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Case study: Shell Eastern Petroleum

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Shahrukh Marfatia, VP of HR for global commercial at Shell Eastern Petroleum, shares how the company keeps its development programmes relevant to Asia. By Sabrina Zolkifi.

At Shell, leadership is more than just finding people to lead the organisation.

“Leadership is about driving performance and leaving a legacy for our people and for the business by personally developing our people to be the best,” says Shahrukh Marfatia, VP of HR for global commercial at Shell Eastern Petroleum.

“From research, we know that 90% of learning and development takes place through coaching and by creating “in-role” stretch opportunities to learn, grow and develop.

“The rest of the 10% comes from learning programmes, so here we have a well established curriculum of classroom, online and blended learning.”

Marfatia says the company places a lot of emphasis on finding and developing leaders within the organisation who personify the company’s recently refreshed four leadership attributes: Authenticity, growth, collaboration and performance.

“We expect these attributes will guide our leadership development for the next many years ahead,” he says.

Leadership in Shell means being strong in all four of these leadership attributes.
He adds developing leaders to reach their full potential is critical to remain competitive and deliver business value to stakeholders.

This is especially so in the Asian region, as more business opportunities are coming back to the east.

Marfatia says while each business unit or function is responsible for the company’s Asian talent development, Shell formed the Asian Talent Council (ATC) about 10 years ago. The ATC is led by the most senior business leaders in Asia, and are supported by their HR VPs and talent managers.

“The ATC aims to support business growth by accelerating the quality and degree of representation of Asian talent in leadership positions in Asia and in the group,” he says.

The ATC leaders will have to take ownership and ensure all senior jobs available in Asia in the next six to 24 months are reviewed. Following that, recommendations will be made to the hiring managers to ensure the best Asian talent are placed in such jobs for enhanced in-role development.

“There are also conscious efforts made to educate and raise the awareness of global leaders on the Asian context and culture when interacting, managing and developing Asian leaders as western leaders also need to look at the value of Asian talent with a more sensitised Asian lens,” he says.

Marfatia adds internal research conducted by the company found Asian leaders didn’t fare as well as their western counterparts in communication and executive presence, and therefore needed “more coaching on how they could themselves be better coaches and mentors”.

In order to bridge this competency gap, Shell took on a multi-pronged approach. This included providing employees with jobs and goals that would help stretch and develop their leadership skills. Because the company agreed such a programme is a priority, it also carried out actions to address them at Shell’s Individual Development Plans (IDP) discussions.

The company also makes sure it identifies staff strengths and development areas through assessments, which are done when a leader is new to a leadership group as part of a core programme or during a mid-assignment leadership assessment, which occurs two to three years into the assignment.

For leaders newly appointed to the leadership group, they are also provided with core leadership programmes, including Leader of Community (for leaders of team leaders); Strategic Leader (for leaders of a line of business or sub-function), and Broad Integrative Leader (for leaders of an integrated business or function).

There are also targeted leadership programmes, which address specific leadership skills development (e.g. Driving Accountability & Results, Leading in China, and Ventures Management), and initiatives targeted at specific groups of employees such as the Shell Life programme for newly hired graduates, and the Women’s Career Development Programme.

True to the company’s focus on coaching and mentorship, exemplary Shell leaders are also selected to teach leadership programmes, and Marfatia says these are designed to accelerate peoples’ development in-role.
He says it is important leadership appointment decisions and succession planning efforts “explicitly consider performance in leadership attributes and the leader’s track record in developing people”.

One way Shell gathers that information is via the mid-assignment leadership assessment, which is a 360-assessment on leadership attributes, and a review of Shell People Survey results.

“Leaders then receive feedback on the future roles that could suit them, so they can plan their development,” says Marfatia.

Line leaders also conduct in-depth talent reviews to hold them accountable for the quality and diversity of their talent pipeline. Additionally, the Shell People Survey provides feedback on the extent to which their people feel they are developing, among a number of other dimensions.

“In Shell, it is our leaders who personally develop the best people, not processes and programmes,” says Marfatia.

“The successful progression of a leader through the organisation depends on how well they develop the leaders coming behind them.”


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