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Shell fishes for fresh ideas

first_imgRelated posts:No related photos. Previous Article Next Article Comments are closed. Shell fishes for fresh ideasOn 1 Sep 2002 in Personnel Today PhilipWhiteley looks at why the oil producer is encouraging its young talent to offerguidance to senior managersItis the newcomer who gives the freshest observations, for example, a newemployee will be astound-ed at the idiosyncrasies of an established team.Basedon this principle, Anglo-Dutch oil giant Shell has arranged a scheme in whichyoung employees give feedback on the leadership capabilities of seniorexecutives. Thescheme has been running since February, and involves 22 senior executives atShell Expro, headquartered in Aberdeen. It involves a ‘shadow’ coach, who is ayoung high-flier, giving feedback on performance and behaviour to an executivewhom he or she is shadowing. The idea is to capture the fresh insight from arelatively untutored, intelligent individual.Shellhad wanted to develop more authoritative and innovative leadership styles toaccompany its restructure. Margins had been falling in North Sea oil productionand, with heavy-fixed overheads, the firm needed to drive stronger performancewith existing resources. It needed more teamwork and innovation acrossdepartments. It wanted more rounded leaders, with strong motivational skillsand self-awareness. “Youcannot just say ‘We’re going to look like this, with cross-functional teams’and have it just happen on paper,” says Linda Rich, coach at DeltaPartnership, which has been running the programme. “You have to havepeople who have the vision and courage to say ‘No, we are going to do thisdifferently’.”ExperimentManagingdirector Tom Botts recalled a positive experience, also with Shell, where hehad been shadowed by a much less experienced individual as an experiment. Hefound this contributed greatly to his self-awareness.Hedecided to implement a structured process for all the executive team. He foundthat an inexperienced person is less likely to think politically and morelikely to give honest feedback on behaviour.Itis more than just a case of giving a few impressionistic observations. Eachexecutive has developmental objectives, and the shadow coach is briefed todiscuss the relevant behaviours with the leader. If someone is working oncommunicating vision to staff, then the shadow will attend staff meetings andcomment on how the individual comes across, judging the communication directlyand trying to gauge reactions of the team.Thetwo individuals – manager and shadow coach – will sit together to discuss theskills that are to be developed. Delta provides the coaches with agendas andquestionnaires.Thereis an initial meeting between the two to discuss overall objectives, andone-to-one meetings are held before and after key events such as a staffbriefing or a board meeting.Theshadow coaches are Shell employees, which the company says is an advantage inthat both shadow and the executive are learning simultaneously, so there is adouble advantage for the company. But there is the complication that, no matterhow you prepare and equip the younger individuals, they are still junioremployees at the same firm. Does this not hamper the extent to which they cantruly speak their mind?”Whenyou are first asked to be a coach it does put the fear of God into you,”says shadow coach Elaine Harrison, offshore supervisor on the Leman Alpha gasplatform in the southern North Sea. “To go into their world and sit thereand talk to them and tell them what they have done or how they have behaved ina meeting is scary; it made my heart race at the first couple of meetings. “Butit is a thrilling feeling to be part of the scenario that you would neverotherwise see,” she added.Whathas intrigued her about the life of the executive? “I have been surprisedat: how quickly they have to change one topic to another; the amount ofinformation that they have to absorb and the speed with which they do so; thedemands on their time and how they have to have such stringent time management;and how to prioritise workloads.”Also,the company arranges for an experienced supervisor to be available for theshadow coaches. They can bring any issue to the supervisor such as whether theyfeel intimidated.”Youare able to talk to someone at a higher level than you would usually be allowedto do,” says Harrison. “As a member of the audience – I am like wallpaper– I can observe purely what they are doing.”Harrisonshadows Allan Hart, general manager of the gas supply group in Lowestoft. Hartsays that her forthrightness gives him ‘pinpoint feedback’ on specific moments,which he can use to improve performance. ForIan Silk, an asset leader in the oil division at Shell, based in Aberdeen, themost useful feature of having a shadow coach is the focus on his realindividual performance. “It better prepares you for the assessments. Itgives you a degree of preparation and professionalism that you take to everyother meeting. “Iwould go into sessions trying to introduce new concepts and get people engaged.If it had been just me, I might have thought that I was communicating my visionbecause I spent plenty of time talking about it, but the shadow coach might seeit differently. “Thenext time you would change the formula to something more participative. It isextremely practical. It made me think about an event in leadership terms,rather than a process of information flow.”KeypointsThecost: Main cost was consulting time, designing the process and supporting theprogramme. Managers’ and coaches’ time for preparation and debriefing.Theoutcome: After three months, coaches are surveyed on their leaders’ progress:–50 per cent report high progress; 50 per cent, moderate progress–75 per cent of coaches indicate significant value for own development; 25per cent, said moderate valuelast_img

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