Brenda Rigney: "Leadership starts at any level of the company"

December 6th, 2016
“Leadership starts at any level of the company”
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By the time I had finished talking to Brenda, I felt safe in her hands. As if I could always put my trust in her and she would somehow get the best out of me, even if I didn’t know what that was. That’s the thing about great leaders; they know how to nurture people and in doing so, they create future leaders.

(Brenda is no nonsense and all business efficiency, so I dive right in). I’ve heard you say that HR can be replaced?

I stand by it. Anything can be replaced or outsourced. I think that the world is ripe for replacement and change.

How do you think that’s going to go down?

Well, 20 or 30 years ago we just went with the flow. Did whatever our boss told us to do, but now we’re raising our hands and saying, ‘nah, I don’t think that’s how we want our company to be’.

What’s bringing that change?

I think technology is definitely a driver because it’s looking at, artificial intelligence, or robotics, or 3-D printing. We’re seeing new ways of working, and even manufacturing products that eliminate people’s jobs.

Are you trying to get rid of people?

Not at all. I have an operations mindset so I always look to increase efficiencies before I ever look to cut a whole team. That’s always my last resort.

Phew! I was worried there for a second.

I just want to look at how to optimize people, and we get people do the jobs they love.

Why did you decide to leave retail and go to healthcare?

Well, retails was definitely an area I was passionate about; I love the pace and the vibe. Then I did hospitality, and I had similar goals of expansion and growth. And it was the same at Nurse Next Door. It was fast paced, lot’s of growth, and you’re working in a very entrepreneurial environment. And it’s similar to retails in that you always put the customer first. There are loads of those types of principles that cascade across retail, hospitality and homecare.

Well I’ve never thought of it like that, but it does make sense.

I did say to myself that I would never work for government, education or hospitals. When I made this change some people questioned me.

Did you sell out?

I don’t feel like I did no. The difference is franchising, and it’s also homecare, we’re not in a hospital network system. There isn’t this heavily matrixed crazy layered organization. It feels like a retail company, like you’re hands on with the customer and you get to drive change really quickly.

You believe millennials are changing things. Do we need to change the work force to deal with that?

Yes. I mean, every time you have a large group of people that share a common set of values, the world is going to start watching.

What’s the biggest blocker to innovation in business?

Leadership. I don’t necessarily mean your boss, but more leadership across organizations. We need to be showing, or enabling, people to be leaders.

Do you not think we do it now?

No. We’ve been trained in organizations that leadership comes from the highest levels of the company. Actually, leadership starts at any level of the company. A McDonald’s cashier could be a leader. We need to enable the people across the organization to be innovative, we need to them to be searching business solutions for their company, we them to be able to be leaders themselves, to be confident, to ask for a feedback, to grow, to learn, to have an impact.

Why is it important to you to hold a leadership piece?

Well it makes my job easier. I’ve been managing people for the last 25 years now, and so I can micromanage and tell you exactly what to do, or I can create an environment that is a learning environment where you can grow and fulfill your personal goals.

I want to be developing leaders because in two years, we’re going to be growing at an incredible rate, and I need people that can take on big challenges.

So you’re not a big fan of a hierarchy I take it?

No. no. been there. Done it!

What’s difficult about leading people?

When there is lack of alignment. You need to be clear from the start. If there is something that you want, you desire out of the team or the person that might work for you, put it out there, be transparent about it. Say what you are, and what you aren’t.  You hire people because they want to fulfill something in their career, and you also want to help them fulfill that, so you have a commonality and connection. It starts there. People are people. They are going through life. They get healthy. They get sick. They have drama in their life, and you can work through all of those things because you have this common alignment.

Do you just hire people you can fundamentally get on with?

I’m not saying hire people like you. I want to hire people above me as far as skill and capability. I have to hire someone on my team that knows how to do the things I can’t.

I’m not actually looking for someone like me, but I think it’s more what is the common denominator that brings us all together.

How do you find that?

Well for us at Nurse Next Door it’s our values. People understand our values and are connected to them. Those are the kind of people I need in my team.

What is the best thing you’ve learned?

Developing people. When you spend time with the right people, and you set clear expectations with them, and give them feedback, they will grow and they step out of the way to make it happen. I love doing those things. I love setting up people for their success, and I love giving them feedback, and I love watching them grow, so when all of those combinations are happening, that’s always great for me.

What is the best piece of advice you can give to someone starting their career?

I encourage not staying in your job too long. When I started with the GAP community, even though I was with the company for 14 years, I was never in the same job, in the same store, district, region for more than 18 to 24 months. All that change in my job challenged me, and it will get the best out of you when you’re starting out.

After our chat, I’m honestly enthused about building up everyone around me. That’s not to say I’m about to create the next generation of leaders, but Brenda is, and she absolutely knows how to get the best out of a person.