Related posts:No related photos. Comments are closed. Previous Article Next Article AdrianEgglestone, Co-operative Group general manager human resource development,juggles Victorian-era mission statements with the modern demands of business.He is hoping its newly acquired Investors in People status will help. StephanieSparrow reportsItseems fitting that the world’s largest consumer-owned business occupies its ownquarter, known to employees and locals as ‘The Complex’, in a principle city.It is perhaps surprising to learn that the city is not New York or Tokyo, butManchester. And the business in question is the Co-operative Group.Thegroup has its heart in Manchester’s city centre. Ring-fenced by VictoriaRailway Station and the rejuvenated tram network, stands a collection ofcentury-old warehouses, solid Edwardian offices and modern tower blocks. Theseare the headquarters of a national trading empire, spanning food to finance,farms to funerals. Inan era where corporate identities come and go in a blur of logos and namechanges, the Co-operative Group stands out as a business which has kept itsroots.Justas the proud older buildings had ‘co-operative’ chiselled into their frontage more than a century ago,the Co-op’s history permeates all aspects of the business.Employeehandbooks and in-house publications remind staff of the importance of theRochdale Society of Equitable Pioneers. Employees receive training briefs onCo-operative Values and Principles which touch on the work of theseentrepreneurs who, from 1860, vowed to combine social conscience with business skillslong before Anita Roddick used it to market body lotion. And although the Co-opGroup is a massive empire with sales of more than £5bn and profits of £130m, itprefers to call itself a ‘family of businesses’.Butas cosy and fascinating as this all is, the Co-operative Group is awake to thechallenges of the new century. And sitting at the coalface is general managerhuman resource development, Adrian Egglestone.Egglestonehas notched up 21 years with the Co-op and is responsible for the developmentof 52,000 people in a myriad of businesses such as retail, farms, funerals andtravel agency.OnlyThe Co-operative Bank and Co-operative Insurance Society are excluded from hisportfolio, but they are always available to share good ideas and Egglestone acknowledgestheir achievements in promoting an ethical approach to business. Ittakes clear vision and common sense to manage such a remit – qualities whichEgglestone has in abundance and which he expresses with plain speaking.”Thechallenge for me is to have the right policies in place as well as the rightstructure, and the balance is knowing what needs to be done at corporate leveland at business level.”Egglestoneis preoccupied with giving “some sense of meaning to being in theCo-operative Group, so even though we have many different businesses, employeesfeel they are all part of the same group,” he says.”Bythat I mean that we have a common set of values and we should have a commonbrand as an employer. Values is quite a trendy word at the moment, but at theCo-op they are quite unique.” “Ourvalues have been around for 150 years and are very much our reason for being.Our raison d’etre is not to increase our share value, but to make a profit, toserve our members and fulfil our social objectives.”Anavowed socialist, Egglestone is proud to wear his ethics on his sleeve.”Most businesses work in terms of marketing strategies,” he says.”They see a gap in the market and exploit that gap in order to make money.The Co-op point of view is to see if people can come together to fill that gapmore effectively, not from the point of view of making money, but by meetingconsumers’ needs more effectively?”Allwell and good, but of course nothing in business is ever perfect and, at theend of the day, consumers will not always make their buying choice on ethicsalone.Egglestoneadmits that at times the vision has gone awry. “Unfortunately the Co-opsin the 1960s and 1970s somewhat lost their way, partly because of tradingpressure, but also because the more they mimicked the plcs, the worse it gotbecause they lost their point of difference.”But,for the past five years, there has been a lot of hard work to redress thebalance, with the appointment in 1997 of the recently knighted chief executiveGraham Melmoth.”Hewas to pull us together and give us a sense of purpose,” says Egglestone.In April 2000, Melmoth effected the long-awaited merger between the CWS andCRS, bringing together the major co-operative movements in the UK, whichresulted in an organisation of 1,000 stores, the specialist businesses and morethan 50,000 employees.Thegroup is also translating its core philosophy into modern business parlance bypublishing annual social accountability reports, claiming back as its own thestakeholder philosophy – now oh so fashionable, but which could be argued waspractised by the founding fathers of the co-operative