The Willoughby Book Club
I was introduced to the Directors of The Willoughby Book Club by the Leicester and Leicestershire Enterprise Partnership (LLEP). The Willoughby Book Club is the UK’s leading personalised book subscription service offering a personalised selection delivered to your door on a monthly basis.
One of the Directors had been an employee of Willoughby and had recently bought out the previous owner. She hadn’t run a business before and she hadn’t led people before. Her co-Director was a friend who had previous experience as a manager in a book retail environment. However, she lived in Ireland and came over to work on-site about ten days a month.
We held an initial scoping meeting to understand the particular issues that the Directors wanted support to work on. Whilst there was a strong sense of pride in Willoughby, there was generally low self-confidence across the business and some staff were resistant to the change of ownership. The Directors wanted help with leadership and people management skills and also business strategy and processes. Under the previous ownership the employees had received little, if any, personal or team development.
We agreed that I would provide a package of monthly support of four hours a month for a six-month period. Appropriate dates would be set each month and the areas of focus for each session would be flexible and depend on what was important to the Directors and the business at the time.
A mix of support solutions was provided. This ranged from coaching and mentoring sessions with the Directors as individuals and together, through to development sessions with the full team of employees.
Some examples of areas addressed and interventions delivered over the six-month period are:
• Individual Director coaching on their leadership and management style and approach
• Working through how to deal with specific difficult situations and issues
• Sharing leadership and management tools and techniques
• Developing Willoughby’s business vision and set of values
• Full team session on the behaviours to bring the values to life and encourage engagement
• Strategy development ideas and goals
• Developing thoughts on possible organisation structures
• Clarifying roles and responsibilities between the two Directors
• Ideas for process improvements
• Identifying the Directors’ skills and competencies and individual development planning
• Full team workshop to build confidence by recognising successes, unused skills, team strengths, what employees value about Willoughby and the team, how to build on strengths and successes and use them to take the business forward
• Design of a communication session delivered by the Directors to all employees to update on progress and plans
The Directors developed significantly at a personal level and also made substantial progress on the fundamentals of the business and its strategy. The agreed vision for the Willoughby Book Club was ‘Delivering the gift of reading’ and the set of values defined was Community; Passion; Discovery; Creativity; Sanctuary and Delight. All employees bought into the values and produced a set of supporting behaviours that they would work to.
The employees gave positive feedback to the Directors following the team workshops and wanted more sessions. This was after several of them were initially concerned and uncomfortable about taking part.
The following feedback was received from one of the Directors.
“2019 was a whirlwind of a year - I went from being an employee of The Willoughby Book Club to being a co-director with only three months to get my head around the idea. Throw in a fire that destroyed our previous premises just before we took over (meaning a move to new premises), well, it was a fairly stressful start to the year! While I knew my job within the company and the framework of how it operated, when it came to heading a company and being responsible for 9 employees, along with venturing into business ownership with a close friend, I was a complete novice and felt a huge sense of imposter syndrome.
“Through the LLEP my business partner and I were introduced to Andrew Deighton and after an initial meeting decided to commit to 6 months of support from him (AWD Development Solutions). Throughout our time with Andrew he helped us enormously; from support with writing business goals and strategy planning, to team building, growth and personal development, I benefitted hugely from my sessions with Andrew and feel his help in creating a stronger and more stable workplace has been invaluable. It was with sadness we said goodbye to Andrew at the end of our 6 months, but I am confident we will continue to build on the skills he has given us and that we will work together again at some point in the future. Thank you Andrew!” Danielle Rowley, Co-Director, The Willoughby Book Club Ltd.