Guest: Gina Cruceru, Group HR Director.
Beyond financial or operational indicators at the end of the year, I would like you to tell us about all the colleagues who mobilized during this difficult year, found the resources, the motivation to continue working as best they could.
There are over 5,000 employees, who work in refineries, stations, at the marine terminal, in service companies, support departments and the specifics of their work did not allow everyone to work from home. How was this year from an HR perspective?
Gina Cruceru: Hello, Mihaela and thank you for the invitation to discuss today! I'm glad to hear from you and see you again, even if virtually this time.
The challenges of the department and of the human resources are, in general, permanent, but this year brought unprecedented changes precisely because we are talking about a health crisis, which meant a basic insecurity for all people, the risk of illness. Regardless of the department of an organization or of any structure, it was a huge challenge to take care of ourselves and immediately ensure safe conditions for all colleagues.
It was probably one of the longest periods of home isolation in recent history. Who would have imagined that in the past, when we promoted the digital platform in order to increase its adoption, it will be like "mandatory, with pleasure" in 2020. What human resources specialist would have imagined a few months ago that testing for covid-19 would become part of the routine HR processes.
These months have been challenging from several perspectives, for all of us: personal, professional, humanitarian, political and economic. The whole planet faced a rare situation, with high ambiguity, so we had the opportunity to adapt to a new lifestyle and work.
I remember that at the time the special conditions were imposed, the company had already implemented a WFH model, a few days a month; we were aligned with labor market trends, so it was not an effort, especially since we had all the digital infrastructure and a high degree of familiarity with these tools among colleagues. This gave us comfort and a great advantage because everything went smoothly.
We communicated extensively, whether it was the decisions of the authorities that we communicated to colleagues as soon as they were issued, to support them in real time. This meant a very good coordination between all managers. We adapted all the processes specific to this activity: online recruitment, induction and online training; we used the company's digital infrastructure for all administrative activities, we automated certain business processes, those that could be automated. In short, everything was so unexpected that it forced us to be extremely creative and flexible, to get out of our comfort zone.
Approximately 70% of the colleagues ensured the operation of the 2 refineries and were present in stations for our customers, both in Romania and in Moldova, Georgia, Bulgaria and Switzerland, in all countries where the Group operates. The rest worked from home. I am sure that it wasn’t easy. This year was a special one and, from this point of view, I am reconciled with the fact that we managed to coordinate, to better understand our needs, fears, to get over the tense moments that inevitably appear. I really see it as a lesson in maturity. Looking back, my respect goes especially to my colleagues on the front line who have worked throughout this period and whom I thank on behalf of the company for providing energy resources for Romania in a difficult time for all of us.
You took over the Group HR Director position in May, during the pandemic. Can anything beat this experience in a company with over 5.000 employees and diverse activities?
Gina Cruceru: That's right, I took on the new role amid the pandemic and it was a challenge the least. I don't know what other surprises await us after this unique context in history. But I think that things cannot completely return to the way they were before the pandemic. It is just the beginning of the changes and transformations that we will all go through. I am optimistic that we are at a stage of our human development that will allow us to build the future and adapt.
The biggest difficulty was generated by the lack of visibility and we all know how hard it is to drive during a storm, when you can't see 2 meters ahead. The good part for me is that I have accumulated many years of experience in the company, I know the activity and especially I know my colleagues well, that's why I overcame this challenge together with the team I work with every day and to whom I am grateful for their involvement and the power they proved once again. It wasn’t only them, but also all the other teams in the organization that mobilized and involved exemplary in providing solutions to new problems and especially in supporting the people in the company: colleagues from QHSE, responsible among other things for the health and safety of employees; colleagues from the 2 refineries who managed together to successfully complete the general turnaround scheduled once every 4 years which meant the synchronization and coordination of thousands of people on the 2 platforms during the state of emergency and without any cases of covid; colleagues from the operational who coordinate the activity in the stations and who quickly implemented protection measures; colleagues in CSR, financial, legal, marketing, PR and communication and so on. Looking at how we end this year, I am grateful that we managed to support the organization and be with our colleagues even if we were physically distant. But we almost always managed to be with each other - virtually. This is one of the great merits of technology.
What were the main measures taken by the organization to protect the employees?
Gina Cruceru: The company implemented the crisis management plan, and the urgent measure was to protect the employees.
