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Published: 1 month

I am a solution-focused person: interview with Zoltán Bán, the new HR Director of MOL

"My aim is to bring the learning approach into the bloodstream, to form a learning organisation" - Zoltán Bán, HR Director of MOL Hungary, who took office in March this year, told HR Portal. He said that he fully identifies with their employer branding message and he is also thinking in solutions. We also asked him what he thinks about the situation of succession, the cooperation between generations in the company, where the average age is 40, and where digitalisation is at.

Bán Zoltán Mol Magyarorszég HR vezető-

On 1 March 2024, Zoltán Bán took over the HR leadership of MOL Hungary from Dávid Bauer. The new HR Director has been with MOL Group for 7 years, previously leading the Group-wide Remuneration and HR Operations area, and later leading the Downstream HR team.

What tasks have you faced and which are the most important to deal with after your appointment as HR Manager?

- As I was part of the group HR management before, I was familiar with a lot of things, we had worked together on a number of issues in the past with the Hungarian Downstream business (the road from refinery to filling stations - editor's note) with Dr. David Bauer. Basically, continuity is very important, we will continue the work we have started, it is not a personal or individual issue, but a strategic and business policy issue. Just to highlight a few of the things we are taking forward: developing and recognising colleagues, attracting and integrating the best candidates into the organisation, developing our education relations strategy.

We also unveiled an update to our 2030 strategy. The world is changing, the original strategy was published in 2016 - when I joined the company - we started moving in the direction we set out, but in the meantime we have had the challenges of Covid, geopolitics and security of supply, which means we have to regularly re-design the elements of the strategy, the way we do things, what we do over the next five years, the pace and steps we take to move in the directions we set out.

And people are paramount to achieving our strategic goals. We need excellent people in the company, and to do that we need to give them the right training and opportunities to develop. I aim to introduce a learning approach into the bloodstream, to integrate it into positions, and thus gradually to become a learning organisation.This may mean different things for everyone in terms of pace, content and challenge, but it certainly means that we need to improve in order to achieve the goals we have set.

This also defines the other objective, strengthening links with universities and education, which we have also started to focus on. It is important to develop real strategic cooperation, so that everyone knows what their role is in the cooperation, who contributes what and what is expected of them. There are not too many proven examples of this in Hungary, so it is a learning experience for both companies and educational institutions. But the bottom line is that it is a win-win situation: the educational institutions get real challenges and business tasks to work on, and in return we get an insight into who we can bring into the company as future employees and what kind of knowledge we can bring in.

The learning organisation also applies to HR, as it is the HR team in Hungary that has to provide the company with the workforce. Technology is constantly evolving, which we are trying and learning, and there are many challenges ahead.

What competencies do educational institutions and even companies need to provide in such a rapidly changing environment?

- Good questions, and not always easy to define. There are hard and soft skills to build on. Hard skill for example for an engineer is how the basics of mechanics work. This doesn't change from year to year, these are the basics of a good quality education. What is also time-proof is if people can learn to take knowledge from two unrelated fields and synthesize and use it. For example, an IT specialist in HR is golden because he knows everything that is needed for a digitalization process in HR. Or the same is true for a finance professional, or an engineer who is also an economist and can assess not only how a project is implemented, but also the business aspects of it.

Nobody can responsibly say what skills we will need in five years' time, what we can say is what the gaps are now among recent graduates. The results of this will only be seen in 3-5 years because of the length of the training. This is why close cooperation is needed, so that the training can be made as interactive as possible from the very beginning, with as much interaction and dialogue between the company and the educational institution as possible.

What about internal training? Development of existing employees?


- Yes, they are ongoing. Our training portfolio is very diverse. This is due to both the size of the company and its activities, as we cover almost all professions in Hungarian society, from railway shunter to firefighter to chemical engineer.

For example, we have a pay for competence system for colleagues doing manual work, a new entrant can collect skills and qualifications like Lego blocks to move on to a higher level job as an operator, shift supervisor, etc. It's years of work and learning, with pay. In production it is a fairly clear, well-defined path, in the intellectual professions the system is a bit more complicated (GPS - Growing Professional Skills). Colleagues are classified into different job families according to their job role, with competency levels assigned to them, and within these they can progress through development and training. Everyone can be aware of what is needed to get to the next level in their job. And the manager can see how the employee is doing in terms of competences, what needs to be improved, what they need.

When will employees have a clear career path at MOL?

- It's not always that clear-cut, and there are generational differences. Some people expect to be told by their manager that in 2 years you will be this, in 4 years you will be that, and if that doesn't happen there is no progress, while others formulate their own career paths, where there are directions but no concrete paths, and when opportunities come, the employee takes them. The future favours the latter approach. In a changing business environment, it is difficult to plan a clear career path, opportunities need to be given and development provided.

The challenge and opportunity of MOL is that it is a large and complex company, meaning that anyone who wants to grow and build a career can find their own path within the organisation.

How are they doing with digitalisation?

- You don't have to digitise everything you can, and you can't digitise everything you should - that's my philosophy. We've come quite a long way in this area: Covid has accelerated digital transformation for us too, and it's really worth it when it's embedded in everyday life and makes processes easier. There are a lot of almost invisible steps that eventually lead to a spectacular solution. We are constantly digitising HR processes to make them easier, more efficient and faster for employees to use.

