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January 18, 2024 | 21 Mins Read

Building Competence in Service – Today and Into the Future with Alfa Laval

January 18, 2024 | 21 Mins Read

Building Competence in Service – Today and Into the Future with Alfa Laval


In a session from the Stockholm Live Tour, Sarah talks with Ann Sørensen, Global Competence Development Manager at Alfa Laval about how to build competence in service for today’s needs but also with an eye to the future. This conversation touches on training of the front line workforce and career pathing to leadership development and employer branding, and a variety of other topics that factor into an effective talent strategy.

Sarah Nicastro: So Anne's role is, global competence manager at Alfa Laval, and the reason I wanted to have this conversation, after the others is because I think, uh, it will tie into each of them, right? So there's so much about the change that's taking place that then affects what we're looking for in talent when we bring them in, what we need from the talent that we have, what will.

You know, get people to be able to do these next versions of the roles we're asking them to do and what will keep them engaged and empowered as employees. So I thought it would be a nice way to sort of reference back some of, uh, the points that have come up throughout the day and, talk about it from that, uh, lens of, of talent and competence.

So, before we do that, tell everyone, uh, a little bit more about yourself and Alfa Laval. Super,

Ann Sørensen: yeah. I am, I'm from Denmark. Wow. You heard about something in Denmark. So working in central and learning in, uh, in global service operations, as I said, my background is in banking, marketing, and then over as a trainer and the pedagogical approach.

I, uh, one of the key elements in my career has been developing people. , and then I added a lot to the organization later on. Privacy. I am a horseback rider. I used to compete in show jumping. , it, this time it's a little bit, you know, a smaller one, Icelandic horse. When I'm, when I'm at home, I'm living in the countryside.

I'm living on a farm, but I commute and I travel a lot. 26 different sales companies around the world with service operations. A lot of stakeholders to take care of. I am, , I am sitting in the matrix between three big divisions, marine, food and water, and energy. And on the same hand side, I then sit with these 26, uh, different sales companies.

So, it's quite a bit

Sarah Nicastro: of complexity.

Ann Sørensen: It, it is, it is. Yes. But also with the great challenges. And great people. Yeah. Yeah.

Sarah Nicastro: All right. So all of the things that we've talked about today. Okay. , the changes that are taking place in service. , you know, the different ways customer expectations are evolving in different industries ahead.

We talked about people first. We've talked about technology. , we've talked about leadership, you know, all of these different things. , all of those realities, of what today's landscape looks like, and how is that shaping competence strategy?

Ann Sørensen: So if we look at, into the Alfa, I mean, the strategy, uh, within the competence is of course connected to our service strategy and the transformation that we launched back in, uh, 2020, because.

We were very much vision-driven, which is a benefit, uh, for, for, uh, for having this, you could say drive, going on. So if we look at the competence landscape, what happened in that transformation was that we, built it up around some cornerstones, which of course the competence is needed, to click into, right?

So first of all, we said to attract and retain people. A very clear career path that we knew was needed. Otherwise, it was, it would be really difficult. Then the service advisor, that was what we called them, not trusted advisor. We had a lot of discussion about this. The advisor, what does it now take, to educate, uh, and, and give those kinds of competencies standing there just in front of the customer and bring back more business, not being a salesperson?

Then, of course, we also have what we call, you could see the digitized way of working, uh, the more, uh, connected, we call it the connected field service. Now, what does that mean? Is it about being remote? Is it about, you know, being able to crunch the data that connected equipment can kind of gather? Or, or how do we go about this?

And then, the last one was more the presence building. But what we, what you call that, what we always pay attention to is safety. So we had that as a core and it's still, of course, safety, safety, safety, that is, that is, you know, so building the strategy about this, of course, paying attention to what is happening around us with the new generation coming in.

It's, it's, it's, it's fun. It's challenging. We have. We have, uh, some kind of, you could say, uh, inbuilt, dialects, maybe also internally. , we, uh, like to act as one. Uh, so we bring down the silos between sales and service. , We know that that is, uh, a key element because when you're out there in front of the customers, you need to act as one.

You need to have a joint effort. And that's a journey, uh, as well. Yeah?

Sarah Nicastro: Yes. A lot. I think, you know, this area of, you know, how do we attract, uh, hire and retain talent? How do we give them the skills they need in today's environment? It's an area that is so challenging. I think a lot of companies, have kind of, uh, not admitted that they've given up, but it's, it's something where it's very easy to just focus on the aspects you can't change that makes it hard instead of doing what you can to change, okay?

