Meet the Designs Engineering Supervisor (October 2011)

A few days into my second rotation I realized I had to find a way to accelerate learning everyone’s names in my group.  I attended a group gathering (see Oilman’s Day) and I realized looking around the room that it would take me a very long time to know who everyone was if I continued down the path I was on.  My primary problem was that I do not interact daily with the majority of people in my group.  For the most part I interact with the Lead Engineers (first line supervisors), customers and my peers.  The actual work the individuals in my group perform is directed / coordinated by the Lead Engineers who report to me (and my back-to-back).  This assignment is similar to positions I previously held in the Richmond Refinery but since I had worked there so long I had a leg up, already knew many people each time I went to a new position, and just had to concentrate on the few I did not know.  But everyone in my group here at TCO is new to me.

On my first rotation I Interacted with each Lead Engineer several times, learning about thier positions, about the work we do in the group, and something about their career backgrounds.  I typically eat lunch with them several times a week and by doing so learned more about thier careers, about their family and their interests.  Since I interact with each Lead Engineer, usually daily, it is easy to know them – it is not an issue remembering thier names.  But as I sat there during the Oilman’s Day celebration, looking around the room realizing I couldn’t remember if the person sitting a across from me was Sabyrbak or Assylbak,  I concluded I could not just memorize everyone’s name from a picture on an org chart, or from a name on a list. I reflected that the key to remembering someone’s name is to know something about them.   To be able to remember who each person in my group was I needed to learn who they are.

Walking home from work after we had our Oilman’s Day celebration I resolved to do something different.  I decided to invite each person in my group to my office to give me a chance to get to know them.  I also resolved that I would complete this by the end of my third rotation.  So with a 120+ people in the group (including support staff not in our cost center) I needed to come up with a fast and effective way to do this.  I discussed my plan with my Lead Engineers on the first Sunday of my rotation (at our staff meeting) and obtained their input on how to proceed.

First I developed a form that I could use to take notes when I had the “get to know you” discussions.  Topics I decided to cover included where the person is from, something about their family, their technical background, their previous work experience, and what they liked to do when they are away from work (e.g., off rotation). 

I then began to schedule the meetings.  I decided the best way to do this was to block out an hour, and then schedule 4 people in successive 15 minute blocks.   Every position in my group has a back-to-back (b2b) so I first had to figure out who was in Tengiz during any giving week.  Our group maintains a master rotation schedule so I poured over this document numerous times to figure out when people were here.  I first concentrated on folks who were about to go off rotation so I could meet them before they leave.  I also decided not to schedule anyone right when they arrived, giving them a couple days to acclimate before meeting me.  Finally, I tried to make sure I met a similar percentage of people from each group during my second rotation.  Even though we have four Lead Engineer positions we actually have 7 supervisor positions (in addition to the Leads we also have a Lead Mechanical Designer position, a Lead I&E Designer position, and a 2012 SGP/SGI TA Coordinator position).

The first couple days I tried this I blocked out an hour in the morning and an hour in the afternoon – I found this to be very tiring and chewed up a good part of my day.  To ensure the meetings were successful I had to put some time aside to prepare for the meeting plus after the meeting I needed to take time to review my notes to ensure I captured key items that would help me remember who each person was (meeting people for two hours really took at least three hours due to perparations and note review).  After the first week of meetings I scaled back to a single one-hour meeting block in 5 out of 7 days of each week.

Prior to my meetings I would pre-populate the form I had developed, using the TCO White Pages.  The TCO White Pages are similar to the Corporate White Pages but also includes a picture of the person, how long they have been working at TCO, their shared email address and a link to their b2b’s profile.  The TCO White Pages also indicate if the person is a Chevron employee, TCO employee (e.g., Kazkh national employee), or a contractor.

