BY KIS SØEGAARD
Eighteen platform supervisors in the Danish North Sea operation are on an intensive leadership development programme. It is designed to equip them with the skills to become ‘leaders of tomorrow’.
“I have been with the company for a few decades and most of them have been as a leader. So, when we were told we would be developing our leadership competencies, with help from coaches, I was sceptical.”
These are the words of Platform Supervisor Per Mærsk Berthelsen when asked about the leadership development programme.
In 2011, the transformation began in Maersk Oil globally. Two experienced leaders - Karsten Jensen and Pierre Berkmann Gartner - teamed up with key personnel form human resources, plus external coaches, to deliver a three-year development programme. The aim was to give platform supervisors a broader understanding of the role of the leader and the business, to help both them and the organisation through the changes they were facing.
EMPOWERED TO MAKE DECISIONS
Platform supervisors have a technical background, but through the programme they have developed as more effective business and people leaders. This has been achieved with individual and team coaching, as well as a deepening of their understanding of the commercial and strategic aspects of the business.
“We wanted to avoid this programme becoming a series of fluffy sentences that might never amount to anything more than a statement of intent on a piece of paper. We wanted to build a holistic approach to leadership development and I think this is exactly what we have achieved,” says HR Business Partner, Mai-Britt Sondberg, who spearheaded the programme.
Platform leadership has evolved over the years and now requires new skills.
“To be a leader in Maersk Oil today is not the same as it was when I started. The programme has helped me to look differently at the leadership role. We continue to talk about technical things, but we also talk a lot more about safety, business, people and values. In fact, we have so far gone through the Transformation with a year-on-year decrease in Lost Time Injuries,” says Berthelsen.
Being on a production platform more than 200 km off the coast and working in the North Sea, calls for strong leaders who can make the right decisions.
“The platform supervisors are leaders with big responsibilities, in terms of safety, people, production and budget. Their ability to make the right decisions for their platform and coordinate these with the decisions and plans on the other platforms, are crucial for a safe and reliable operation,” adds Sondberg.
The platform supervisors need to be able to handle a high degree of complexity in their role. The operation in the Danish North Sea is complicated, not least because of the many technical interdependencies between the platforms: what happens on one platform may very well have an impact on another.
“Relationships between platform supervisors have been strengthened. This benefits us, as it enables us to solve production and safety problems more quickly, both on a daily basis and when we run complex projects or have shutdowns,” says Berthelsen.
“An example of this is the rebuilding of parts of the Tyra platform, which is our gas hub and export centre. It is a technically complex project, which runs at an estimated cost of more than DKK
1 billion (USD 180 million). As changes have been made on the platform, the other platforms have had to adapt swiftly. We have shared plans and involved each other in the decisions; something that would have been more of a rarity before the programme,” he adds.
BUILDING LEADERSHIP CAPACITY
While planning is underway to implement elements of the programme in other Maersk Oil operations, the Danish organisation is continuing to develop its offshore leadership capacity.
“The platform supervisors must be role models, and I believe we have created an awareness and understanding of this throughout the programme. But it isn’t ‘job done’ yet.
We will continue to work with the platform supervisors and, in parallel, we will begin training supervisors and assistants. Hopefully, they will be inspired by the leadership behaviour they see from the platform supervisors and start to mirror them. This will accelerate the development of the leadership capacity we want and need in the Danish North Sea,” concludes Sondberg.
Maersk Oil is planning to introduce a global leadership development programme for its offshore leaders. The aim is to strengthen leadership capabilities to support a safe and reliable operation.
“There is a very direct link between running a safe and reliable operation and possessing good leadership capabilities,” argues Igor van den Essen, Global Head of Human Resources Operations in Maersk Oil.
Van den Essen says this as he reflects on a visit to the Gorm platform in the Danish North Sea, where he witnessed the positive changes brought about by The Platform Supervisor Programme. Over the past two years this programme has strengthened the business and people leadership skills of the 18 platform supervisors in the Danish North Sea, including those on Gorm.
The open culture on Gorm and the people development work stood out for van den Essen.
“I had conversations with people who report to the platform supervisors. They described how they are now seeing a more open culture, where the offshore crew feel able to speak their mind, for example about safety. It was clear that they can see and feel the effects of the development the platform supervisors are going through,” he says.
“One example that really struck me was when the Platform Supervisor, Jesper Horne, showed me with great enthusiasm how he worked on development plans for and with his people. He gave their development serious thought, not because he had to but because he wanted to.”
THE LEADERSHIP PROGRAMME
Building on the results in the Danish Business Unit, Maersk Oil is planning to introduce some of the programme to other parts of the organisation.
“We are still in an early phase and currently furthering our understanding of what is taking place in other countries, in terms of offshore leadership development. We want to take advantage of the good work and use as much of it as possible, combining it with the best of the ‘The Platform Supervisor Programme,’” he says.
“We want the operations to own the programme, support and drive it. This happened in the Danish Business Unit and I’m confident that this strong business ownership made a significant difference. We went beyond merely good intentions and achieved real change which we now need to sustain,” van den Essen concludes.