Do you know what I mean? Like, it's very easy to point to things that, you know, you don't have control over as the cause. And not separate out reflecting on how it is that you do as an organization need to evolve. and so, you know, we talked about, why I spoke about diversity this morning in the workshop that we were in, you know, we talked about some of the ways that services evolving.

and I think we'll continue to in the next few years. I think will allow us to bring, people into the service realm that haven't been a part of that workforce before or haven't, you know, for a variety of reasons. And I know one of the things that we spoke about, uh, that is important for Alpha LaValle and I think, also something others should consider is, Uh, the importance of considering what is your employer brand, right, and, and how well known or not, uh, and how well received or not is that in your potential talent pool.

And I think an important distinction is not just your historical potential talent pool, but the, the broader, you know, communities that could become a part of that talent pool. So can you. Talk a little bit about, you know, how you view the importance of the company brand, and some of the things you do to position Alfa Laval as an appealing place for people to work.

Ann Sørensen: Yeah. Employer branding is extremely important. If I go, just to have that headline, uh, and look into the 26 different sales companies. I mean, we don't say one size fits all. Of course, the brand, uh, the way that we go about our culture is extremely important. , we have a lot of, you could say, we are struggling in getting our field service on board, right?

We have positions that have not been filled. We hear, you know, we cannot keep up with the compensations and benefits. But if you ask me, yes, if it's a dime or two, or, I mean, of course, we should not negotiate. We should always be listening. For me, I mean, the culture and what we do for our people to grow, I think should be the brand of Alfa Laval.

And, what I hear when I try to investigate this is that, well, you don't. Only say that you do it, but you are doing it. And so I think that is, you know, confirming a little bit that, well, we, we, we, we walk the talk. So doing this branding is, very much up to the local sales companies. I try to encourage them and be creative in how they go about this.

What we did. And that is something that I normally share with them. I, uh, used to work in Alfa Laval, but in a business unit. We, uh, we met, uh, how can we do this in employer branding? Because I didn't know about Alfa Laval before I was there, kind of by coincidence. So I said, how can we do this? So we mapped who has this kind of, you could say, uh, connections to the universities, to the schools, who are sitting in that kind of environments, what part of those communities and how can we, with a joint effort, kind of put Al Farawal on the map.

So we, we were, we were sharing a lot of, you could say, different positions. in, in the local society, but also reaching out to the different universities and colleges, to put our brand there.

Sarah Nicastro: I think, you know, Hanela, we spoke about, you know, recognition of, of the Kone brand and, and, you know, you mentioned, you don't necessarily think about it until you're knowing to look for it.

Right. And, and I think in service and field service, there's so many brands like that, that. You know, you don't realize everything that goes into, you know, getting the products and goods that you have every day or keeping the world running unless you're looking. And I think, you know, as a whole set of industries, thinking together about how we bring more awareness to the fact that there's almost this whole other world of career potential for folks, that you don't think, you know, when you're a child, Oh, I want to grow up and be a nurse.

I want to be a teacher. You know, people don't say, Oh, I want to be in field service, or I want to be, you know, in, in one of these particular industries. So how do we, how do we think about creating that broader awareness, you know, obviously within individual companies, but also overall? Now you mentioned you in the matrix, you are, are in a central role.

Working with the local HR teams and local business leaders to execute strategy. sounds like a recipe for some friction. Yes. So, uh, how do you, you sort of navigate that and, and stay aligned on, you know, what the objectives are and, and how to go about it?

Ann Sørensen:  A very good question and not so simple to answer just, uh, you know, in, uh, yeah.

So, uh, going about this, from the beginning, uh, when we, when we have this launch of the strategy, of course, we have to buy in from the MD from the, from the management. I am not part of HR. I'm a competent manager. I sit outside HR, but of course, the ones that I'm collaborating with closely are HR. It took a while to get the buy-in, uh, from the HR because we, we don't understand this, technical stuff and know.

But you understand people and you understand people's development. You sit locally as, as people, you could say, you are taking care of the workforce locally. , but they had a hard time because I could not answer questions about the cancers or high-speed separators. I'm not a technician. So they were, they would, they, they have, they, they were not the, and it's back to communication.

