Founded in 1985, Tullow Oil is a leading independent oil and gas exploration and production company with over 120 licenses across 22 countries. In Ghana, through its subsidiary, Tullow Ghana Limited, the Company operates the Jubilee Field, Ghana’s flagship oil and gas field which lies 60km offshore Western Region. It is also leading the development of the TEN Field, Ghana’s second major oil and gas field.
With the philosophy to bring people into Tullow with whom the company can build a strong, mutually beneficial and lasting relationship, the best candidate for any position in Tullow is recruited and this goal is underpinned by attractive market-based remuneration and employment policies. To achieve this flawlessly, there is the need for a robust HR head and department.
Mrs. Irene Asare is the HR, Facilities and Administration Director of Tullow Ghana Limited. HR Focus was honoured by her warm reception at the Tullow Ghana Office located at Dzorwulu, Accra.
HRF: Who would you say you are and how would your closest acquaintances describe you?
IA: First of all, I am a mother and a pretty straight forward person, who is hardworking and driven. I like to have fun and spend time with family. Those closest to me will say, “Irene is not shy at coming forward, she is loyal, a trusted advisor and extremely committed to her friendships. She has got your back and does not take things overly seriously”
HRF: Who are the people who inspired you while growing up?
IA: My parents inspired me because they raised my siblings and I not to forget about our cultural identity and heritage. They taught us to be dedicated, hardworking and focused. Although I grew up in the United Kingdom (UK), my parents helped me to understand cultural nuances. I was made to understand what respect means, what it means to approach an elder and especially, how to manage my “direct” style and nature in the right environment and circles. These helped me and made it easier to integrate completely when I moved back to Ghana.
HRF: Everybody has strengths and weaknesses. What would you say yours are?
My weakness is the need for perfection. I want to deliver to a higher standard so I hold everybody else to that standard, that is tough sometimes.
HRF: Tell us about your educational background?
IA: I look at education on the formal and informal level. There is always the formal education and that is the start of your career. In the UK, I went right through to the Master’s degree in Human Resources at Kingston University, London, and had my professional qualification at the Chartered Institute of Personal Development, UK, of which I am a member.
HRF: You have made some unconventional transitions regarding your career path. What accounted for this, especially seeing that you switched between different industries?
IA: I am definitely a change guru. I think some of it has to do with the fact that I want to be stimulated. You can say that it was bold for me to move to different industries because each time, you have to learn about the industry that you are in and that is not easy. The higher you are on the organisational ladder, the more you need to know about your sector. Ilike different; the same is a bit a dull, stale. Iprefer different environments, probably why I have lived in a number of different countries and worked in different industries. I was always curious about working and living somewhere else outside the UK, I saw the African continent as the perfect place to explore, continue to develop and learn.
HRF: What are your three biggest accomplishments in your career so far?
IA: When it comes to accomplishments, what stand out for me are:
• The bold decision to move to Ghana with my family and to join a new industry, when I was already HR Manager for a leading Biotech company in the United Kingdom
• Being spotted as a top potential talent in the organisation I worked for previously. I was posted to South Africa as the Head of Organisational Effectiveness and Change in one of the biggest telecommunications companies on the continent and I believe that I successfully delivered the projects I was tasked with
• Being successful as the HR, Facilities and Administration Director for the first producing oil and gas company in Ghana. That means I get to lead the company’s vision for people management, development, motivation, nurturing, challenging and stretching people; the people’s champion! In a very new industry, where we experience many ’Firsts’, like the Jubilee first oil and soon to be the first oil with Tweneboa, Enyenra & Ntomme (TEN) Project.
HRF: What has been your biggest disappointment and how did you get around to solving it?
IA: I always say that there are learning curves and opportunities in situations that look like disappointments. For example, when I first moved to South Africa, it was very challenging because it was an environment I had never been to until I got off the plane. However, I managed to develop very successful relationships and friendships that have become very meaningful in my work and personal life today
HRF: What are some of your personal philosophies about work and life that have contributed to your successes over the years?
IA: I know that I am here for a greater purpose that is mightier than me and this keeps me mindful and reflective. Also, I have a work hard, play hard philosophy. I am focused, dedicated and passionate about what I do. On the other hand, I can easily let my hair down and have fun, ask my Team! I believe it is important to keep the balance; in fact, with a bit of fun you are likely to achieve more.
HRF: You have worked in various organisations and industries; how was being Head of HR in the telecommunications sector different from your current role as HR Director in the oil and gas sector?
IA: HR in the telecommunications industry is driven by the need for a strong customer experience, the number of subscribers, as well as your revenue and profit margins. You also need to be able to think around innovation and technology in order to put together a particular product and proposition that pull in new customers and keep your existing customers. So from an HR agenda and perspective, you need to focus on the types of employees with particular skills; innovative, creative, solutions oriented that you can attract to the business, with very changing technology lead environment, that is one important aspect, amongst many others.
