EMPOWERing Innovation culture at Shell using meditation

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EMPOWERing Innovation culture at Shell using meditation

Houston, United StatesHouston, United States
Project Summary
Elevator Pitch

Concise Summary: Help us pitch this solution! Provide an explanation within 3-4 short sentences.

EMPOWER is a program to build individual capacity and nourish the innovation culture at Shell. EMPOWER allows participants to identify and overcome their personal blockers to innovation using interactive processes and profound meditation practices to develop emotional and social intelligence.

About Project

Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?

In early 2011, Shell CEO Peter Voser shared his vision, both internally and externally, for Shell to be the most innovative energy company to address the global energy challenges. This would require Shell staff to build their capacity and play a role in innovation process (beyond idea generation).We interviewed over 200 colleagues asking them what are their personal blockers to innovative thinking. The responses were mostly a lack of social and mental skills - e.g. lack of time, stress, fear of failure, judgements about ourselves or others, etc. We realized that if we can equip staff to overcome these blockers we could unleash our potential and achieve the organizational vision. The other critical issue was How does Shell ignite the innovation spark at every level of the company?

Solution: What is the proposed solution? Please be specific!

I had a decade of the experience volunteering my time and teaching empowerment and leadership programs using meditation practices for the non profit humanitarian NGO - The International Association for Human Values. I had designed curriculums before and set myself a challenge to design a innovation learning curriculum using meditation (mental silence) practices since 'silence is the mother of creativity'. We approached Shell GameChanger to sponsor this program that would be implemented in bottom up approach leveraging on the enthusiasm and participation of staff.
Impact: How does it Work

Example: Walk us through a specific example(s) of how this solution makes a difference; include its primary activities.

The program was strategically executed 'bottom up' in two steps: Step 1: consisted of a one hour session (typically held over lunch time) called ‘Introduction to EMPOWER’. The session was organized by staff for other staff at a site, and was facilitated by a trained Shell staff. During the session participants discussed and identified their personal blockers to being more creative and innovative. Through interactive processes, they also learnt innovation friendly habits and the value of nurturing ‘inner resilience’ to sustain their creativity using tasters of meditation practice. These Introductory sessions were organized by peers for their colleagues at Shell offices in UAE, Brazil, Nigeria, India, Malaysia, NL, UK and USA. In less than two years, over 500 staff attended these introductory sessions. The sessions were organized during lunch hour to keep it in employee personal time. Step 2: Participants that attended the Introduction to EMPOWER session in Step 1 were invited to attend the second step of EMPOWER – a deep dive in innovation learning and meditation practice. The full workshop was spread over 3 half days. Over 250 staff attended the full workshop in less than a year. The sessions were again organized by Shell staff and delivered in partnership and using meditation tools provided by IAHV. The key behind the success of EMPOWER were the enthusiastic employees who believed in the mission and took responsibility to play a constructive role in building a culture for innovation, often going beyond the description of their jobs.

Marketplace: Who else is addressing the problem outlined here? How does the proposed project differ from these approaches?

The competitors to EMPOWER could be vendors that offer innovation capacity building programs. What differentiates us is that our program is bottom up and sessions are organized by staff for other staff in grassroots spirit.

Founding Story

results from a post workshop survey of ~200 participants: ~96% highlight how they now have better understanding of their own blockers to innovation ~82% indicate they have better understanding of what role they can play in the innovation culture ~88% rate that workshop helps one to accept multiple perspectives – a key enabler for innovation “~90% would recommend the workshop to their colleagues” ~ 82% rated very highly that the training was a good use of their time ~ 82% said that their self-awareness had increased for substantial part of the day due to the meditation practices My manager'S TESTIMONIAL finally shared my belief that we can achieve greater social impact by unleashing the inherent potential of staff in our organizations. Several senior technical research staff who attended the program appreciated our 'bottom up' efforts and shared how the meditation techniques have helped them to rejuvenate and reinspire, improving health/well being, and leadership skills.
About You
About You
First Name


Tell us about yourself/your team.

I work in the GameChanger program at Shell.
Shell GameChanger invests in early stage, radical ideas in energy and provides coaching and incubation to make a proof of concept using fastest route to failure approach. Ideas can be submitted from internal Shell staff or external proponents and are screened based on a their disruptive potential. We provide a 'safe place' for ideas to start by providing access to capital rapidly and easily to anyone with a bright idea. It also provides the organizational space for staff to work on ideas that they have a passion for even in the midst of busyness and also provides guidance to de risk the radical concepts through low-cost experimentation, partnering and other strategies.

What makes you an intrapreneur? What are the skills, capabilities, and personality traits that make you an intrapreneur?

