Upskilling leaders: Kingfisher’s experiential learning journey

Jade Starrett, group talent and organisational effectiveness director at Kingfisher, discusses the benefits of experiential learning 

Group Of Successful Businesspeople Standing And Talking.

From meeting ambitious targets despite budget constraints to adapting to market shifts, the demands on a modern business can be high and ambiguous. Despite people arguably being an organisation’s most important asset, it can be easy to deprioritise leadership development when times are tough. 

Often, leadership development can be viewed as predictable, unfocused and ineffective. WDHB is a global specialist in the design and delivery of executive learning and development programmes. It takes a different approach, offering bespoke experiential programmes that incorporate an organisation’s business objectives and strategic goals to drive impact over the short and long term. 

Kingfisher, a multinational retail company, partnered with WDHB on two international executive learning expeditions designed to get leaders out of their comfort zones, learn together and forge genuine connections. Over the course of two years and travelling to San Francisco, Seattle and Vancouver, Kingfisher’s cohorts of between 25 and 27 leaders immersed themselves in weeklong expeditions where they engaged with leaders from businesses including Google, Starbucks and Lululemon. 

While experiential learning is just one aspect of Kingfisher’s multi-faceted leadership development strategy, the partnership with WDHB has had a big impact. Jade Starrett, group talent and organisational effectiveness director at Kingfisher, explains how experiential learning has benefitted the entire business.

What challenges were you looking to solve through these programmes?

I joined Kingfisher three years ago and one of my first objectives was to look at our existing leadership development offering to examine whether it was fit for purpose and building the leadership capability we needed to deliver our strategy. I found that it simply wasn’t offering us the return on investment we needed.

We wanted an innovative and engaging programme that was highly aligned with our business strategy and would provide our leaders with the skills to deliver on this. It had to meet both the collective and individual needs of the group and help foster a ‘test-and-learn mindset’.

On meeting the WDHB team, I was impressed with their knowledge of our sector and their understanding of future challenges, opportunities and trends. Most importantly, they were really open to collaboration and co-creation, which was what we were looking for in a learning partner.

How did you build your leadership development programme? 

One of the deciding factors was that we could build the programme together with intentionality and creativity. WDHB helped us tap into the calibre, depth and experience of the company’s global partners and collaborators. We had in-depth exchanges with organisations such as Microsoft, which gave us insight into successful transformation and new customer engagement techniques. A collaboration with Stanford University connected us with MBA students on the future of workplace culture and leadership.

There were four development areas we wanted to drive from the programme, so with WDHB, we created blocks of learning to deliver on them. First, we had a real need for our leaders to look upwards and outwards. We wanted to expose them to leaders from other industries and get them thinking about how their experiences and insights might apply to our future. WDHB’s emphasis on immersive and experiential learning was ideal for this.

Second, we had a big focus on our customers, who are at the heart of everything we do. We worked with WDHB on ideas around how customer loyalty is evolving and what the store of the future will look like, learning from other industry innovators and really leveraging WDHB’s strong global partner network.

We also wanted to update our leadership’s digital skills. Ecommerce is a huge enabler of our business strategy, so we wanted to see who we could learn from to elevate our work in the digital space. 

Our final intended learning was around the culture of the business, looking at how we could become more inclusive and celebrate a more human culture. We crafted these ideas at the outset of the programme, collaborating with WDHB to create the agenda and using their partners to fill gaps and enrich the overall content objectives.

A fifth outcome emerged as the cohort bonded. The social and relational impact of the expedition was really powerful and cannot be underestimated.

What impact has WDHB’s focus on experiential learning had on learning outcomes?

I’m a big fan of experiential learning. One of the benefits is that there are so many unintended learning outcomes from immersing yourself in other organisations. These include walking shop floors and hearing from colleagues in completely different sectors – participants love it and it is a big selling point of the programme. 

In the last expedition, we did a day focused on diversity and the importance of learning from and incorporating new perspectives. We spent the morning with a First Nations chief in Vancouver, learning about his lived experience and connecting authentically with the local community. 

You can’t help but be present when learning from people like that in a new context. It’s amazing how it triggers new thoughts and mindset shifts from participants.

How have you ensured executive learning trickles down throughout Kingfisher?

Our senior leadership team is around 120 people, with between 25 and 27 of them taking part in each executive expedition programme. One of the first things we do after each programme is run a call for the entire leadership team, showcasing what has been learned. After our first expedition, I did a presentation with some participants to our group executive where we ran through the main organisational themes we had explored and recommended actions. 

For example, one recommendation we made was for Kingfisher to lean into its purpose. We met lots of businesses through the expedition that were really leveraging their purpose and mission. The executive group tasked us with making our purpose work harder for us and, one year on, we’ve just launched a revised organisational purpose off the back of our learnings. 

Our latest expedition focused more on developing individual leaders and tailored learning to specific challenges in their own teams. One colleague who was experiencing significant organisational change was able to implement learning to manage that change better. 

As a result, feedback for the expeditions has been phenomenal, with a score of 4.9 out of 5 from participants. Everyone wants to be part of the next one.

You have to be curious, agile and open to learning – and ask questions

How important is learning to your future success?

Learning is hugely important. The world is changing so rapidly and there is so much uncertainty. In the past, leaders were expected to know all the answers, but that simply isn’t possible now. You have to be curious, agile and open to learning – and ask questions.

We bring our leaders together throughout the year to take part in a series of masterclasses around retail. Our CEO, Thierry Garnier, opened the latest event with this quote from Charlie Munger, right-hand man to Warren Buffett: “I see people rise up in life who are not the smartest, sometimes not even the most diligent, but they are learning machines. They go to bed every night a little bit wiser than when they got up and boy does that help. I think a life properly lived is just learn, learn, learn all the time.”

To learn more about WDHB’s work and how to design experiential learning journeys across a variety of impactful offerings, including leadership experiences and expeditions, strategic summits, and L&D consulting, visit