoretical understanding and practical skills to actively seeking change and make it a part of their internalized productivity package, not only passively seeing it through.

Having had an opportunity to test their capabilities through a guided process with Team Misr’s instructors and execute their purposeful training projects in their workplaces, they appear to have reached even beyond what LDP training curricula originally outlined to achieve. And this is no doubt to the benefit of the two companies as well as to the entire oil and gas industry’s prospects in the country.

For instance, a training project proposed by Wael Bazid at Tharwa is “a comparative study between our agreements with Egyptian shareholders and agreements used in Saudi Arabia.” The aim is “to find out which of the two models is better and if we can apply the Saudi model or elements of it or not.” As Bazid further added, his intention is to see “how to get the best benefits of the agreements for the entire country,” therefore he hopes to be able to share his findings and assessments with the Egyptian General Petroleum Corporation (EGPC) at a later stage. “I hope we will get good results by the end of the program in December 2016 and we will find out what may need to be changed in our agreements.”

The Change Management training module accomplished something even more than this. As Wael Bazid revealed, he started actively “looking for change even when things are stable,” with a strategic mindset that would allow him “to prepare for things to happen within the period of five to ten years in the future.” This translated into Bazid’s daily routine in the workplace, as he explained further.

Tharwa’s Assistant General Manager takes team work seriously. He rightly sees that without his team his plans for accommodating change would not be easy to materialize. Bazid shared with Egypt Oil&Gas that after the Change Management training he proposed a series of technical changes in his team and formulated a project on agreements. Moreover, he then pondered how to act in his department and build milestones ahead in order to achieve his goal. His approach is simple, but useful: “I’m guiding my team step by step through changes seeking general acceptance from my team.”

Change Writing a Success Story

The training has been successful. In both Alexandria and Cairo, Change Management module gained good scores and excellent feedback, according to Sara El Gammal, Training Section Head at Tharwa. “Employees were satisfied with the course as it helped them enhance their ability and skills to adopt changes that they believe would allow them to improve their performance at work and increase outputs.”

For Wael Bazid, the course helped him “organize the way of thinking.” Despite the fact that he had been familiar with 90% of the concepts that the instructors presented, the sessions enabled him to turn his theoretical knowledge into tangible results. “It changed a lot in my thinking. I believe in it.”  The most interesting and useful for him was to think about “who I was going to choose to implement the change strategy with in my team, how I will plan for a change, prioritize, and modify my strategy.”

In order to be able to deal with obstacles, companies’ managers’ achievements are often dependent on the ways in which they build up their team. Midor’s and Tharwa’s participants have learned how “to change their managerial approaches to people and thus build up strong teams in an interactive communicative manner and keep evaluating various proposals for changes,” Wael Bazid concluded.

It is now for Midor and Tharwa to await visible results from their managers. They all seem to believe that they will be able to showcase the efficiency of the Change Management training module already in some months to come.

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