Measures for protecting employees, clients and workspace (administrative, depots, gas stations, refineries) were taken at the level of all subsidiaries from Romania, Bulgaria, Republic of Moldova and Switzerland.
We aligned with all of the authorities’ decisions, taking specific measures such as limiting/canceling travel, limiting physical meetings, canceling internal events, sanitation of common areas, endowment with materials (disinfectants, gloves, masks). We limited and streamlined the access to buildings according the authorities’ recommendations; we informed the employees about the hygiene, behavior and prevention measures.
After the state of emergency and alert, with their specific measures, the sales have of course decreased, the oil price decreased, and the refining margin became negative; this means severe cost-reducing measures for us.
However, the company's management had a mature and balanced approach, understood that this period will pass and that we will continue operations with the same people who are now in our organization and that it is our responsibility to protect jobs and maintain a sense of security by keeping most of the benefits, but also by new initiatives to help us get through this period more easily.
It is very important, in a difficult crisis situation, to do everything possible to reduce costs, to work with as many cost optimization scenarios as possible, to have an internal team to help us get over this challenge. Most of my colleagues have gone through many difficult moments. We have in the company's DNA a certain kind of courage and way of adapting to difficult situations. Rompetrol means representatives of all generations, active on the labor market, people who have been working in the Petromidia refinery for over 40 years and who have practically spent their entire professional life with the company and even generations of families working for us.
We have a great responsibility towards these people.
We are sure that maintaining the jobs has a significant impact on the local labor market, offers stability beyond the taxes paid to the state budget.
You mentioned that the HR department communicated more during this period. What were the main directions and projects implemented for the employees?
Gina Cruceru: It was very important for me to communicate quickly and transparently, to take immediate protective measures, when most were not yet aware of the danger, and then stay close to the organization, even if we talked about physical distance. The efforts of the managers were seen, and they managed to connect with the teams on a virtual level so that there are no interruptions in activity.
In addition to implementing the measures imposed by the authorities, we wanted to be close to our colleagues and support them so that they can continue their work with the expected results. When it comes to protection, I mainly mean protecting jobs, but we hope that in the future we’ll have communication, messages of gratitude and encouragement, online seminars, webinars without geographical constraints. We were able to bring together colleagues from different areas of the country and even different countries; I mean medical support, online introductory courses, participation in sessions with students and graduates, implementation of a dedicated human resources chatbot to answer certain questions related to the context of the pandemic, related to how we work from home.
Right from the first week of work from home in March, we organized online sessions of tips & tricks regarding the organization of work from home and we prepared useful guides to support our colleagues, including an online session with a specialist in organizing and streamlining the home space so that it’s as suitable as possible for the new model of working exclusively from home for some colleagues.
The initiative was appreciated by our colleagues even more than we expected.
We have constantly encouraged, through the team of colleagues who manage the HR activity, the weekly meetings with the business teams, online discussions with the video camera turned on so as to maintain the connection with the teams.
The responsible approach to this humanitarian crisis has meant analyzing all the needs that our employees may have during this period, and we have noticed that they are very different from last year - back to basics, physical and mental health, family protection, job security, children's online school, etc.
We tried to address each of these needs by facilitating COVID testing, access to online medical services, discussions with psychotherapists, and discussions with front-line doctors who shared experiences from the field, with teachers who are experts in online learning techniques. Programs such as the Internship program that we have been running for 20 years, this year largely was implemented online, podcasts on topics of interest, business talks with the management organized by our colleagues from the departments of internal communication and PR. All this helped.
Even the Christmas party we organize every year to meet each other is, this time, an online meeting and colleagues from all countries we operate in have the opportunity to socialize, to see each other at the end of the year and reconnect as a community, regardless if we are in Bucharest, Constanta, Navodari, Arad, Brasov, Sibiu, Ploiesti, Chisinau, Tbilisi, Nur-Sultan or Lugano.
In addition to direct or telephone communication with colleagues, in addition to e-mail, we have added a new innovative and interactive communication channel - Chatbot of Human Resources on the yammer platform that we have implemented several years ago, and which is our internal communication platform.
Available 24/7, only a click away, our employees have quick access to useful information, centralized from several sources, and answers to questions about the current situation, on topics such as work, human resources processes, legislative changes issued by authorities, news in the field of medical services offered and wellbeing options.
