Our distribution centre at Castle Donington is a highly automated complex that can pick, pack and despatch 330,000 single orders in a day. Usually, I’m leading a team of between 12 and 18 Team Managers with over a thousand colleagues, all focused – literally – on delivering for the customer. The pace is fast, and my job is to help the team hit our collective targets.
My approach to leadership is simple: encourage people to say what they think, value their opinions and act on them. When people feel heard and understood, they contribute on a whole different level. When I first came into this job, colleagues didn’t spend much time with their managers, and managers didn’t have time to engage with their teams. The culture was very numbers-driven, which is kind of understandable. But I wanted people to get involved; I was interested in what they thought and felt.
I introduced something called ‘Me Time’, where Team Managers could take their people off the shop floor for an hour every week and talk about how things were going. Then once a month, we’d do a team engagement session where we would grab a training room and do all kinds of bonding and collaboration exercises. It was very much, ‘forget about work, forget about targets, let’s spend some time together.’
In such a busy environment, it was pretty brave to take people off the job. But that’s an M&S thing: we are free to try things out and see what happens. It might work, it might not, but either way, you learn from it. ‘Me Time’ worked really well. We all came out of those sessions inspired. We soon made up the lost time, but people also started making their own suggestions for improvements and efficiencies. We moved from that passive mindset of ‘what do you want me to do?’ to ‘how can I make things better?’
A 24/7 operation like this is always going to be a demanding environment and I feel that pressure at times. But I love the energy and the challenge of it. In four years, I’ve been promoted several times, I’ve moved between day and night shifts, and I’ve worked in various parts of the operation. If ever there was an area that had issues, I’d put myself forward as the person who could sort them out. I love feeling that I can change things, both for the business and the people I work with.