Meet the people shaping talent assessment to support organisational needs

 We talked to Tamsin Lambert, Talent Excellence Advisor at Shell, to find out which talent project she’s most proud of, and why.

Operating in over 70 countries, Shell is one of the world’s leading energy companies that has shaped industries, transportation systems and homes for generations. However, with the energy transition and changing customer energy needs, Shell recognises that its ability to adapt and develop individuals as well as teams will be critical to its future success. 

With a goal to be a net-zero emissions energy business by 2050, in step with society, Shell’s strategy will have a far-reaching impact. But how does it ensure its vision is guided in the right direction by the right people?

What talent project are you most proud of?

We’re incredibly proud of the work we’ve done at Shell to revamp the way we recognise and progress talent. One way we’ve done this is by using assessment tools to help employees recognise their own strengths and weaknesses and take ownership of their own careers. However, the one which I’m most proud of is the way we identify and support leadership potential.

Going back to the 1960s, Shell had an approach in place to identify those individuals we see as able to achieve the highest leadership levels within their Shell career. Shell’s approach was originally based on a methodology which set out the skills, capabilities and mindsets which could make someone successful and enable them to reach the highest levels of leadership. This early underpinning helped us identify qualities early on in our employees so they could be supported to their full potential and the approach was adjusted incrementally over time to best meet our needs.

However, we realised a couple of years ago that a more fundamental shift was needed – not only to make the actual assessment and identification approach more modern but to identify a leadership cohort that can help the company achieve new aspirations.


A quick overview of the project

This project took place against a backdrop of change for Shell. One of the ways we’re seeing essential change is that society expects more from us and it’s vital that we have leaders who represent the changes society wants – both in terms of the diversity of the leadership cohort themselves, but also the behaviours they demonstrate in recognising and celebrating differences, using their voice as a force for change and remaining humble.


Society expects more from us

Another change is the shifting competitive landscape. As well as international energy companies, we are also competing with small, agile, organisations who can do things quickly and differently. To compete here, we require leaders who are comfortable acting nimbly, have a strong learner mindset, are keen for experimentation and are okay with failing fast, and moving forward.

With these requirements of future leaders in mind, we developed our leadership potential tool with advisory and technology support from Aon’s Assessment Solutions. We had in-house organisational psychologists who developed, tested and validated the assessment tooling before Aon helped us with the hosting and delivery of the solution.


The project touched c 20,000 people globally

We rolled out our assessment of leadership potential to over 10,000 of our most senior employees globally between February and May 2020. To boost objectivity – another important factor to us – every individual had two people assessing them, so around 20,000 assessments were completed within this time.

Of course, this period also coincided with the peak of COVID-19 in many countries which affected the project in several ways. Firstly, we had a very fixed cycle for the whole process but as everyone’s priorities shifted – with employees having to be in different places, looking after their own health or that of their family members – we had to juggle the timings of the project to match our people’s needs. This was a short-term effect, but it required a significant amount of rework over communications.

However, the pandemic’s biggest impact on the project was that it changed expectations from employees. People expected more from their employers and from themselves – as well as what companies are contributing to society at large. The event made it even more important to look at who we wanted to lead Shell into the next chapter, underscoring our commitment to completing this process. So even though it became more difficult and time consuming, the pandemic gave us our north star. It became vital for us to assess, identify and invest in leaders who would navigate us through the post-COVID years.


Measuring success: key achievements

 For us, there are two big achievements from this project.

We’ve found much more representation within our new definition and assessment process

We had a 99.5% completion rate of our assessment and from this we’ve found much more representation within our new definition and testing process.

Using our old approach, between 2010 and 2016, 88% of results remained stable between assessment cycles. However, the new strategy saw 77% of results remaining the same compared to 2016. As such, those who were being identified as having leadership potential were not only different, but fewer in number. This was in line with our aim of finding fewer, better leaders who will guide us through the next stage of energy transition.

Finding representation within leadership potential was a big part of this process too. Representation of women in our highest potential category rose significantly compared to 2016. As did representation of Black and Minority Ethnic (BAME) and People of Colour (POC). Furthermore, we saw a diversification in the nationalities of our highest potential group; reducing our traditional emphasis on European leaders and seeing a corresponding increase in representation from North American, Asian and Oceanian individuals.


We’ve delivered in a fair and unbiased way without adverse impact

The second big achievement for us was that we delivered this result in a fair and unbiased way without adverse impact. We validated this tool not once, not twice, but three times which showed us that, objectively, the better someone did on this assessment, the more likely they were to do better on other measures of potential and performance within Shell. Validating such a measure is a huge achievement for us – we’re not aware of many other companies who have done similar – and it underlines our efforts to be fair and objective in the way we identify talent. To this point, the revised approach also has no differential impact between minority and majority groups, thus by changing this approach, we’re also ensuring that our leaders represent the communities in which we operate.


What have you learned?

Even though we’ve seen incredible results from this project, we still aim to improve and there have been some learning curves that we’ll take into consideration when we run this process again.


  1. Treat your employees like a consumer

Firstly, when conducting any big change that affects employees, you’ve got to treat the employee like a consumer. Not only do we have to recognise that employees are ever more demanding consumers of technology, and they expect us to get it right, they also need the experience to be communicated to them in ways that suit them.

Our old approach was part of our DNA, so change was not going to be plain sailing

To do this, we try to think through the employee experience at all stages of the journey, understand what they’ll be concerned by and how we can allay concerns. Change is always tough, so we knew this was not going to be plain sailing. Our old approach was part of our DNA. It had been in place for over 40 years, so many of our current leaders are in their position as a result of it. To convince people of the need for change, it was about unpicking and unlocking, not just the tactical stuff, but deeply held beliefs and philosophies behind how Shell manages talent.

With all of this there was so much that had to be communicated on so many levels. For example, we elaborated how the tool works, who developed it and how it is scientifically valid, robust and reliable, giving them a thorough understanding of our approach – but also made sure we told the ‘why’ story clearly and linked in to other changes in HR and beyond, to ensure that this change wasn’t seen in isolation.

  1. Don’t forget who you’re communicating with

Key to a big project like this is not assuming that your realities are the same as others’. Though my team was looking at it through a heavy HR lens, this was a project that went beyond HR and its objectives. Our business stakeholders had different questions and we needed to provide them with answers that would satisfy their concerns for the business cycle. Ultimately, this wasn’t just a HR project, it was a change project, and it can be easy to underestimate the impact that HR processes have on an organisation.


  1. Tailoring projects is essential for success

The reason we think this project worked so well for us is because we tailored it to the Shell context. We spent a great deal of time researching and thinking about what we were trying to achieve, asking questions like: what do we mean by potential? What do we mean by leadership? How does this tie into, or reinforce our philosophy around performance, career progression, learning and succession? Perhaps, had we looked at potential identification on its own, without the Shell context and without the attributes that are specific to our organisation, the project wouldn’t have been as powerful as it was.


This is the ninth in a series of profiles on talent innovators. Read the others – Serco, Ocado, Siemens Energy, Schroders, Vodafone, Screwfix, Marks and Spencer, Ikea – and watch for more.

By Lisa Baker, Senior Editor

Senior Editor Lisa Baker is the owner of Need to See it Publishing Group, providing contract news for business and news sites across the UK. Lisa is an experienced HR writer and commentator, editing HR publications for more than 5 years.