“Tough economic climate means we, like many other businesses, are facing some tough economic decisions” said Sharon Douglas, from the Organisational Effectiveness team at Co-Operative Food during a Training Journal event on Developing Leaders for the 21st Century.

Sharon’s comments on the challenging times that we’ve been working through the last few years means to me that the challenges are set to stay. I know I speak for others when I say I have really struggled with that balancing act. By nature I’m a perfectionist, I want things done right. I want the opportunity to spend time on something to get the best result all round. However that’s not the corporate world we are living in and I’ve enjoyed the last few years of adapting how I would naturally want to work to make the best of the situation at the time, to focus on what is needed now and how I can deliver it.

A programme to transform

Sharon Douglas and Tracy Taylor
Co-Op Food Organisational Effectiveness team literally walking us through their Leadership Development programme journey

At the TJ event, Sharon Douglas went on to explain about their leadership development program: “Operations got that we needed to do something different, but perhaps not so different as the HR Director’s vision was.”

This sounded brave and fresh – for the HR Director to enable staff to push through a programme that was aiming to develop and place real leaders into the organisation, not just use the terminology to focus on the short term numbers.

Sharon’s colleague Tracy Taylor said that the leadership development programme needed to “move from skills based knowledge that wasn’t behavioural and more to transformational.”

Developing this kind of programme, especially on a scale that needed to be rolled out to support 3,000 UK food stores that employed 77,000 people, means that sometimes the focus isn’t on the here and now. Sometimes it needs to be on the future of the organisation and this is what the Co-Op Food programme did.

Tracy added, “graduation created a bit of a buzz… the passion affected people in the room – such as the Operations Director.” This highlighted the importance of influencing people – it was the passion of the people who had experienced the programme and wanted to go out and make a difference that encouraged the Operations Director. This is a key point in developing programmes.

Leadership and stakeholder engagement

The afternoon of the TJ event was facilitated by Larry Reynolds, Founder and Managing Partner of 21st Century Leader.

Larry talked us through the list of key things needed for developing a Leadership Programme. One of those is full stakeholder engagement. Whilst Co-op Food only got full engagement from Operations at the end of the pilot, the HR Director was leading from the front.

There were two last points that resonated with me:

  1. When Tracy talked through the days and weeks that the programme took the new store managers to work through, she commented that “delegates get full up”.

    This is something that where I’m working at the moment [at the time of writing, Bupa International] I’m seeing with our Induction process.

    It’s something we’ve tackled on a quick win, within circle of control basis. However now that there is further stakeholder engagement and a joined up approach emerging within operational departments, I’m hoping to play my part in developing this.

    This looks to me like some pre-learning before starting, for the Induction activities to be more realistic to the job roles and for there to be a wider variety and mix up with the operational elements of the longer induction for customer facing staff.

  2. One of the last things that Sharon said, with regards rolling out the programme UK-wide and about focusing on business objectives for improving performance needs is that “we really needed to up-skill the HR team to have the conversations with Operations to find that information”.

    That’s where I need to concentrate too.


  1. Hi Jo, some very interesting points you have picked up on there. The need for key stakeholders thought areas of the business and having people in roles such as Ops Director pushing the objectives is key to changes in the workplace just now. Transformational changes from Management to Leadership is something I am trying to encourage in our business just now, we are making in roads, albeit quite slowly. However, people are starting to sit up and take note. I feel that we as an L&D Team are quite fortunate to have the full buy in from our Ops Director right from the start so we have allies on our side 🙂

    Thank you, some really good points well made.


    1. Hi Paul,

      Thanks for your comment. The stakeholders piece is so key and I’m seeing it at many different levels at the moment. I used to say a lot of “I don’t like politics, can’t we all just get on with the job”, however over the years I’ve really learnt the value of relationships and influencing in order to get that job done!

      It’s great you have that buy-in, I’m sure you’ve done great work to ensure you have those allies to do something that will help them out!


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