How Jim Davis built an empowered work force at Chevron Energy Solutions Featured

8:00pm EDT September 25, 2008

Every day, there are millions of possibilities as to how Jim Davis could spend his time. As president of Chevron Energy Solutions Co., a wholly owned subsidiary of the $221 billion Chevron Corp., he recognizes time is limited and that he has to make choices each day.

“There’s an endless list of things I could be working on, but the challenge is determining what are the critical few that are going to be the most impactful to the organization to drive it forward and to achieve its goals,” he says.

Davis says that as the leader of your organization, you have to choose three to five initiatives to focus on. Everything else needs to be delegated.

“One of the good asset tests is saying, ‘What would keep me up at night if it went really poorly?’” he says. “That’s a real good indication that you’re on the right track to determining what your key metrics are.”

But once you determine what keeps you up, you have to actually stick to focusing on those few things and not get caught up in all the other possibilities. To do that, Davis relies on his 400 people to carry out the rest of the tasks.

“Getting the right people in the right roles and then empowering them to perform in those roles goes a long way to meeting that challenge,” he says.

Hire the right people

Davis starts by making sure that he gets result-oriented people for his organization from the beginning.

“You want to look for people that are always driving for results because, at the end of the day, that’s what business is here for — to produce financial results — so finding productive people that can help toward those financial results will really be a strong attribute of candidates,” he says.

“Look at how they’ve managed their life and their academic career and whatever working career they’ve had, so there’s proof that they’ve demonstrated,” he says. “Achieving results is one of the key things that leaders can use to determine whether or not this person is going to have success in your organization.”

To get an accurate picture of their results beyond what they put on their resume, you have to ask them to talk about their past.

“One of the things I like to do is have them tell me stories about their career,” Davis says. “Tell me stories where they’ve succeeded, where they’ve failed. Hear them tell the story of their life and career, and typically, you’ll learn an awful lot about an individual by how that story plays out.”

This strategy has helped Davis find out about some candidates’ characteristics outside of the office, including volunteer and philanthropic efforts or the challenges in caring for family members.

“They really prove the mettle of that person in a completely different way than perhaps what their GPA or the highlights of their career might be,” he says.

Some stories have also made him realize that some employees don’t have the values or work ethic to be successful within the organization. Additionally, if they can’t give you examples of their successes, that’s a sign that they don’t have a record of achievement.

In addition to results-driven, successful people, Davis also wants passionate employees in his organization.

“The keys are that people are passionate about the business,” Davis says. “I always look for people who are passionate about what our mission is, what our vision is and passionate about our customers.”

In order to gauge whether someone is passionate or is just putting on an interview face, Davis asks him or her what he or she is passionate about, and instead of leaving it at that, he probes further.

For example, if someone says he or she is passionate about the environment and saving the planet, he’ll ask that candidate to talk about examples in his or her life about what he or she has done to support the environment. He says good answers could range from how the person recycles and conserves energy at home to organizations that he or she is a member of to projects or programs that he or she initiated in college.

“If someone comes up short and says, ‘Well, I’m going to get started as soon as I come to work here on saving the planet,’ I know I’ve been tossed an interview answer.”

Put people in the right roles

Once you have the right people in your organization, you have to look at where they’re at.

“A real critical part of a leader’s role is to make sure that they have the right team in place in the right roles, so you can delegate critical initiatives to them, so that you’re not trying to carry the weight of the whole company on your shoulders,” Davis says. “The collective strength of that leadership team can be leveraged exponentially further than an individual strong leader can.”

The biggest challenge you need to be prepared for is recognizing when someone isn’t working.

“The real challenge for a leader is if you recognize that, that person is not in the right role, to act and to make a change,” he says.

He sees it frequently in other organizations, and he also sees leaders afraid to make any changes.

“My advice is to act and to act swiftly —not irrationally but act swiftly — to get that person out of that role and into a role where they can succeed and be productive for your organization,” Davis says. “Letting people flounder and fester in the wrong role can be cancerous to an organization.”

You have to look for the signs of trouble from people both inside and outside your organization.

