Pillars of Industry

Mentoring in Shell

Royal Dutch Shell plc has had formal mentoring systems in place for many years. Mentoring is available to staff throughout the company; however, the focus is on new joiners to Shell and in particular new graduate professionals, who are offered access to a mentor, as well as a coach, as part of their initial Develop program on joining the company. Typing the search word “mentoring” in the link will give further information about Develop.

Shell makes a distinction between mentoring and coaching, which may be different from other companies. Mentoring is a medium- to long-term relationship in which someone can learn from the experience of a successful professional in the field. It is aimed at helping people develop themselves. Traditionally, the primary focus is long-term career development, gaining knowledge and understanding of the wider system in Shell and learning how to navigate the organizational system and expand networks of influence. Coaching is a short-term, task-focused relationship, helping people to become more effective in their work by equipping them with the tools, knowledge, practices, and opportunities they need to discover solutions for themselves. It also ensures alignment between individual actions and business goals.

Of course, both coaching and mentoring share many characteristics, involving both support and challenge, combining questions with advice. The common thread uniting all types of coaching and mentoring is that they offer a vehicle for analysis, reflection, and action that ultimately enables the receiver to achieve success in one or more areas of their life or work. In practice, a coach may find that they are also doing some mentoring, and the relationship may evolve over time, so they can be seen as the ends of a continuum (Fig. 1).

Fig. 1—The difference between coaching and mentoring.


The mentoring relationship is based on trust and confidentiality. The mentor offers a safe environment to the “mentee” to discuss issues and explore solutions to challenges.

Mentors are typically off-line (i.e., outside the mentee’s immediate team and not in their reporting line). This facilitates confidentiality as well as offering the mentee a fresh perspective in discussions. Mentors can offer insights into the ways the organization works and what they think about the challenges and opportunities mentees encounter. Mentors generally volunteer to be part of a mentoring scheme in order to pass on their experience and help others develop. Many of our senior leaders are active mentors, thereby role-modeling and stimulating others.

Shell offers in-house workshops to help mentors and mentees start their relationships effectively and have a common understanding of the process. There are also a number of guidelines, checklists, and tips available to help them make the process and relationship effective.

Locally based mentoring schemes have been set up throughout the company, using common frameworks and guidelines, to help bring mentors and mentees together. This is done in different ways in different locations, also taking into account the local culture. In some areas, a list of potential mentors is made available, and mentees will select from the list (possibly after some initial informal meetings); in other areas, mentors and mentees are matched, usually on the basis of personal knowledge of the individuals and sometimes also using psychometric data.

The benefits of mentoring apply to the mentee, the mentor, and the organization. The mentees gain a clearer understanding of themselves, their capabilities, and prospects. They get a better insight into their organization, a wider perspective and business awareness, and build self-confidence. Below are a few quotes from mentees:

“Not only does he have the knowledge and capabilities to be an excellent mentor, but he also has the willingness and patience…with his help and guidance, I have a much better awareness of the big business picture….”

“His mentoring has been, and I’m sure will continue to be, invaluable to me. He has offered me honest, helpful feedback not just professionally relevant but also for personal aspects of my life. His dedication to being a good mentor is admirable: making time to meet me officially every month, and whenever I needed outside of that, too, as well as keeping up with the different issues I have faced and continue to face now. I have developed a great deal of respect for him; he is a great friend and someone whom I fully trust.”

“It is a true pleasure and privilege to have him as my mentor. With his experience in technology and management, he gave me very useful advice in technical learning, business awareness, and long-term career development. Not only does he have the knowledge and capabilities to be an excellent mentor, but he also has the willingness and patience to develop a new professional.”

The mentor is able to develop his/her own interpersonal and leadership skills, have the personal satisfaction of helping others (which often scores highest in our mentoring feedback surveys), and learn from being challenged from a different perspective. The organization benefits from better business performance by having more-competent staff, with a clearer understanding of their goals and increased trust in the ability of the organization to support them. Mentoring also creates better communication and helps to maintain professional standards and ethics.

The limits of mentoring also need to be recognized. While it is a powerful process to assist personal and professional development, it cannot solve every problem. Mentors will not provide specific task-based skills, which is the role of a coach, and do not guarantee advancement and promotion, which is determined by job performance, competence, and behaviors.

The mentor is part of a network of relationships supporting the individual, and it is important that all are clear on their roles in relation to each other. Line managers, coaches, and local development or capability advisers all play a part in helping to improve performance and realize individual potential.

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Lester Desmond  is a coaching and mentoring consultant for Shell Intl. E&P. He earned a BS degree with honors in mechanical engineering and joined Shell in 1976, spending the first 16 years in a broad range of E&P engineering roles in the Middle East and Europe. In 1992, he transferred to Shell’s Learning Center in Holland where he has been involved in formal learning as well as informal methods, such as action learning, knowledge sharing, coaching, and mentoring. In 2004, Desmond took the new position of global Coaching and Mentoring Consultant, working to support coaching and mentoring throughout Shell’s E&P business.


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