Watchful, observant and warm of heart, Donna Horn helms our Public Service arm, leading our work with the people who tackle the thorniest issues on all of our behalf. As a researcher, writer, facilitator and leadership development practitioner, Donna is deeply invested in our core work of helping people tap their finest selves. (And with a steel-trap memory for names, she’s also the right person to take with you to a networking event.)
How and when did your relationship with Roy Group begin?
I first met Ian in about 2005 when he began to do work with the public service organization I was part of. We stayed in touch after I left the public sector in 2008, and Ian periodically invited me to work with him on Roy Group projects for public sector clients. In 2018, he and Anne-Marie invited me to come on board in a more formal capacity as the practice lead for Roy Group’s work with the public service.
You’re a forester, right? Tell us about how that came to be.
I completed a degree in forestry in 1990 and became a registered professional forester (RPF) in 1994. I still hold that designation. I worked for several years in the UBC Faculty of Forestry before moving to Victoria and joining the BC Ministry of Forests in 1996. I worked in silviculture, forest practices and timber supply. Fun fact: I’ve directly supported about 50 allowable annual cut determinations for the various Chief Foresters of BC over my career.
A lot of thinking and expertise goes into that. But how does a forester become a leadership development practitioner?
Around 2004/2005, the Ministry embarked on a leadership and culture initiative called The Road Ahead. Several things happened for me around that time: my boss supported my request to go and acquire certification with a psychometric tool; I had a thought-provoking career conversation with then-Chief Forester Larry Pedersen; I participated in a personal and professional development program called Investment in Excellence® run by the Pacific Institute; and I applied to and was accepted into the first of several Leading Learning Organizations sessions in the Ministry, organized by Shelley Sullivan and featuring Bob Chartier (yes, our Bob!). I transitioned to the Road Ahead Champion role, to working in the Organizational Development Branch, and then to leaving the Ministry in 2008. I didn’t leave because I disliked my work or the people, but because I had discovered a superpower and I wanted to spend most of my work time using it.
Let’s talk about that superpower! How’d you discover that?
After I completed my certification that I referred to earlier, I did a workshop with my branch of about 20 people. I remember it distinctly: it was like magic! People were laughing and learning and sharing insights and really digging into understanding themselves and the others in the room. I really was able to bring it to life. After the session, a couple of people — including my boss — said, You should be doing this for a living. That was a defining moment for me: that I could create a space for people to learn and be with one another and feel closer and more accepting of one another — more of a team. I wanted to bring that to people — an opportunity to understand one another and contribute to a work culture that they loved.
I can see how you fit perfectly with Roy Group, then. How do you deploy your superpower with clients?
I create safe spaces for people. I make them feel at ease, and help them to “be” as much as possible in a session. I believe details matter, so the quality of the space matters, and whether it disappears so that people can focus on the learning matters.
I have been exploring the nuances of this superpower, or unique ability, for the past four years or so. In addition to creating a safe learning space, I seem to be able to read what needs to happen and use my skills to take the person or group to that place. I genuinely like people, and I think that comes through in my interactions with them. I’m still very much learning how my gifts can serve Roy Group in the best possible way; I am so committed to what we are up to in the world and want to bring my superpowers to that in whatever way I can, to make the greatest contribution.
You said you genuinely like people. What else do you believe, and how does this faith shape your work?
Yeah. I believe that people are generally good — that they want to do good work and be the best that they can be. I absolutely believe in public servants; they are hardworking, smart, caring and committed individuals who are in the public service because they want to make a difference. I love bringing Roy Group offerings to the public service because it is so clear to me how the sessions can help these incredible people to achieve what they already want.
Tell me about the importance of “reading the wind on the water” in an organization.
Of course! A skill developed by few sailors is the ability to read the wind on the water. Wind breaks the surface tension of the water and makes small ripples, which over time and distance become waves (not a good thing, organizationally speaking!). The small ripples are weak signals to those with the ability to translate the data into information they can use, such as to determine wind direction, be the first boat to respond and win the race.
Weak signals in your organization can be used to determine what it’s time for. Are a couple of your people complaining to you about others on their team? Is an employee who is usually enthused about new initiatives suddenly sighing and rolling their eyes in a meeting? Have your engagement scores slipped? Paying attention to these signals and taking steps to explore them through research is a critical role of a leader. Only then can you be sure that the actions you plan are the right ones.
So when you’re not wearing your Roy Group cape, what might we find you doing?
I love to cook, and I’m pretty good at it. It’s a creative outlet for me, and when I have time it’s super fun to create a delicious dinner. I like having people over too, although I rarely seem to make that happen, so that’s an intention going forward. I also love camping. We have a trailer, and for me when we take it out camping, I get lots of reading and walking and sleeping done. It’s a serious respite for me. I like to go away with girlfriends for a weekend now and again. I also love to travel. There are still so many places in this world I want to see! We like to get together with family for dinners and to just hang out. My partner and I have four boys between us, and they all still seem to enjoy our company.
Okay, golden question time. What are your mad skills that no one else shares?
I have two strange skills: I can remember almost anyone’s name by going through the alphabet in my head — acquaintance, famous person, band name, whatever. I might need to do the alphabet more than once but I almost always get it. I can also estimate the cost of groceries within a few dollars – I can glance at a cart or conveyor belt and think to myself, That’s $250, and the total will be $253.