Shell aspires to be the most competitive and innovative energy company. I quickly realized that to achieve this vision will require staff to build capacity and take responsibility to enable an organizational culture that promotes creativity and innovation.
I quickly saw the opportunity to make a difference and approached by manager to sponsor a staff driven capacity building program called EMPOWER to build innovation capacity based on meditation practices that i teach via leadership programs of IAHV.

Like any intrapreneuer, I have humility, resilience, and an ability to co-create shared vision amongst peers. I was also quick to spot an opportunity and secure venture funding to create and demonstrate a sustainable program driven grassroots that solves a organizational challenge.

About Your Organization
Company Country

, TX, Houston, Harris County

Primary country where this project is creating social impact

, TX, Houston, Harris County

Additional countries or regions

Netherlands, India, UK, Brazil, Singapore, Malaysia, Nigeria



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Select the stage that best applies to your solution

Growth (your pilot is up and running, and starting to expand)

The Solution: Why is this solution innovative for your company and industry?

The 'innovation learning' program did not exist. It was designed based on meditation practices and hence was very novel for a very traditional technical organization like Shell and the industry in general.
In addition, the implementation plan was based on grassroots 'pull' approach.
The potential value was also very large (benefits transcending to adjacent areas like improved wellbeing, improved safety, productivity, relationships, staff retention and attraction, etc).

What has been the impact of your solution to date?

In less than a year, the introductory sessions were attended by over 500 staff. Testimonials from EMPOWER participants speaks to the power and efficacy of the program:
Gerard Penning, Exe. VP HR: “(Empower is) very relevant to empowering people to be the best they can be, helping (them) connect to (the) inner self for rest and inspiration".
Astrid Ravenhorst, Fuels Pricing Coordinator: “The workshop truly connected a very diverse group of people, sharpened their minds, and made them aware of their opportunities to contribute to innovation. Besides this I also think it will have a positive spin off on HSSE as people are more alert and self-aware”.
Jeroen Schiebaan, VP HR “What stood out for me in the Dubai session was the need and ability to self manage and thereby keep options open, identify blockers, enhance relationships and contribute to building an environment where we are open to different ideas. De-stressing and de-cluttering one’s brain can help”.

What is your projected impact over the next 1 to 3 years?

We have received a tremendous amount of interest from staff in Shell sites in Nigeria, Canada, Holland. We would like to reach out out to 10000 staff in the next few years.
We have also received interest from CISCO, Qualcomm, Oracle, Google to know more about the program and explore how it can be implented.

What barriers might hinder the success of your project? How do you plan to overcome them?

1. Lack of organizational support for the program and its unique bottom up implementation strategy
We plan to document success stories and engage sponsors periodically and keep them updated.
We also plan to scale up our initiative and inspire staff in other multinationals to start the EMPOWER experiment in their organization which also gives it credibility outside Shell.
2. EMPOWER thrives on employee enthusiasm. Since employees volunteer their time, it is a risk that their priorities will change and this might reduce the momentum. We plan to organize periodic reconnect sessions to refresh learnings and inspire staff to play a role and make a difference.

What is the benefit or value you're creating for your business?

It is often documented that innovation gets blocked or dies due to lack of personal and interpersonal skills. By giving participants, these skills, we are building capacity in staff to play a role in the innovation process. These skills also equip the participants to be more effective, productive and safe. The program also builds leadership skills by developing emotional and social intelligence. The softer skills are often neglected but will play a dominant role in todays relationship economy to make individuals and organizations successful.

How are you leveraging internal resources (funds, time, knowledge, etc.) to support this initiative?

As explained the entire program is driven bottom up. Those who express interest, after attending Step 1 and 2 of the program are also trained on facilitating sessions.

Expand on your answer, explaining the long-term funding and support plan.

We have built a partnership with the International Association for Human Values to provide these workshops when required at locations across the world. The funding for attending the program will be from each employee's training budget.

Tell us about your partnerships across your company and externally that are key to your project's success.

We have closely cooperated with the International Association for Human Values to develop and implement the program. As thought leaders in the human development space, this partnership is key to bringing the latest techniques in human development - key to building personal and interpersonal skills.
Within Shell, we are working in partnership with existing grassroots networks like Shell Women's network and Young network to help us spread the word and provide credibility.

What internal support have you gotten for your project? What kind of push-back have you received?

Shell employee networks have been extremely supportive to spread the word and organize taster sessions to know about empower. The site management as well as leaders in HR have been very useful in providing coaching and guidance towards implementation especially keeping the initiative informal and bottom up to drive sustainable behavior change.
The push back received is very little since we are operating in bottom up mode, ensuring attendance is optional.