“Typically, you’re going to get lots of different feedback from that person’s peers, possibly from their supervisors, possibly from their customers or suppliers,” he says. “You may even observe it yourself in meetings and interactions.”

The difficulty becomes that leaders tend to put off unpleasant things and hope the problem will resolve itself.

“It’s like a warning light on any dashboard— whether it’s an automobile or an airplane, you better pay attention when that red light comes on,” Davis says. “Business is the same way. You have warning lights tha

t come on, on your financial dashboard or in terms of managing your people, and it’s just like the warning light on an airplane — you better pay real quick attention to it because something really bad might happen if you don’t deal with that right away. Rarely does a warning light come on and it’s good news.”

When you see the warning signs, it’s important to point them out to the person who’s struggling.

“Gather the information and the facts, and then you sit down behind closed doors with that individual,” he says. “You’ll find quickly that, that person also recognizes that they’re in a difficult role that may not be the ideal fit for them.”

For example, Davis teams his business development people with engineers to go out and collaboratively develop large capital project opportunities for customers. A lot of times in a small team environment like that, the engineers will look across the table thinking they can do sales and want to switch. Oftentimes they do, but just as often, when they get on the other side, they struggle to meet their sales quotas and to make cold calls, and they realize it’s not all it’s cracked up to be. In those situations, rather than letting them flounder, the managers will move them back into the engineering side.

“If you react early enough, oftentimes, there’s not permanent damage done, so you can work with that individual to manage them out of that role and into a new role,” Davis says. “The problem is when you let it fester, and suddenly, there’s damage done to that person’s career, reputation, relationships internally as well as the damage that might be done through your organization as well as to your customers, suppliers and financial results.”

If you let it get to that point, then it’s too late. “You’ll find it’s too late to manage that person into another role in your organization,” he says. “It might mean that you’re left with nothing other than to manage that person out of your organization. That is, in many cases, the fault of that person’s leadership in ignoring all the warning signs and ignoring the distasteful or difficult thing to do and letting it get to the point where there’s no other recourse.”

Empower your people

Once you have all the right people and they’re in the positions best suited for them, you have to work to empower them in their roles so you can focus on your three to five most important initiatives. It starts with laying out expectations.

“It’s setting clear performance expectations, being very clear about what their responsibilities are, what their authority levels are, and then basically giving them confidence and the encouragement,” Davis says.

When you tell your employees what their responsibilities entail, you also have to explain to them how you’ll hold them accountable.

“Have the right metrics and the ability to check in on interim results — where you can check in on the right frequency,” he says.

In most cases, that doesn’t mean daily, and probably not even weekly, but it needs to be regular depending on the job.

“There are times when people are working on things that are so critical that maybe it is appropriate to check in every day, but in general that’s something that the supervisor or leader has to work with each of their direct reports on and say, ‘Here are the responsibilities I’ve given you,’ and, ‘OK, here’s an appropriate interim check-in.”

When you’ve discussed what the best interim check-in is, it helps you make quicker adjustments.

“You can do the fine-tuning easily that way, so there isn’t some major overhaul that needs to be done because you didn’t check in frequent enough,” he says.

Once you’ve set expectations and explained how you’ll hold them accountable, then back off and leave them alone to do their jobs.

“Where organizations and leaders get in trouble is when they feel the need to micromanage their employees to where they’re constantly looking over their shoulders, constantly checking in, almost henpecking them,” he says. “Not only is it most likely demoralizing to that employee, it also says, ‘This company doesn’t trust me.’”

While you have to hold people accountable and make sure they achieve the results you need, you also have to provide encouragement, as well. When you combine accountability with encouragement, your business will find success, and you, like Davis, will be able to focus on those top priorities.

“One of our jobs as leaders is to be the biggest fan of our employees,” Davis says. “The most effective coaches tend to be the biggest fans of their players. Oftentimes, you’ll have leaders who aren’t fans of their employees. That employee or that player picks up on that, so you have to cheer them on and encourage them and support them.”

HOW TO REACH: Chevron Energy Solutions Co., (800) 982-6887 or