Brid Nunn shares some of the challenging projects have shaped her L&D experience.
Brid Nunn has worked for Marks & Spencer in a wide variety or roles, having forged her career in the business within commercial roles and currently within L&D.
She has worked as a buying assistant in Lingerie and Kidswear, delivered the first centralised retail communications team for stores, and has been out in a field role as a commercial store development manager supporting new stores.
L&D beckoned in 2009 when Brid joined to cover a maternity leave and since then she has headed up the global design team supporting retail colleagues, as well as currently heading up the systems L&D team, Logistics, Property and Finance L&D academies.
Brid is the current holder of the L&D professional of the year award from the TJ Awards 2015, the M&S team also won in conjunction with Media Zoo, the best operational programme for their Customer Assistant Induction programme last year. Other awards that Brid has been connected to include: the Cannes Corporate Media Awards 2013and the E-Learning Awards in 2012 and 2015.
Why training and how did you start?
My story is not a typical HR/L&D story. In fact, I have spent a much greater part of my career not in HR, which I genuinely feel has given me a much broader background for my role in L&D.
I am a naturally curious person, have a lot of common sense, and like to challenge myself to take things on. I have a constant hunger to learn and develop. I started my career in M&S as a PA in Foods, and quickly moved into buying within Kidswear and Lingerie. I then looked at what was next and secured a role in marketing as a communication and décor assistant.
I then moved into a retail communications role responsible for central retail communications as well as the retail conferences. This gave me a huge understanding of retail and how it operates, and triggered my next role as a store developer. This role allowed me to gain a much more commercial understanding of the business as I was working directly with store colleagues to deliver the best commercial space and equipment for their store, while influencing Heads of Region and the Marketing Director on my decisions for store layout. It was absolutely due to this role that I ended up in L&D as part of that role was helping store colleagues to understand their space, grids and store equipment and making sure that once I walked away they were self-sufficient and sustainable and they could reach their potential.
I saw a maternity leave role within L&D and applied for it, because I had discovered a passion for supporting people to learn. I was suddenly in the world of HR, managing people who knew much more than me, speaking a language I didn’t know.
I realised fairly quickly that I had a huge wealth of commercial knowledge. I fully understood how stores work and operate, and I had a sense of ‘what I don’t know, I can learn’. I got to grips with the jargon and the L&D process, while always bringing it back to the end user and how L&D would work for them.
I had to work out where I could make a difference in L&D with my background, being business savvy, networking, knowing people out in stores and the challenges they face, and building skills in my team that they didn’t have. 75 per cent of all learning for stores was workshop driven and I knew we could put together video clips and short, sharp bursts of learning having created many engagement and cascade videos in my communication role. I worked out I could learn the theory.
That first year was tough as I had to deliver some really large scale service initiatives for the business to a retail audience of around 70,000 – there’s nothing like learning on the job!
Who or what inspires you?
There are a few things that inspire me professionally and personally. I love history and was born in Ireland, a country that has seen its fair share of historical moments. I came to England at the age of 19 because the work situation in Ireland was really tough. It was hard to leave family and friends but I have made a life for myself here. One of the quotes that truly inspires me is from Mahatma Gandhi, “Be the change you want to see in this world.”
It took me a while before I really got this, but it’s all about taking full responsibility for your life, practice what you preach and, if you want to see change in your life or in the world, then it has to happen with you first. Good quotes fascinate me as they leave you thinking.
My second inspiration is anyone who is creative and innovative! Where would we be without the amazing inventions that have happened over the last 20 years: the web, the mobile phone, iPads, smart TVs, PlayStation (with my 14-year-old son, I have had to get to grips with this one!). These innovations open up new and exciting ways for people to learn.
I love Jane Hart, founder of the Centre for Learning and Performance Technologies (C4LPT), which is one of the most visited L&D sites on the web – I regularly read her blogs and articles to keep me up to date with the latest learning technologies so that I can be creative and innovative with learning within M&S.
