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Leading with Heart and Courage for a Human-Energy Company: Rhonda Morris, CHRO Chevron

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Roses. Grocery bags. Roses. Prom dresses. Roses again. 

In March 2020 the world was becoming a much different place. The World Health Organization declared the COVID-19 outbreak a pandemic, the U.S. entered a state of emergency, and California became the first state to announce a statewide lockdown. 

For Rhonda Morris, Chief Human Resources Officer of Chevron, the evolving crises would intersect both her personal and professional life in unexpected ways.

Rhonda carried the responsibility of ensuring all 45,000+ employees – working at the California headquarters and across several countries in settings from drilling platforms and remote pipelines to trading floors and office work – were safe.  At the same time, Rhonda was consumed by thoughts of her teenage daughter, soon to encounter a series of cancellations and disappointments, and the wellbeing of her elderly mother, who lived alone and was suddenly cut off from church, shopping, and community. 

She questioned how they could remain resilient through shelter-in-place when none of the normal relief was available and with no end in sight. In that moment, Rhonda realized: If I’m struggling with these demands across my roles as mother, daughter, and leader, so are my people. They need to feel less alone. They need to feel connected. They need to feel supported.

This realization sparked action. The self-described introvert decided to do something out of character: she wrote a Workplace post (Chevron’s internal Facebook platform) to all 45,000 employees with personal insights on how the pandemic was impacting her and her loved ones – from anxieties to conflicts to new-found caregiving responsibilities. In the post, she shared a picture of one of her mom’s rose bushes. 

The response was overwhelming. It was clear people needed human interaction and comfort – not just words or messaging – in a time of panic and uncertainty. They also needed leadership – the type that provides a guiding light to thrive in this challenging time. Leadership that modeled resilience, empathy, adaptability, and the company’s value of family and caring. The same things her mother and daughter needed from her.

As CHRO, Rhonda could tell employees that Chevron cared about them. But by leading with vulnerability, leaning in to the discomfort of integrating work and life, Rhonda created a space of psychological safety and empathy so that leaders and managers at all levels could be upfront about their own stress and adversity while doing the same for their people. She continued to share these periodic “journal entry” posts, including pictures of her mom’s groceries or the roses or her daughter’s moment of joy in a socially-distanced chat with a friend on the lawn, moments that fueled her own resilience. 

It wasn’t just Rhonda. She and other leaders came together. They listened, they modeled, and they created space for people across the organization to come together. Supporting everyone through the shifting array of challenges would require the collective effort of quick, creative problem-solvers. One way they engaged directly with employees was by “listening” and posing questions to understand what was top-of-mind at the moment in a way that a survey couldn’t deliver. This provided a real-time feedback loop, accelerating Chevron’s ability to best support its people. 

These leaders quickly realized that they would also need to rely more on managers at all levels, their leadership and relationships with their teams, to navigate the uncertainty and unpredictability of Covid and beyond. They needed managers to be authentic, empathetic, and have real conversations, managers who would be flexible and resilient in the face of setbacks and changes. 

Adopting new mindsets and developing the new behaviors to become this type of manager was no small leap. In June, Chevron brought BetterUp in to provide structured support for  7,000 supervisors worldwide. Focusing on those in positions that could benefit most immediately, the first cohort began receiving 1:1 coaching through the platform while others joined coaching circles. The professional coaches created a space where managers could engage with topics like feedback or resilience and reflect on their experiences, practice new behaviors, and learn from each other. Over the course of several weekly sessions, the circles start to cement the deeper peer-to-peer relationships that really do link an engineer in Malaysia to an account manager in San Ramon, strengthening a bond of practice, learning, and community around the globe.

What’s next for Chevron?

Chevron has always been more than an energy company – it provides human energy. For Rhonda that slogan has never been more true. The company grows and thrives based on the quality and commitment of its people. In return, the company is committed to fostering the growth of its people. Now more than ever, Chevron is a place for creative problem solvers who will continue to adapt in order to overcome society’s challenges and lead the way forward through changing and uncertain times. 

Rhonda’s story is inspiring and presents a challenge to all of us: No matter what level of the organization we are, how can we lead with vulnerability? What unexpected roses can you offer your teams and peers?

Watch Rhonda discuss how to help people thrive in the workplace with Adam Grant and BetterUp CEO Alexi Robichaux here.

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