I need to hold up the mirror. Of course, I do. And then, but there was, it took some time for the buy-in. Now, these days, we see that HR is hiring business partners for service. So we see that we are on a journey and they are paying attention, but because they can see how we are, you know, how do we get the talents?

How do we onboard them in a good way? How do we make sure that we retain them? They are part of making that happen locally. I mean, from central. We can always ask, uh, we can also answer, you know, the why, we can also say what, but the how, it needs to be there out locally. That's very, very important. And that's how we work decentralized in Alfa Romeo.

But now they also start asking for the how. Yeah. It's a journey. And, um, one, one transformation creates a lot of spinoffs. Now we are looking into different ways to put up academies. How can we capture newly educated, bring them on board, and train them? Maybe we train a bit too many. We know that field service is a great place to start, a career in at least Alfa Laval.

Can we, can we push them into sales? Can we go, can we open the doors for repair or projects? That is something that we're working with. And again, one size does not fit all. Yeah.

Sarah Nicastro: So let's talk about frontline talent. Okay. Okay. So. Um, when, when you're bringing frontline talent into Alpha Label, uh, what is the competence focus and strategy?

Ann Sørensen: The competence focus is that we, we normally, is also a shift that has happened. I mean, we, um, are focusing much more on the attitude and behavior that we have ever done. Of course, there needs to be a kind of a basic understanding, uh, for, for, for mechanical stuff, depending on, uh, which layers of field service we, uh, we, we are, we are in a need for.

We have four layers, uh, in the career path. Um, when we look at it, it's also for them to, to be, you know, uh, flexible, you know, adaptable and agile, but they also need to have this kind of, you could say, um, continuously learning approach. And I think that the, the, normally the ones that we go about is very curious about, you know, investigating in their career, investigating in, in what can happen.

And we know. They will be shifting very, very fast. So we also are looking into, and that is maybe performance. I was smiling when you said that maybe performance, uh, not over people, but how can we break the learning curve faster? How can we make them up and running in a faster way? Maybe bringing in these modern tools, maybe, uh, you know, embrace them and figure out how can we simulate?

How can we? You know, train them, uh, in a, in a good and a fast pace. That is, that is where we are. And we, we, we fail sometimes we stumble and we, we get up and we learn. Yeah.

Sarah Nicastro: Is soft skills, is part of, the training?

Ann Sørensen: It's very much part of the training. And, uh, we haven't launched it yet. We are launching an onboarding program very soon.

We have put some of the behavior training that we normally do a little bit later, we put them up from the beginning. Because, you know, how do you go about listening to the customer? How do you go about asking, asking questions? Do, uh, have that, you could say, awareness that we are perceiving differently. So when we speak about a scope and stand there in front of a frustrated customer, how do we go about it?

How do we communicate? So we are bringing some of that behavior training. We try to not make soft training. We like to call it behavior training. Um, the more in the early stage for their onboarding, that is, that is what we are doing now. And now let's see what is happening. Um, because we, we train, we also see we have our field force.

We have invented what we call a sales lead app because we like them to identify potential out there. They should identify. They should not be salesperson. And we have had this, and you're not going to turn me into a salesperson. No, I have never had the intention. That is for other people. But you have an app.

If you see something potential, push it forward. We have some salespeople capturing on the other hand. They are advisors. And they, that is very, very important. They are, they are there to advise, not to sell.

Sarah Nicastro: You mentioned the career path. So what does that look like for a new technician coming in?

Ann Sørensen: A new technician coming in, if he starts on the basic level, he would, uh, have a very transparent, uh, learning plans.

We work with that. And we normally go about, if you are a separation specialist or a thermal specialist, then there are several paths that you need to kind of, you could say, master. Mm hmm. If you want to grow. This is a conversation you have with your manager. So the onboarding is also where the manager, so we are taking the manager, uh, there as well.

So that conversation is not necessarily only for the PD talk or, uh, development talk or what we call it. That is something that is going on constantly. So if you have a wish, to go into a business, of course, there needs to be a need. Uh, but then, uh, we would like to encourage our people to grow in that sense.

So there needs to be a promotion going from one step to another because the compensation and benefits are there and embedded as well because there needs also to be this what's in it for me. Why? Why should I develop? Um, now we can also see in some areas of our business, um, maybe we have, um, uh, a market that is, you know, flattening out a little bit.

