Travis Rogers was part of the first Executing Strategy for Results (ESR) programme to be offered by London Business School in Dubai and being based in Saudi Arabia he found that having the training located so close to home was a major advantage.
“Having it right here in the region made it very easy and very accessible and meant we didn’t waste time on travelling,” he says. “We had participants from across the Middle East and Europe and from many different industries – finance, telecom, IT, manufacturing – and what was so interesting was that many of the problems these leaders face are very similar. People are people, so the way you approach strategy execution is the same no matter where you are.”
Rogers joined US petrochemical company Chevron Phillips in 2006 after graduating as a chemical engineer and was originally based in Pasadena, Texas. He’s risen through the ranks and at the relatively young age of 34 is now Operations General Manager – Polymers at the company’s joint venture facility in Saudi Arabia. Here they convert hydrocarbons into pellets of polyethylene, polypropylene and polystyrene that are then made into plastic goods ranging from food packaging to car parts.
Rogers had asked his Learning & Development Group for training to help him improve his effectiveness in getting the most out of his people and the organisation. They suggested London Business School and he found the content of the four-day ESR programme was just right, giving the appropriate amount of detail and presenting the information in a way that could be put into practice straight away.
The programme provides advice on developing strategic priorities that are relevant, timely and measurable and that allow employees to align their personal goals and objectives with company strategy. “My biggest takeaway is that strategy is often developed at the top of an organisation, far away from the “boots on the ground” and sometimes with little thought of how personally relatable it is,” says Rogers. “The programme helped me to recognise that it is the manager’s responsibility to translate strategy to the workforce in a way that’s easy to understand and that enables them to act accordingly at all times, making decisions that are within the guidelines of our strategy.”
By thinking things through in this way, Rogers says the programme has helped him to alter the way he implements change in the work environment and to realise the importance of bringing employees along with him on the process. He found the “execution loop” concept that was explained on the programme particularly useful in breaking down strategy execution into four stages: making sense, making choices, making it happen and making revisions.
“The biggest “aha moment” for me was recognising the importance of separating discussions about “making sense” of an issue from discussions about “making choices” – it’s too easy to skip ahead to implementing a solution without ensuring that people fully understand the challenge first,” he says.
And that came to bear when the company was making personnel changes recently. Rogers was overseeing managers who were required to move some of their workers from one unit to another and he decided to remove himself from preliminary discussions on the issue. “I had in my mind a way to do it but the people being affected are indirect reports of mine – so my reports need to be the true owners of this change. I have to make sure that my perspective doesn’t override everyone else’s and prevent someone from coming up with what may be a better decision.”
That could be particularly important for S-Chem’s unusually multicultural workforce. While the majority of the 1,800 workers at the facility are Saudi there are also workers from the Phillippines, India, Malaysia, Indonesia and elsewhere, along with 60 Americans, and while Rogers values and embraces the international mix, it makes clear communication even more vital.
This approach also ties in with another concept outlined in the ESR programme: emotional engagement. Change in an organisation is usually difficult as most people inherently don’t like change, so the challenge for leaders is to engage with people and connect their hearts with their heads.
“This is something a lot of managers find difficult as it is hard to deal with emotion,” says Rogers, “but when you have been given examples of how to do it, it gives you the confidence – and the courage - to implement these changes effectively.”
And it was this aspect of the programme that particularly impressed Rogers – the ability of the faculty members Adjunct Professor of Strategy and Entrepreneurship Dominic Houlder and Teaching Fellow Stefano Turconi along with Programme Director David Lewis to share real-world examples of the best way to execute strategy.
“Dominic, Stefano and David have worked with Fortune 500 companies around the world and they had no end of relevant examples they could provide where they have used these same tools to build success in an organisation – to develop strategy and develop a plan for execution of the strategy,” says Rogers. “That made it so much easier to follow what they were saying and think about how it could apply to me.”