My other preparation tasks were 1) get a map of Kazakhstan so that each person could show me where they are from / where they live  and 2) arrange for a translator/interpretor for those who did not feel comfortable speaking with me in English.  Immediately prior to the meeting I would review the forms of the people I was to meet in the next hour – I wanted to be able to greet each person who entered my room with a “Hello Saltanat” or “Hello Vladimir.”  I thought it would be bad form to say – and who are your again?

Here is a link to an example email that I sent out – INCLUDE LINK LATER.

So how did it go?  During my second rotation I met 67 people through these 15 minute “Meet the Designs Engineering Manager” sessions.  For the most part I met with people in my office at TCOV but also visited the “North Contractor Compound (NCC)” area where one of our turnaround engineering groups is located.   The group that works here takes the busto the NCC in the morning, and the bus back to SV in the evening.  It would have been inconvienant for them to visit me at my office in TCOV, so I set-up meetings at thier work site, typically making these visits adjacent to their weekly staff meeting so I could sit in on this as well.  The Lead Engineer responsible for this turnaround also attended – it was a good chance for both of us to meet the people of this group (many are new, working less than a year for TCO). 

In addition to the 67 individual meetings I had during the second rotation I had already gotten to know about 20 people from my group during my first rotation.  People I had already met included all the Lead Engineers, several of the Senior Engineers (primarily Expats) and our Admin Assistants and Translators.  As a result I now have met and know the names of about 75% of my group, with plans to meet the remaining 25% on my third rotation.  And I know many of the names of folks I have not yet had a chance to sit down with – It’s easier to figure out who you don’t know once you know most everyone.

What surprised me is how much I enjoyed these sessions.  My objective of learning people’s names was easily achieved (though I may need to refresh my memory from my notes each time I return to Kazakhstan).  I truly enjoyed learning who the people in my group are, where they are from, a little about their family, a little about their interests.

So even before I complee this activity I am convinced that I would do this again if ever faced with a future position when I am working with many new people.  Why?  Becasue I have learned much more about people than just their names.  I have learned that one person has a black cat named Lucky, another person recently had three weddings (one in her hometown, one in her husband’s hometown, and the third wedding in a mosque to please her Mother-in-Law), that another person was the captain of their University rugby team, another person enjoys drawing portraits (but was never trained to do so), and another person won a flat (apartment) in a bank lottery.  I learned that our group has many youngerst sons, that our group has people that come from all over Kazakhstan to work here, and that many in our group live with thier extended families or live close to their extended families. 

Their are additional benefits to this approach that I did not initially realize when I set out to learn everyones name.  One benefit is allowing the people in my group to get to know me; telling them a little about my family, where I am from, some of my career history.   By letting people know me I become more approachable – hopefully this will make people more comfortable around me and therefore more open to share thier thoughts and opinions.  Another benefit was demonstrated by several people commenting during our meeting that they appreciated the manager of the group wanting to get to know them.  I believe that people respond better to managers that they connect with.  I believe that people will take more ownership, more initiative, and more pride in their work when in an environment where their efforts are appreciated.  This is not to say that the existing environment of TCO Designs Engineering is poor; I am only trying to figure out how best to be an effective leader of this group.

To be honest, I was a bit worried that I bit off more than I could chew with this approach.  Meeting this many people in one rotation, especially my second one, delayed me in looking at some of the work processes we have here in TCO and slowed my attention to daily job responsibilities (like staying on top of email messages, tracking down issues related to budget and work scope, and gaining a better understanding of the field installations and the other groups here in TCO) – which I made up for by working 14 hour days.  But at the beginning of the second rotation I reflected on my strategy from my first rotation (see What to Focus On With Any New Assignment) where I wanted to focus on the people first – this is a clear effort of putting people IN MY GROUP first.

Finally, I realize 15 minutes is not much time, I am barely scratching the surface of getting to know people.  But this effort helps me build a foundation that will guide me as I attempt to manage and develop our large engineering group.  For now, I am pleased with getting to know everyones (or almost everyones) name.