Strategy & LeadershipBusiness TransformationShell’s talent VP identifies five key themes essential to HR strategy

Shell’s talent VP identifies five key themes essential to HR strategy

David Doe, VP of talent strategy and excellence at Shell, outlines how the firm is prioritising its teams as it embarks on widescale reform

The energy sector is likely to go through more change in the next 10 to 15 years than it has in the last 50. We’re going from a supply-driven business to a customer demand-led business and that’s quite a transformation.

The energy transition in and of itself isn’t simple. It’s one of the biggest challenges facing society today, how to increase our cleaner energy solutions. The pace of change, particularly in relation to climate action, needs to be much faster and and we acknowledge that. At the same time, access to energy is really important for factors like economic growth, access to education, and healthcare.

Most of the world has grown up on a diet of oil and gas over the last 200 years; it is the foundation of much of the infrastructure around us. This is a transition which is going to take some time, but where there is urgency around the pace and the need to increase that pace.

About two years ago, we sat down to look at a holistic people strategy and realised that in order to fundamentally change what the business model was, we needed a coherent response.

We’ve had a fairly stable business strategy for some time, albeit that it has accelerated, but the two key drivers on the HR side were really the energy transition, and digitalisation. As a result, we’ve developed an approach which looks at five themes.

Five themes at the heart of HR strategy

The first theme is identity; what I mean by identity is not culture, because culture is the product of the events that go on externally, and it’s not image, which is how people perceive you. It’s the actions you take in the middle to influence those things.

The second theme is leadership because we recognised that world-class leadership was essential and we needed to drive change for the organisation through our leaders.

The third theme is talent because we are going to need to manage our talent through the transition.

The fourth theme is performance. One of the things we need to do is continue to deliver the returns our stakeholders expect to enable us to fund the transition that we know we need to make.

The final theme is capabilities. How do we make sure we leverage the factors that differentiate ourselves in making that transition?

The concept of a learner mindset is at the centre of the identity and leadership themes, and it’s influenced our approach to other themes within the people strategy. For instance, the idea that you can’t necessarily predict the future, that you have to be willing to pivot and learn.

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For an industry that essentially runs very large scale projects with very long asset lifetimes, this is quite a big change, so HR’s role is significant.

Launching initiatives to create positive change

Diversity, equity and inclusion are really important. Part of our business strategy is an initiative called powering lives, which is about how we not only enrich the lives of people that we work with, but also for our employees.

That’s part of our journey to become more inclusive and more diverse, a journey we’ve been on for a number of years, particularly in relation to gender and nationality, but increasingly, aspects like ethnicity and sexual orientation enablement.

One of the great changes our retail network has made is launching an enablement programme across our forecourts in Europe and in a number of other countries. If you’re disabled and you want to find a station that can serve you, in the Shell app you can do that, and a team member will come up and make sure that your car is filled up.

Embracing the benefits of digital change

We’re very conscious that digitalisation is transforming how work gets done, particularly disrupting work at the task level. We’ve looked into the likelihood of disruption and thinking through our plans ahead; just because something can be automated doesn’t mean that it should be, or even augmented.

We’ve really wanted to make some very clear choices around that, to preserve development pathways to ensure that we’re designing meaningful jobs, we think about our fenceline communities. That’s the first priority, meaningful jobs.

The second priority is around how you support people to upskill. In the area of digitalisation, we work in partnership with external providers to ensure that there is a digital upskilling programme that’s available, which is a core component.

The third priority is around the way we use digital to help people in the flow of their work and decision making, particularly data-driven decisions. We have an overarching data strategy which analyses the core issues and makes use of the rich data sources that we have across the group.

Enabling employees to be continuous learners

With upskilling and reskilling, how do we actually help people with continuous learning? That could be learning in the workflow in relation to the job, but also rescaling around skill adjacencies.

Additionally, because of the impact of digitalisation, we consider how to keep our teams employable. We want to look at the the employability of somebody’s skills, which skills are expiring, which ones are new and emerging in this space.

We need to grow other new skill sets in renewable energy solutions, hydrogen sectors, decarbonisation. For a large majority of staff, upskilling is going to be the primary driver in the short term. We need people to still be at the real cutting edge of professionalism. We absolutely have to ensure that individuals are right at the forefront of professional development, so upskilling is fundamentally key.

Where would we suggest that people take on learning? Who does the work? Is it done in-house? Is it done via an offshore location? Is it done via a contractor or even a freelance worker? How do you design meaningful jobs in that space?

The future of work isn’t just about the future of the office. There’s a lot of the debate at the moment around virtual working, which is a very important component, but the future of work isn’t just about where we work. It’s about how we work, whether it’s done by a human or a machine.

It’s a combination of factors; I wouldn’t say that we’re fully there yet. Like any organisation, this is a fast-paced, moving environment, but it does require careful choices. In the HR space, we’re bringing in more insights that will enable employees themselves to make more informed decisions around their career, what options are open to them, and more.

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