"Ocado is the world’s largest online only grocery retailer. Our disruptive business model is powered by a huge Aladdin's cave of technology, most of which is invisible to our customers and almost all of which we build in-house - we are the fusion of a retailer and a technology business.
Working at Ocado is like being on a rollercoaster that is still under construction. You come around a corner, think you know what to expect and then find that someone has added a new barrel roll - that’s what keeps it exciting!
As Ocado’s Chief Technology Officer, you might expect me to say that perfecting the art of scalable and sustainable disruptive innovation is all about technology. Well, it’s not. It’s all about people, culture, vision, leadership and lots of technology.
In June 2014 my division, Ocado Technology, was experiencing some growing pains. We were expanding very fast in multiple locations, had recently added a new leadership tier, and along with the rest of Ocado were busy adding an international platform business string to our bow.
The innovative force we applied to our products and services needed to also be channelled into innovating our leadership, culture and people processes. To do that, we needed some help.
Now, there are lots of companies in the leadership development, coaching and organisational alchemy sector, ranging from the ineffective to the potentially dangerous. So when it came to trusting anyone to work with the psyches of my staff and my division, Maynard Leigh was the top of my list.
Our initial engagement with them was a series of two-day leadership workshops with the recently formed management board of Ocado Technology. Having worked with Maynard Leigh before in a few different organisations, I knew what to expect. However, at the start of the first workshop, my heart was in my mouth because you never quite know how people are going to respond to something radically different.
I needn’t have worried. To the credit of my senior team, they dived into the pool fully clothed without a moment’s hesitation. What followed was an amazing two days of discovery - discovery about ourselves, but also about one another. It was very humbling and moving to realise that we had worked with one another for nearly 10 years but in that time, we had barely scratched the surface in terms of “really knowing” who we were and what made us tick.
The success of this experience was also down to the special way that Maynard Leigh works, blending skills and techniques honed in the performing arts with deep emotional intelligence. This is delivered through the generosity, integrity and insight of their leaders who create and hold a safe space to learn, experiment and play. They don’t stand around the pool telling you how to swim, they get in the pool with you and we all learn together.
In the workshops that followed, we explored our individual leadership styles and how we might paint more creatively with colours from the whole leadership palette. We worked on becoming more effective as a leadership team and refined our skills as cultural gardeners. The workshops were complemented with individual coaching which provided an immensely valuable space to work on individual challenges, such as preparing for a major presentation, working through a difficult situation at work, and so on.
We then extended the programme to include all our heads of department and the results have been transformative. Recently we have extended it again to include our first two levels of management, our development managers and team leaders. As the numbers grew the processes inevitably had to change, but Maynard Leigh seem to have lots of creative tools and techniques in their kit bag. Their agenda is very much about “teaching us to fish for ourselves” rather than creating dependency.
Alongside the leadership development, the team at Maynard Leigh has run dedicated workshops on topics such as presentations skills and women in technology, and for specialist groups such as our product owners.
As always, the people stuff is even more challenging than the technology but the potential rewards are huge, and so the journey of discovery and learning continues... "