Co-Op’s Head of Leadership and Learning reveals how The Co-Op bounced back from near collapse
The Co-Operative Group has gone through one of it’s biggest transformations in recent years. The company, which reported a £2.5 billion loss in 2013 has jumped back to profits after launching their five year plan.
In 2014 – in the second phase of transformation, the organisation began their journey towards a three-year rebuild. It miraculously managed to bounce back from the edge of a collapse to a “profitable and engaged business” and now, as it heads towards 2018 it shows no signs of slowing down.
In fact, as their ‘rebuild’ phase comes towards an end, this year the focus turns towards their third phase of the recovery journey called ‘renew’.
Craig Whaites, the Group Head of Leadership & Learning joined HRD Connect to talk about the journey. He talks about the way the company has built on the transformation, and encouraged further growth.
Establishing a Co-Op that is relevant
As a 173-year-old business, founded by the Rochdale pioneers in 1844, The Co-Op was established to effectively deal with a broken market. The Co-Op says that the aim now is to keep the business as relevant as it started. The foundations of the company started strong, and it is now looking towards building upon that in a “true co-op business model style.”
Craig Whaites said: “As we end with our current three-year re-build phase at the end of this year, our renew strategy is really focused on how we can establish a co-operative that is relevant, just as it was in 1844 for future generations to come.”
“HR is not a separate entity, often seen as a support function”
To keep a sense of stability and maintain strength when a company is on the path to rebuilding itself, employees and HR teams needs to stay informed and involved. HR are working hand in hand with all areas of the business during a transformation or re-building as a business.
Craig says: “We are not separate entities, we are often seen as a support function. I think HR should be central with the business, holding hands as a company transforms itself. I would also say that most businesses, certainly our business is all about people. We have great products and great services, but the heart of it is our people who bring us to life.”
HR needs to stay at the centre of managing the people agenda in order to maintain their important role of getting their hands dirty and getting stuck in the business.
Engagement at The Co-Op
In February 2017, although the overall engagement score at The Co-op was 78%, but they feel that there is still lots more to do. The company is in fact going one step further by working on core parts which means the annual engagement survey gives an insight to how people feel about working at The Co-Op. From these insights, agreed plans include local action at team level, functional level and an overall group level. Craig went on to say: “I think it is about acting on what our people say, which could make The Co-Op an even better place to work.”
On talking about the future of engagement, he added: “There are also another couple of key areas that we would try out, in 2016 the big programme activities were quite special, but we recognised that we have to really sustain and embed what we achieve through the programme in 2016.
“There is lots of work going on in terms of how we transition from the programme activity towards making sure that’s just the way we do things around here. That might be in the way that we recognise colleagues, it might be in the way that we induct colleagues, and it’s certain in the way that we listen and lead our colleagues.”
The importance of employee contribution
When asked about the role of employee contribution towards delivering a company’s purpose and strategy, Craig argued that it is vital for people, employees and colleagues to be clear on the purpose. This will help them to deliver that purpose and in turn, the ambitions of the business and individual can be fulfilled.
He added: “We also spent a great deal of time involving our people, colleagues, members and customers to make sure that they are all considered and involved in forming strategy. That might be something quite unique because we are owned by our members as a Co-Op, and therefore our members and employees, many of which are members are really vital to delivering our purpose and strategy.”
The Co-Operative’s top tips for the HR leader
For HR Leaders and companies going embarking on a similar journey, Craig offered three top tips:
Talking about his own personal learning curve, Craig highlighted the importance of purpose.
He said: “I have been fortunate to work in a number of businesses, and I think Simon Sinek has a famous book which always starts which asking “why?” and ‘why’ really is important. My biggest personal learning area would be to not underestimate the importance of the aligned purpose.”