“Leadership is not genetics”: How Ikea Australia’s national talent manager D’neale Prosser puts authentic leadership into practice

Eloise Keating /

Dneale Prosser

Source: Supplied

For D’neale Prosser, every person she helps recruit to work at Ikea Australia is a ‘talent’. While other global brands see ‘talents’ as those employees who sit at the “top of the pyramid”, Prosser is on a mission to find continually find “the right person, in the right role at the right time” to help drive Ikea forward.

Prosser has worked for Ikea in Australia since 2013 as the company’s talent and leadership manager. Her task is a big one: unleash the potential of more than 3000 Ikea workers across 10 stores, a service office, a customer support centre and a distribution centre. The role has already taken out outside her comfort zone and helped distill exactly what it is that makes a great leader.

Ikea has a long history in Australia (the first Sydney store opened in 1975), and in recent years, the global furniture giant has stepped up its efforts to capture a slice of Australia’s growing e-commerce market. SmartCompany sat down with Prosser to find out what she looks for when hunting for new Ikea team members and her best leadership advice.   

When did you join Ikea and what were you doing previously?

I joined IKEA in early 2013.

Prior to this I worked in national HR manager roles for more than 10 years. In each role I took great pride in building momentum and championing execution. I like to make things happen and I always endeavour to offer inspiration to those around me, taking the time to learn about people and how they generate value to lead the business through people.

How would you describe your journey with Ikea to date?

My journey with Ikea so far has been sensational; both challenging and rewarding. I have become comfortable with being uncomfortable. When we are uncomfortable and challenged, we grow.

I value being encouraged to step outside my comfort zone and Ikea has encouraged my risk taking mentality and allowed me to be brave enough to consider different and better ways of working through collaboration and innovation. I have also been fortunate to travel, adding value across the globe and making the most of being a leader in a global organisation.

If you could give yourself one piece of career advice, what would it be?

Be authentic, brave and bold. Allow your confidence to match your competence — without the ego.

You lead the talent and leadership agenda for Ikea Australia. What does that involve?

I lead the talent and leadership agenda for the country, delivering ambitious succession, talent and leadership goals.

I achieve this through proactively engaging key leaders, inspiring communication and encouraging collaboration to provide our rapidly growing business with a continuous pipeline of internal and external talent.

The role requires me to be an innovative thinker and utilise my expertise in identifying and enabling talent — across recruitment, succession planning, leadership and competence development and performance management.

As a brand, we have decided to do things differently compared to many other global companies. Many companies define talent as the ‘top of the pyramid’, while at Ikea we have turned the pyramid upside down and declared that everyone at Ikea everyone is a talent, which is incredibly exciting. We strongly believe that it is people who will take Ikea forward.

What makes a good leader? Are people born great leaders or is it something you learn?

Leadership is not genetics. It is something you can learn and grow if you have the aspiration to do so. At the same time leadership is not something you master the art of, it is a continual journey through different roles and responsibilities.

To be a good leader it is crucial to think, act and behave in a way that inspires those around you, conveying clearly what it is that you wish to be known for.

A good leader is authentic, comfortable in their own skin and is committed to amplifying their role and creating an extraordinary experience for their co-workers. There is a strong link between leadership and engagement. It is about leading, managing and coaching, but it goes beyond this. It is also about recognising competence and potential and empowering those around you.

What are the key qualities you look for when recruiting for new talent?

At Ikea we give down-to-earth, straightforward people the possibility to grow, both as individuals and in their professional roles, so that together we are strongly committed to creating a better everyday life for ourselves and our customers.

We focus on the right person, in the right role at the right time.

As a values-driven company, Ikea believes in seeing each individual as a talent; treating everyone fairly and providing our co-workers with equal opportunities, regardless of their gender, age, religion, sexual orientation, physical ability, ethnicity or any other dimension of their identity.

For many managers, performance management of their team is one of hardest parts of the job. What would you say to those managers?

Communication is key. It is important to deliver a clear message in order to build relationships and work towards one goal. I aim to effectively translate my ideas in order for others to jump on board with me. ‘Buy-in’ is not just getting others to go through the motions; when you express your passion others become more committed and run alongside you with togetherness and enthusiasm. I believe starting out in this way can help with some of the harder parts of leading people.

What’s the best piece of advice someone has given you throughout your career?

The best advice I have received is to ‘go all in’ if you are passionate about a topic or subject.

How diverse is the leadership team at Ikea Australia?

Ikea Group is committed to 50/50 gender equality in all leadership positions and functions. Here in Ikea Australia we are on our way with gender diversity in leadership currently sitting at 45% women and 55% men.

This International Women’s Day, SmartCompany is focused on improving the visibility of women in business in Australia. How important is gender equality and diversity at Ikea Australia?

Gender equality makes good business sense. Research shows that companies with gender diversity at leadership positions have better financial performance, talent recruitment and retention as well as customer loyalty. As a humanistic company, we see gender equality at the heart of human rights. The Ikea Group Policy on Human Rights and Equality states that everyone has the right to be treated fairly and be given equal opportunities.

What is Ikea Australia doing to improve its diversity?

Diverse and inclusive teams are more creative and innovative, as members challenge each other to think and act differently, which often results in better performance. Within Ikea we have created specialised training to develop individual diversity competence to ensure equality in the workplace.

To foster emotional intelligence, we have also developed training modules for all our co-workers to increase awareness of unconscious gender biases and how to take actions to minimise this.

What are your three best leadership tips?

  1. Know what you want your leadership legacy to be — awareness and clarity will act as a guide in how you think, act and behave;
  2. Be clear of your personal values and connect those with your company values — working in this way will help shape the foundation of your leadership approach, in the office and personally; and
  3. Be the leader you want to follow. Look at your team’s motivation, capability and knowledge and create an environment in which they can be involved in decisions, have clear goals, can understand your vision and have opportunities to expand and continually build their competence.

NOW READ: SmartCompany’s International Women’s Day 2018 showcase

Eloise Keating

Eloise Keating is the editor of SmartCompany. Previously, Eloise was news editor at Books+Publishing, the trade press for the Australian book industry.

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