Another factor in making HR more efficient is that we can do things that we didn't have time to do before automation. For example, we now only print documents at check-in due to legal obligations, otherwise all other processes are digital. No need to chase signatures, all documents can be found and accessed in the system from a mobile phone or laptop, and their journey is perfectly traceable. All this was unimaginable five years ago.

We have a lot of new tools to try out, such as the use of artificial intelligence, which we need to be careful about because we are working with sensitive data.

We have predefined processes to be digitised and we are going through them. Most recently, we digitised the onboarding process. Of course, being a four-generation company, there will always be things that will remain on paper because some people insist on a printed document. The next step is to think about how to link AI to our policies, by gathering all the relevant information for a given question from the available documents. This will save a lot of time.

Thinking about the many generations, has everyone adopted these changes, is everyone getting the information they need about the company?

- It's been a longer journey, but the engagement survey earlier this year, for example, was completed digitally by everyone in the group. In Hungary, the completion rate was over 80%. Everyone is using the technology, the intensity varies of course, but there are practical things available for everyday use such as an app for the bus timetable, the daily menu in the canteen, etc. We have newsletters, staff meetings are always hybrid, you can log in by phone and thousands of people log in from the sites while at work. This would never be possible with a physical presence, which can work regardless of generation. Of course, there is no substitute for a bulletin board, so, importantly, there will definitely be a poster about it.

Finding succession in the industry and at MOL has not been a simple issue, not in the past. How are the many generations working together and are we succeeding in finding the employees of the future?

- We have colleagues now who have grandparents who were MOL employees. This is a huge pride, opportunity and responsibility. The average age of our employees is around 40. When a young entrant enters production, they can get support from colleagues who have been in the field for up to 30 years. It is important that they approach the situation with respect and openness to each other, because this is how knowledge transfer can work, as there are many things that require experience and practice, while young people bring fresh ideas to the "we've always done it this way"

The challenge of diversity, however, is that there can be misunderstandings due to different perspectives. A fundamental question is what to do with these and how to deal with them. We try to bring perspectives closer together, to create the opportunity for everyone to express their own views and to make decisions taking them into account. Leaders have a very big responsibility in this.

[page What is your motto as an HR manager?]

How important is community building in terms of organisational culture?

- Of course it's important, and we see from the latest satisfaction survey that it's very much present: the close-knit team, the collaboration with each other, the feeling of "I like working with my colleagues". There are small communities on the sites, in the plants, and there is the feeling of "I am a MOL employee" - which, while not necessarily a daily contact, provides a very important supportive, collegial environment.

There are about 1,500 to 2,000 employees on the MOL Campus, but in total there are more than 10,000 of us. Sometimes you don't even think about the scale, but once a year you can't help but be amazed when employees and their families fill the Sports Arena for the Christmas concert.

In HR, what are some of the areas you see as outstanding areas for adapting to change?

- Adapting to change is driven by both external factors - such as geopolitical situations - and internal factors - updating strategy, building new businesses and importing companies. In many cases these changes are driven through HR with HR partner support, so a customer focus is paramount to ensure we can always provide the right solutions. This requires an understanding of the drivers and needs.

Not all skills can and should be brought into the organisation as employees, but there may be a need to provide knowledge temporarily, so even at a European or global level, you may need to reach out for knowledge that is lacking here.

A good example of partnership is MOHU, as no one has done waste management as a market company in the region. We need new expertise and a different approach, and that is why we are constantly looking for these methods and know-how. Many of the new areas that we are getting into are similar, such as green hydrogen or solar parks, as they are very different from the core business of the gas and oil industry.

As an HR professional, what is an important value that you personally would like to see reflected in your organisation?

- I am a solutions focused person, so I can personally identify with our employer branding message of "We Think Solutions". Often times the intent and energy invested is there to solve a problem, yet the result is not what was expected. My focus is on business results that we can measure by objective numbers. I'm an advocate of transparency and working along objective facts.

The other thing I've found is that when you can't articulate a problem well, you don't quite understand it. I think it's worth investing in understanding as deeply as possible, because the solution will come much faster and more efficiently if you don't just deal with the surface. Dare to try things that involve not getting everything right the first time. The greatest luxury is not learning from those attempts. Once we have thoroughly worked around a problem, let's get on with solving it, let's move forward, let's do it, even if we may have to step back and start again afterwards. Let's treat this in a transparent way and share the lessons learned.

Do transparency and objective results matter to you from a leadership perspective?

- For me, it is important not only to hear but also to understand what my colleagues are saying, it is important that our working relationships are based on trust, professionalism and integrity. There is no compromise on that, and if we have those things, we can work everything out. And my strategy to deal with complexity is pragmatism. The issues of principle have to be decided, if the fundamentals are stable, then everyone can move more comfortably in one direction. Stylistically, this is what characterises me. I believe that nothing has ever been solved by worrying and panicking, so I always try to face challenges with a sense of purpose and calm, to see the opportunity in everything rather than the difficulties, because the latter are a given.

Spanián, I believe that the way to solve a problem is to be a stylistic stylist.

On the opening photo Zoltán Bán

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