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Talking leadership with Deborah Warman

Posted on from Changeboard

Katriona O’Connor, principal consultant at Mallon Errington asks Deborah Warman, group head of reward & global mobility for Marks & Spencer some key questions surrounding reward, leadership and overall strategy when working within the retail industry

Can you describe your signature leadership style?

As a leader it is important to role model the company’s values of integrity, innovation, inspiration and in touch, so that the reward and global mobility team also embrace and display these values for our internal (and external) customers. I trust my team to do their best and to support one another and I try to create a work environment and atmosphere that shows this trust.
I support flexible working – whether this is part-time working or working from home to try to get the best out of the team. By being flexible I have retained great people who have in turn developed in their roles and become stronger reward professionals as a result. I try to ensure that everyone has something new to work on to keep the creative thoughts flowing, as well as having to deliver the bread and butter business as usual work; this way personal development continues across the year.

How do you ensure your reward team succeed?

We need to be close to our business partners, key stakeholders such as finance and our customers. It is vital that we understand the business strategy and priorities so that any reward proposition we develop helps engage our people and pulls the right triggers to help grow the business.

We need to be flexible, resilient and adaptable and be able to deal with ambiguity; in a fast moving business the priorities can change quickly and we can’t afford to be behind the curve. We also need to be experts in our field – keeping in touch with what is happening in the external market so that we can influence the business where necessary. It is hard sometimes to make the time for external networking, but this is vital to being a strong reward team.

Currently, what are the biggest reward challenges?


It’s imperative that we engage with our people explaining the total reward and benefits package that is available to them. The cost of reward for retailers (given the sheer number of employees) makes this even more important. One of the key challenges that we have always faced is how to get the messages across to our 85,000 people across a vast number of stores and locations around the globe. We have had to embrace technology and use a variety of means; paper based, internal Yammer and social media, poster campaigns, roadshows to name a few. What we know is that there is no one right way, so trying new ideas is a must. We continue to support the business in attracting and retaining key skills – which is definitely a global challenge, from the shop floor to the board. 

One final thought – our people are more challenging of the business and specifically around their reward and benefits. Access to information about our competitors and the external market are easy to find so retailers cannot afford to be complacent.

How have reward roles changed?

I think the skills required to be successful in reward have broadened immensely. A great reward professional needs to be technical, financial but also needs strong inter-personal skills to ensure the ability to engage with and manage multiple stakeholders. Increasingly great project management skills are very helpful, especially when dealing with third party suppliers. On top of all this it is essential that reward people can write in jargon-free language to ensure messages are clear and people understand reward policies. 

Deborah Warman

Group head of reward and global mobility, Marks & Spencer. 

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