Inspiring creativity can come from anywhere. I am lucky to live in London. Everywhere I look I see creative ideas, innovative buildings – you could never be bored. I had a session with my systems team at the top of The Walkie Talkie (or 20 Fenchurch Street as it’s officially known!) in London – you can’t get more inspiring than that. I also have a really good friend who has just launched a range of children’s T-shirts with a design to encourage children to be themselves and be proud of their own individuality, inspired by her own experiences when she was younger.
My third inspiration is my family; my immediate family and my wider family. I come from a large, close-knit family in Ireland and, like any family, we have our gatherings for weddings and birthdays, and our share of ups, downs and personal tragedies. One of which has led us to support a great charity in Ireland called Pieta House, supporting mental health, wellbeing and suicide awareness. I admire anyone who is struggling with loss, or mental health, and it’s at times like these that family are the inspiration and support that pull you through and are there no matter what. I try to go to Dublin every May to join the Pieta House charity Darkness into Light Walk which is the most compelling charity walk I have ever experienced.
What’s been your lowest moment, and what your noblest hour?
I can’t say that within my career I have ever had a truly low moment! Yes, there were times, particularly when I was in a travelling role, that I was exhausted from the sheer demands of the role and the travel, but there was a great camaraderie within the team and we got each other through.
Working in such a big organisation as M&S there are bound to be challenges within any role, and challenging people you need to work with, but I am pragmatic in my approach, firm but fair and I always think honesty is the best policy – these are the things that have supported me personally when things have been tough.
Noblest hour, I can honestly say when my name got called out for L&D professional of the year in November; my entire table was up on their feet cheering and clapping. I was still sitting, shocked, as I couldn’t quite believe my ears.
During the evening, lots of people came up to congratulate me and they were really impressed that I had only been in L&D for six years. These were L&D professionals, many of them having been L&D professionals or HR professionals for their entire career. It was a tough interview with the judges, but it was all worth it when my name was called out. Our HR director, my M&S colleagues, family and friends were absolutely delighted for me. It was one of my proudest professional moments ever.
Also winning at the Cannes Corporate Media Awards for Savile Row Inspired. Actually travelling to Cannes for the ceremony was a fantastic weekend. And then we won!
The other great professional moment was gaining my Chartered CIPD – I completed Associate and Chartered during my time in retail L&D, and I was over the moon to have a professional HR qualification that is externally recognised, and was a personal investment in ‘me’.
What and when was your career turning point?
I have had many career turning points over my time in M&S. This business is great and has offered me fantastic opportunities to build different careers and knowledge over all the varied roles I have been in. When I joined M&S, I was a PA but I knew this was only the start for me. I have pushed myself into different roles, mastered them and then moved on to something more challenging for me. I have realised that we all have transferable skills and that hard work, taking ownership and delivering will always win in the end.
My experience in L&D has been one of the most fulfilling roles in my career, from starting as a novice to within six years becoming a Chartered Member of CIPD, and winning L&D professional of the year.
Describe your best learning and development experience?
Starting with a blank piece of paper for some of the retail concepts that I have delivered over the last few years, and moving from a blank piece of paper to a really inspirational, fully immersive L&D experience. Everything I have delivered over my time in L&D has been inspiring, innovative and pushed the boundaries for M&S colleagues, as well as simple, creative, low cost interventions that we have delivered via an iPhone film clip.
The most important thing is: what does the learner go away with, and have I made a difference to them and their skills?
Personally, the best learning experiences I have had has been listening to inspiring people talk about their experiences. People like Richard Branson, Ruby Wax and Baroness Doreen Lawrence who have all led completely different lives. Hearing from them about the challenges they have faced; I get a lot from inspiring people and love to attend conferences and seminars whenever I can.
What’s next in your career?
Just before I won the award last year, I moved from Retail L&D to the Head Office L&D team accountable for Logistics, Finance and Property academies, as well as leading the Systems L&D team, so I am still learning myself and hopefully starting to shape this for the future.
Who knows what the next challenge will be? When I won the award in November, it was presented to me by Gill White from the CIPD and she told me that, for the majority of people who win this award, it is a life changing moment, so I’m ready for anything!