In the oil and gas sector, the challenges are similar but not the same. The Oil and Gas industry in Ghana, unlike the telecommunications sector, is relatively new. So considerations are placed on skills development, motivation, knowledge transfer, training and development to help bridge the skills gap in the industry. Again because the industry is very safety focused, we cannot afford not to have skilled people in our environment. As a result, our focus on attraction and retention are very critical, as well as all other factors that any other company may have like motivation, compensation, engagement and development. These are key factors in the long term and sustainability of our organisation.
HRF: How has your wealth of experience in various industries contributed to making you better at your role as HR Director in Tullow Ghana Limited?
IA: Firstly, mastering good human resource management skills over the years. The reality is not everyone can manage and deal with people. Adding to the fact that I have also worked across a number of different industries and countries has given me a different perspective and mindset altogether. So I go into different industries not thinking that the policies of the other sector automatically apply to the present situation. Rather, I pick the experiences I have been exposed to and see how best they can be applied to the new environment that I find myself in. It also helps me ask the right questions that others are not able to ask because they have become very familiar with the company or environment.
HRF: What HR practice or systems do you have in Tullow Ghana that you think other organisations can emulate?
IA: We have an employee engagement forum made up of representatives from all departments where we discuss a range of issues relating to the organisation and people. We resolve, clarify and implement the suggestions or recommendations raised at the forum. It is a good and transparent communication tool between the leaders of the organisation and employees. We also have a fantastic football team and choir, as well as an in-house blue and white sports team that have healthy and friendly competition at designated times of the year. These really drive employee engagement and give them a sense of purpose and belonging.
HRF: What is the best hands-on solution you have ever given to a crisis that made you proud as an HR professional?
IA: It is important that being part of HR, I do not lose touch with the reality on the ground. A human touch at a time of great distress is very critical. You need to be humane and sensitive. For example, when we had to make the tough decision of laying-off some of our employees some time ago, it was my job to ensure that Tullow managed the process in a professional, dignified and transparent manner.
HRF: As HR Director, what do you think organisations can do to improve their employer brand? IA: It is important that organisations think critically about how they are perceived in the first place. For instance, how do your employees and potential employees see you as an employer? What is it that the organisation needs at the time? Is it retaining the best or developing employees, how would you go about it? Establish what characteristics, behaviours and personality you want to display as an employer.
As an employer, you also need to understand what talent you want to attract and their expectations. What do you offer your employees, which your competitors do not? What is unique about you? What are your strengths? What is the organisation’s culture and personality? Do you have an open and transparent communication system? If you have these elements, then you can certainly stand out as having a strong employer value proposition.
HRF: What would you say is Tullow’s Employer Brand Value?
IA: First of all, everything we do here at Tullow is underpinned by our values. That is our Focus on Results, Act with Integrity and Respect, Commitment to Tullow and Each other and Entrepreneurial spirit and initiative. It is a new and interesting industry in Ghana and the opportunity that it presents to our country and careers that are to be developed, as a result. Our organisation prides itself on a high performance culture that attracts and retains the best in the industry, as well as continues to grow and develop talent.
HRF: You obviously oversee a diverse workforce as HR Director of an international establishment like Tullow Ghana Ltd. How do you ensure that there is total sync between Tullow and its employees in order to drive a world-class employer brand?
IA: Our international diversity is our strength. Of course, having a number of experts from over twenty different countries has its challenges. However, with our cultural and diversity programmes and embedded values, we are able to work through our challenges and we work very cohesively. Our major purpose is to work towards a common goal and be the organisation of choice for our key stakeholders.
HRF: What keeps you awake at night, yet motivates you to get out of bed in the morning? IA: What keeps me awake at night is the thought of creating a legacy in the people management space for Tullow, a long lasting impact for Tullow and key stakeholders in Ghana. My family certainly keeps me very motivated. HRF: Finally, if you had the opportunity to change anything about HR in Ghana, what would it be?
IA: There is no business in Ghana and beyond that works without people, so as HR professionals, we need to get our heads around what that means as a profession and contribute at the executive table. The economic environment is becoming tougher and businesses or industries are more cost conscious than ever before, therefore I believe HR professionals need to sharpen their tools around financial matters. Hence, being able to deliver efficiency as much as the Finance Director is critical to the long term sustainability of the HR Director, as well as innovation, creativity and wellbeing. My counsel to HR people is two things;
One: it is important that we build HR people to be credible. As an HR practitioner, that means not just showing up, but understanding the business you are working in and the impact that your decisions can have, especially people related matters. That also means providing solutions, not what is in the text books, but real life solutions that help achieve bottom line results, which may not always be the conventional method.
Two: I like the word transformation because I think it is very important in HR. I think that some of us, as HR practitioners, need to go through ‘HR Transformation;’ the HR Business Partnering schooling, where you are a member of the management team, have a voice that key influencers listen to and act upon. We need to now understand that our world is very competitive, especially depending on what industry you are in. If you do not do it, your competitors will; the war for talent is real. So we also have to think about ways of developing our people in even more creative ways than we did before. We cannot just send people on training courses; that is not enough anymore. How do you truly keep people engaged? It has significant impact on productivity and performance. As HR practitioners, we need to be always thinking ahead about these matters, not forgetting that while we are doing this, we must stay connected to the people, we are still the people champions!