Alex Archila is President of BHP’s Shale business. He’s an engineer from Guatemala who’s had the good fortune to work in seven countries over the past 33 years. He also doesn’t play golf. This is his story.
I am a believe that valuing people starts with personal involvement. I make an effort to take time to participate in the local community activities.
I come from a place where everybody shares and talks with everybody, it’s part of our culture. Years ago, I was working for another company and was offered a senior role at an international location reporting into the North America headquarters in Texas. During my first week on the job there was a leadership team activity planned offsite. Upon arrival I was advised we were going to play golf for the next two afternoons after meetings. I love sports, but until then I had never played golf!
When I asked our senior leader if there were other activities I could participate in, he looked at me in surprise, saying that I needed to learn to play golf if I was going to be part of the leadership team. I embraced the opportunity and tried to learn, but I wasn’t good. It’s simply not my kind of sport. But over time I realised my lack of golf skills had an unanticipated consequence.
Our leader frequently invited one or two members of the management team to play with him to discuss business. Since I was pretty bad at it, I was never invited. Because I lived overseas, I gradually lost valuable opportunities to network with our leader in an informal setting. I really think that inhibited my opportunity to contribute to my best. Worst of all, I felt excluded.
In a way, I blamed myself for not having learned a game that I knew was a frequent vehicle for business interactions in Texas. Experiences like this have also made me aware that as senior leaders, we always need to be mindful of the cultural background of the people we interact with and pay attention to details.
I think all cultures recognise a smile and people will always value small things like when you make an effort to know their name. I send birthday notes to my direct reports and personally write holiday cards. Being genuine in your interactions and staying affable even during very busy times is important. I also try not to take myself too seriously and frequently use self-deprecating humor to show our employees that even leaders are vulnerable and have flaws.
I believe in honest and frequent communication. Since I first came to North America Shale a year ago, I speak with employees every month, not only to understand and improve the business, but also to ensure people understand our strategy and that they are given a chance to ask questions and present their improvement opportunities.
To encourage more diversity and inclusion within our teams, I have three pieces of advice: know your own potential personal biases; test the biases in your selection process; and engage your teams in the hard conversations about inclusion and diversity.