The above was the challenge that Donna Reeves explored with two store managers when she was the Director of Group Internal Communications and Engagement Development at Kingfisher PLC.
Instead of managing and making all the decisions, she instead wanted them to explore what would happen if they acted as coaches, building the capability and leadership of their people.
Nicknamed Project Maverick (in honour of the book by Brazilian businessman Ricardo Semler), it resulted in improved performance across all the measured KPIs. And it even affected their personal life: the families of the store managers noticed the difference. One asked what was going on, as he was so much more relaxed when he came home — as he no longer had this weight on his shoulders.
It is a challenge that I have started to put to senior managers: What would it be like to make no decisions for three months? It brings up some interesting responses!
I managed to catch Donna for a quick interview.
Donna is an experienced internal communications and employee engagement leader who loves helping businesses join everything up, so there is no gap between what we say and what we do.
After 16 years at Kingfisher PLC as Director of Internal Communications and Engagement, in 2017 Donna started a new adventure as an independent consultant and now helps organisations create sustainable growth with their people by connecting strategy, employees and customers.
What motivates you?
“I have a passion for people. People don’t come to work to do a bad job. Companies unintentionally put procedures and policies in place that stop people doing a great job. If we could free them up then we’d get so much more out of people.”
Who is the best leader or manager you have worked for?
“My old boss, Benedikt Benenati. He was demanding and caring… [and had] that wonderful ability to put his arm around you and encourage you whilst at the same time giving you a bit of a slap. Everything he did was with positive intent for me, all to help me to be the best I could be.
“He was very disruptive (he now runs his own business called “Only the Braves”) and provocative. People thought he had a big ego, but he was never disrupting things for his own benefit, he was disrupting for the good of the business and for the people in the room. He would always be challenging your thinking, which was sometimes exhausting, but always direct and straightforward.
“Sir Ian Cheshire (ex-Chief Executive of Kingfisher) gave me my step up, I was his temporary assistant and when he offered me a job on his team I was done with being an assistant. But, he offered me a great opportunity to work with him in the International team, the team where he had just become CEO.
“I had an amazing time flying around the world with him, helping him bring the team together. And, when a role came up in the Comms team, he supported me to get that. So, whilst I know that I’ve got where I am through hard work and commitment, it’s also about having sponsors and mentors like Benedikt and Ian.”
Is everybody capable of being a good manager?
“Not in my view. But it seems to be the only way we’ve found in the western world to show people they’re recognised. We need to find another way; a way to create roles for people that are amazing at what they do, without giving them people to manage because that isn’t everyone’s skill.”
What is the best piece of advice you’ve been given?
“Have lunch. That was what someone told me to do when I started my role in the International team. ‘Take the time to get to know people, over lunch’. We are so much more than the person in the office, and taking time to get to know someone and their life outside of works helps so much.
What piece of advice would you give?
“Trust your gut. Do what you believe is the right thing to do because that level of honesty and passion for what you believe is right will gain you followers, believers. Your team will know if you mean it or not.”
What are you hoping for from the Happy Workplace Conference?
“I’m looking forward to sharing the fabulous story of mavericks and hoping I’ll inspire some of the attendees to go and run their own pilots.”
Happy's next event
Happy's next event is Creating Happy, Productive Social Enterprises on 20th September at Happy's training centre in Aldgate, London. This joint seminar hosted jointly by Happy and E3M and is for leaders and senior team members in social enterprises. You will hear from inspiring leaders: Jonathan Bland of Social Business International; Henry Stewart of Happy; June O'Sullivan MBE of London Early Years Foundation; Brendan O'Keefe of Epic CIC; Liz Mouland of First Community Health and Care CIC; and Scott Darraugh of Social adVentures. Visit the event page for full details and the agenda for the day, and to book your ticket.