Case Study

Shell’s leadership commitment to a Culture of Growth transforms their safety practices, leading to achievement of the ambitious “Goal Zero”


Goal Zero Achieved
Best Employee Engagement
Highest Ever Leadership Scores


How do we move from a world of relatively predictable variability to one of fundamental uncertainty?

Jorrit van der Togt, executive vice president of HR at Shell, set out to answer this question when faced with the realities of global changes in the future of the energy sector. Their leadership recognized the company must transform its entire business in order to successfully navigate an unclear future. Could shifting towards a Culture of Growth foster the innovation and adaptability needed to address their most important challenges? 


The Equity Accelerator’s CEO Dr. Mary Murphy worked with Shell’s leadership team to understand the value of a Culture of Growth, where applying a growth mindset to norms, policies, and practices of a business can effectively help all employees thrive and drive organizational success. From this leadership training, then CEO Ben van Beurden and members of the executive team that oversaw each area of business committed to creating this change starting at the top. Together, we developed a model for how they could lead the changes needed in order to create a Culture of Growth at Shell for all its employees. They termed this a Learner Mindset and decided to test this model on their most important challenge and priority: safety. 

Shell operates in an inherently dangerous industry, where mistakes across their entire system -  from personnel, process, and transport operations - can lead to dire consequences, from leaks to fatalities. In 2007, they had set forth an ambitious safety goal called Goal Zero: 

We aim to do no harm to people and to have no leaks across our operations.

Despite their rigorous commitment to safety and rigid protocols, Goal Zero continued to elude them. Mistakes are inevitable, so could applying a learner mindset - through deeper understanding of human performance principles and destigmatising errors - help them achieve their goals?  

Our Engagement

  • Leadership Training
  • Organizational Mindset Measurement at the individual level
  • Hot Spot Analyses

Keys to achieving this transformation:

    • Leadership driving structural change
    • Examining behavioral norms and developing processes to shift people toward their growth mindset more of the time
    • Incorporating growth-minded learning goals into HR practices and rewarding all employees for seeking ways to improve their work. Channels were created to offer ideas for improvement to managers, so those good ideas (especially with regard to safety protocols) could be tested and implemented at scale. 
    • Total buy-in from each area of the business including contractors and organizational partners 


The transformational journey at Shell resulted in a profound cultural shift, with leaders evolving from being perceived as know-it-alls to becoming learn-it-alls, and led to a significant improvement in safety outcomes, increased employee engagement, and recognition for organizational and team leadership. In 2020, Shell achieved a major milestone in its Goal Zero ambition by recording zero fatal accidents in Shell-operated facilities worldwide. They noted in their annual report that promoting a learner mindset culture was a key contributor in achieving their safety goals. 

The impact extended beyond safety, influencing collaboration, creativity, and innovation across all areas of the business and engaging not only Shell employees but also contractors and other organizational partners. They reported the best employee engagement results in the last 12 years prior and recorded the highest ever organizational leadership and team leadership scores to that point. One project team in Malaysia credited applying their learner mindset to their business design enabling them to evolve a conventional offshore processing platform to a carbon-competitive onshore gas plant that helped them achieve their highest return on investment with lowest possible carbon emission. 

Even more broadly, Shell strives to help improve safety throughout the energy industry. They brought together other leading companies to participate in the first industry Safety Collaboration Forum (SCF) in 2022 to commit to making the industry safer and more efficient.

People are key to executing complex tasks and to finding solutions to problems. We aim to apply a learner mindset, by which we mean the belief that we can always improve, enhance individual capabilities, learn from mistakes and successes, and speak up without being punished. We seek to create conditions that encourage employees and contractors to share ideas and concerns without fear of rejection or punishment.
Ben van Beurden

Ben van Beurden

Former CEO, Shell

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