Okay. So how do we then reskill our people? That's also part of it because we want, to retain our people. And we want to, uh, because they, they know, you know, I'm not being booked for anything. What is happening? I like to choose myself. I'd rather go out than, than, you know, they give me a, a note that I'm not here anymore.

I, so, we need to start those kinds of conversation, uh, quite early. Yeah. Yeah.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah. We, we spoke in, the breakout earlier about the importance of, you know, when it comes to retention, uh, younger talent wants to feel that they have opportunity to progress. So having this progression, having it be clear from the beginning, uh, making sure they know that there's an opportunity with that for them within the business.

Um, but we also talked about the fact that, as you mentioned, you know, um, can be better. We can't expect that field technicians are going to come into the role and stay there for 20 or 30 years like they did before, right? And so We need to be preparing for that and, and figuring that out. Um, but also we spoke about, uh, the reality that it can be better to retain them within the company, even if it isn't within service, right?

So if, if they're a talented individual and, you know, they, they have an interest or an aptitude to go into sales or to go into product or something else, right. Making sure that you have, uh, measures in place, um, to be able to. to do that.

Ann Sørensen: can I add a comment to that one? Because of what we do normally, we have a policy that we say we have open recruitment.

So if we have kind of internal posts, you know, people can go and look if they are curious about, you know, maybe I would need to fulfill a career within Um, Maybe being a manager or maybe being in sales or something else. Um, and then if you apply for an internal position, you will always get some kind of conversation with the hiring manager or with the HR.

So, and that is also bringing things to the surface, right? So you have a person who is now in the mood to look for something different. And if that person does not dare to supposed to or give that opportunity, you at least know that that person has put down an application or a wish to do something different.

So that is also for me a local responsibility from HR to then support, okay, we know that you are in this situation. How can we support you in, being the best candidate, if that's what you want to fulfill? To get an open and honest conversation with. With the employees. Yeah, that's not always happening. I know, but that is what we are aiming for.

Sarah Nicastro:. Yeah. So we also talked about, um, you know, I think a lot of, uh, folks, uh, at the moment in service think of, um, you know, competence and, and training and development, uh, about the frontline workforce, new employees come in, what do we do to get them up to speed?

Right. Um, but yeah. We also need to be thinking about how crucial it is, um, not to overlook competence and ongoing development, uh, from a leadership perspective. Um, so, can you talk, uh, a bit about, you know, what you're doing to make sure leaders, as well, are having the opportunity to develop and learn and grow, um, Because that has a huge impact on retention.

Ann Sørensen: It has a huge, huge impact. Um, I need to step one step back into history and I probably said this already to some of you. Uh, when we launched the transformation, we could see that the enablers for having that change happening were of course the leadership or the managers. So we, um, we, we initiated a transformational leadership because we were looking for that entrepreneurship.

We were looking for the vision-driven, we were looking for people having to buy in, and at the same time, we added to that training that people need to work strategically. Um, before we kind of put that program, uh, in, in action, we said, well, this is a personal journey, your manager. So we would like to offer you a 360-degree leadership evaluation.

Maybe you want a position because you are a fantastic engineer and maybe you are still working hands-on because in smaller sales companies. The manager might be out there working himself, right? Or he loves to do that, so he goes. Um, so in, in some occasion, we, we also by that could see that, okay, we have a layer of, of, of, of managers, uh, they get these kinds of scoring, they get the insights themselves because this is, I mean, you are a bit vulnerable when you are on a journey like this. After all, it's very much personal development.

Uh, and what was it you called this policy? What was it? No assholes. No assholes. So, from Central, um, when we looked into that, we could see if there were some assholes, uh, further up, right? Because how were you treating your people? Because what we offered the managers was that we said, you have a 360, you have feedback from your [00:24:00] managers and your surroundings, and if your manager may not be treating you well in this, maybe you'll get a big surprise, and that has never been addressed, uh, because the manager has never.

Talk to you about these issues, but suddenly you see it in a 360-degree leadership evaluation. What kind of, you could say, communication is that? So that was also an eye-opener for us. So from the central, we saw it was a bigger need than just what we, could address, from the transformation point of view.

Right now we are in the, the, in the, um, uh, what you say, the situation where we are looking into how do we, how do we, Move our service operations manager to become more strategic. We know that our field service managers might be more operational. So will we force them to take those strategic decisions?

