Research & Thought Leadership

Reframing polarity thinking to drive transformation: A conversation with Shell’s VP of Organizational Development

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"Polarities require leaders to be ambidextrous; on the one hand, they need to manage the ‘business as usual’, and at the same time transform, which requires different skill sets [...] A critical role that HR plays in this is in shifting the dialog from opposition to what we can achieve together."

Monique Timmermans, VP of Organizational Development at Shell

This is an excerpt from our fascinating conversation with Monique Timmermans – VP of Organizational Development at Shell – at the Hult EF annual Global Summit, where some of the brightest minds in HR and L&D from across the world convened at the historical Ashridge House to share their latest learnings and insights.

As part of the core theme of the event, attendees explored an enduring but pressing topic for business leaders everywhere: polarity management. HR are particularly well positioned to manage polarities since their role touches multiple parts of the business and they are often faced with seemingly opposing perspectives.

We spoke to Monique to understand how polarities are tackled in the context of a global company. Monique has years of experience in shifting the traditional narrative of polarities thinking. Her invaluable insights provide practical guidance for addressing complex challenges.

Leading the discussion was Sharon Olivier, Organizational Psychologist and Leadership Development professor at Hult International Business School.

See the full exclusive interview below.

Key takeaways

The key polarity facing legacy businesses in a changing world is:  How do you drive transformative change while continuing to deliver on the business-as-usual that historically has been the foundation of success?


→ Reframing polarities as potential ‘win-win’ situations is the first step to overcoming an oppositional mindset. 


→ Learner mindset is a practical type of growth mindset: Leaders must adopt and embody a culture of learning which leads to exploration, openness, and growth.​


→ It starts with leaders: those at the top must learn to influence three spheres in this order – the self, those around them, and the organization at large. If leaders are serious about positive transformation in their teams, the change must happen at an individual and then at an organizational level.​ 


→ Holding the tension between sustainability and profit impacts the whole company ecosystem: HR plays a big role in this, as they touch many areas of the business.​ 


→ Training strategies are about reaching critical mass: The big question for L&D leaders is how do you reach as many people as possible? This will either be through training those that will lead change, or through widespread education.​ 


→ Employee engagement is a major indicator of the success of training programs: The power of development programs is in aligning your people’s mindset with the company vision and values.​ 

Read our latest insights: Transcending a polarities mindset

This article explores the unique role of HR leaders in managing tensions that arise from polarities in their organizations. Successful polarity management ultimately requires leaders to carve out solutions that take value from opposing forces and viewpoints.

Read it here
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