In order to help our colleagues navigate through this difficult period more easily and to bring us closer to each other, this new communication tool was the result of the collaboration between several Rompetrol teams, an important role played by colleagues responsible for health and safety at work. Safety first! The perspectives of our colleagues from other departments mattered a lot to understand as much as possible the reality and challenges of each employee.
Is it enough to be a good employer?
Gina Cruceru: Besides communicating with employees, we considered it’s important to stay close to the communities we belong to and close to our dear students. We noticed in the discussions with them that the students in the last year of study were worried that they would finish their studies in a time when professional opportunities are limited and that they will not be able to integrate into the labor market. We chose to adapt all the initiatives addressed to students to the online reality and to stay close to them through webinars on topics of interest, and even the continuation of our traditional internship program in a predominantly online version, by the end of which we had 55 interns and we hired 20 of them.
Also regarding the development of the communities in which we operate, we have supported health systems and local communities in all countries where we operate and here I refer specifically to various donations of money and equipment to health systems, fuel for the medical systems, blood donation campaign, special hospital beds. As the years go by, I see how important it is for the employer to get involved with the community in which they work and to contribute, especially during key moments.
What are the abilities and behaviors that have had a major contribution to the development of the organization this year?
Gina Cruceru: First of all, resilience proved to be of real help, stress-resistance, we heard a lot about it, we couldn’t have gone through the general turnaround without such behaviors.
Team collaboration and we are proud of our colleagues that managed to consolidate their teams digitally. It was a great challenge for many teams, but we saw satisfaction in the fact that we managed to succeed.
Creativity is another important element. We wouldn’t have managed an “Internship 2020” if our managers wouldn’t have been open to alternative solutions and ready to do things differently. This involved a great deal of creativity. I believe these are the most praised behaviors in 2020.
2020 was a difficult year for everybody and we frequently hear about the challenges of this year. Do you think there were also opportunities during this period?
Gina Cruceru: Sure. Beyond the challenges, it was an opportunity for introspection, for acknowledging essential relationships, priorities, professional and personal goals. We realized that we can be grateful for what we often take for granted: health, nature, the resources we consume, colleagues willing to support us, a united team.
Furthermore, we can capitalize on this qualitative leap, being aware of the advantages brought by this context that can operate in our favor even in the short and medium term. Maybe it's time to accept that things will never be the same again and that new normal requires new rules and increased adaptability.
Adaptability also means recognizing that we need new skills for the future and that this complexity of the world we live in requires us to be prepared for major career changes, professional retraining and even continuous reinvention to stay relevant in the labor market. This is the reason why, in 2020, we chose to further invest in the program for the development of managers. We just had the closing ceremony online for the 2019-2020 promotion, 130 graduates. The purpose of this program is to develop the talents in the organization and train our managers to be better on their current job or to lead teams in the future.
The current context has totally befriended people with technology. For example, the induction of new employees. The moment I moved it from the office to online, the participation and involvement of managers from different geographical and business areas increased and it exponentially facilitated the sharing of knowledge and experiences.
I learned on my own that everything that can be done online will be done online, living proof of our experience in recent months. Look, even our current discussion.
What are the HR priorities for 2021?
Gina Cruceru: The commitment of the people in the organization, if it wasn’t until now, becomes a central element and direct managers are a critical part of the co-design of programs dedicated to employees, which aim to strengthen the community and achieve business objectives.
In 2021 we plan to implement a pulse survey solution that will allow us to continuously take the pulse of the organization and be permanently connected to the dynamic needs of employees in all countries we operate in. It is critical for the management team to know how the employees feel about the new way of working, especially as commitment is more and more difficult to maintain and the opportunities for growth and development within the team are a bit hindered by the new way of working.
The priorities also include organizational redesign and rethinking of certain processes, already started in 2020. At the same time, the continuous development of leaders in the organization, re-skilling, stabilization of the new hybrid work model that involves dividing the work week between work from home and work at the office, which also includes integrated desk sharing and hoteling technologies, so that employees can use the company's resources efficiently. Of course, not all jobs are eligible for work exclusively from home, but a large proportion of jobs fall into the middle category to which the new hybrid mode of work will apply.
We will still have colleagues who will work permanently from the company's headquarters, as well as from work points such as refineries, gas stations or depots.
We will have to acquire certain behaviors, to consolidate certain reflexes regarding the new way of working, to redefine our daily routine, but especially to invest confidence and optimism in the organization's ability to withstand endurance races, such as 2020 was.