Maybe not. Maybe not. So we will also need to go back, and we have not done that work yet, but that is what we are discussing right now. We know the team managers, because I spoke about, you know, the span of control. Uh, if you are a leader, the span of control cannot be 20 or 30 people. Um, so we have a layer of team managers that we also need to educate.

And, um, I think, uh, we are having a big attention here, because speaking of culture, we need them. Speaking about being close to your people, and retaining your people, you need to understand what it takes to, to thrive. What, and the motivational, yeah,

Sarah Nicastro: yeah, no, I think it's so, so important. And I think, um, you know, we, we spoke earlier about the fact that, uh, there's statistics on this.

I just don't have them handy, but, um, you know, companies drastically under-invest or don't invest at all in leadership, uh, training, and ongoing education. Um, and in service, in particular, if you think about, um, you know, historically, the way to reward a strong individual contributor is to make them a manager, you know, a director, uh, and, and have them progress through the ranks.

The challenge with that is, you know, them being a strong individual contributor as a field technician doesn't necessarily mean that they're a strong leader. And so, um, You know, we have to be very careful as we sort of push toward this, you know, more innovative future. Um, do you have the right capabilities within leadership teams to spearhead that, right?

And, uh, if not, you know, um, I know this wasn't the context you said about the gentleman who you brought in that was sort of a, an outsider in the, in Denmark, um, rollout, but it, it can be the same idea. You either need to augment that. Um, invest in, you know, building up those capabilities and certainly, you know, look for people that truly should not be in those positions because it will just ruin, uh, the culture and the morale and, and, you know, increased turnover. So, um, I think it's, it's a really important, uh, area.

Ann Sørensen: I can add to when we did the 360, right? And we had this coaching session because we offered an external coach, a session for that, the trainer. Uh, or the co-facilitator of that leadership training, and then, uh, I acted as a coach as well.

And some of the managers, they were not there, they were not comfortable. So the match was not there. So some of them are not in, those positions today and they are happy. I mean, this is normally also how it goes. I mean, if you, if you cannot see anything else, maybe. Can be a manager then..

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah. I think it gets into a different conversation, but I think we need to come up with a way to reward strong individual contributors who do not just put themselves in charge of other people.

Because for some people, you know, not only do they not incline toward that, but, uh, they may not want to do it. They, may not be good at it, right? Um, and, and so, You know, how do we acknowledge their, um, excellence without just saying here, you know, there's a team. Good luck. Um, okay, so, so, Anne, as you look out over the next, you know, three to five years, um, when it comes to talent and, and competence, uh, what do you think the biggest things are that A, we're going to need to be looking for, um, and B, you know, we're going to need to be Uh, thinking about being prepared to address,

Ann Sørensen: I need to maybe put another statement here as well because I see a certain trend as well internally.

And maybe it's not only internally, but I see more of our field service moving from one country to another. I see a lot more crossing borders and, and going for local contracts in different countries. If that's the case outside Alfa Laval, I have investigated. But I see an increase in trend in that I see people going from this area to this area and they, they're okay by having a local contract.

They take the whole family, they go and, they start a new adventure. And of course, there is support, uh, connected with having internal movements. But, uh, I have also recruited when I was senator, I also recruited people from, from, from different countries outside of, and they were also kind of, you know, support in that kind of movements.

If that's, if that's a trend going on outside of, I haven't investigated that, but I see It's an increase in trend inside. Um, that's one thing. Um, AI is one of, of, uh, the things that we're talking about a lot. I was, in Stockholm a few weeks ago at a learning conference. And, uh, AI was of course the underlying theme.

And I think we can benefit a lot from those tools in our, in our area, so

Sarah Nicastro: I agree. I think, um, I certainly don't want to give, the connotation that I'm anti-AI to anyone. I just think what I am is anti-everyone jumps on a buzzword, um, right? And so I think. You know, uh, earlier we had a, a conversation, um, from a question about knowledge management.

Like, to me, that is an area where AI could provide tremendous value and service because we have a wealth of data and knowledge just sitting there waiting to be leveraged. Like, so my mind just goes to, you know, what are some of the Real world today problems we could solve let's start there, you know, and then get to some of the more

Ann Sørensen: forward thinking stuff I also see it more as a tool. It's more a tool to achieve what you are aiming for. Mm hmm. Yes. Yeah