movement.Amajor driving force in moving forwards, Melmoth – showing commitment from thetop which other training departments can only dream of – vowed to push thebusiness towards Investors in People (IIP) status.Thisinitiative first followed a building block approach, using a number ofassessment centres. CWS started achieving IIP recognition in 1997, while CRS,although involved in IIP at some stages, had made nowhere near as muchprogress. Since the merger the emphasis was to achieve the standard in thispart of the business.Fromthe start, the benefits of IIP were obvious to Egglestone. “When wedecided to do IIP it was a decision deliberately taken so that we could use itas a vehicle to help us change the organisation and to get some consistency inthe HRD policies,” he says.Ithas obviously been hard work and complicated at times, Egglestone admits. Forexample, the milk-processing and distribution arm, ACC, has seen muchrestructuring in the past two years which has drained resources. But a majoreffort in 2001 resulted in IIP recognition at the end of that year. Corporatefunctions, including HR and corporate affairs were first assessed in 1999 andparts of the retail division in 1999 and 2000. Althoughthe assessors acknowledged that some retail regions were ready for recognitionin early 2000, the merger that April changed the regional map and some areashad to delay recognition, while the former CRS side made what the assessorscalled ‘rapid progress’ in implementing the principles of IIP.”Becausethere are so many diverse businesses at different stages, they were allowed togo at their own pace, until we announced that we were closing the gap,” hesays. But despite this tricky process Egglestone still confirms it was worththe effort.”Ifyou use IIP because you want to get ‘the badge’ then it is too expensive and awaste of time,” he says. “But if you use it as an internal procedureto help drive through change then it is useful, particularly the new standardwhich measures the feel as well as the processes.”Egglestonehas a training budget of around £4m for the 52,000 staff, and additionalresources had to be put in for IIP. For example, every member of staff receivedvalues and principles training and 1,000 managers trained on a leadership andmanagement change programme.Egglestoneused IIP as an opportunity to redesign the performance management process andspearhead a campaign called ‘Let’s do it Better’. As a spin-off from thiscampaign, the ‘Better Groups’ appeared – the Co-op’s version of qualitycircles, where individual stores pull together a group of volunteers who meetfour times a year to look at ways to improve the stores.Allstaff now have a lot of information about how the business is progressing”and the driving force of that is that it is all part of our journeytowards achieving IIP,” says Egglestone.Still,how does Egglestone really feel about IIP having taken five years to achieve?Is he pleased with that timescale?”No,”he says, with typical honesty, “but it’s the sheer scale of the operation.We would have achieved it prior to the merger when most parts had actually beenassessed and succeeded, but when the merger took place, the regions changed.This meant that some regions had to go back and have it done again, so we wouldhave done it in three and a half years.”Theproblem we had was that it was quite easy getting parts of the business throughand we were seeing successes within three months of starting, it was gettingthat consistency across the board that was the hard part. HRD had put all theprocesses in, but the assessors felt it was not ‘in the blood’ at that stage.Now,however, the organisation is totally over this. Assessors who have conductedanonymous staff interviews are being met with comments such as “if youwant to learn and develop here they will do everything they can to helpyou”. Nowthe years of slog towards IIP are over, what occupies Egglestone’s time? Heconsiders effective diversity programmes, “as opposed to some companies’perceptions of merely compliance to equal opportunities”, as veryimportant to the Co-op brand and a chief executive’s steering group is casting its eye over the issue.Managementdevelopment will also be a major focus. Karen Heather, group managementdevelopment manager, has been recruited from the Co-op Bank to overhaul theapproach. The emphasis is on what is needed to be a successful manager in theCo-operative Group – going beyond knowledge and skills to look at how managersuse their personality and work attitude to achieve success. Roadshowswill be used to launch a behavioural framework and a development toolkit to themanagement population. The toolkit enables managers to take responsibility fortheir own development by selecting development activities to enhance theirbehaviour.Egglestoneis also placing continuing emphasis on NVQs – to which he has a very practicalapproach. He sees them as a quality control tool. Management trainees takelevel 3 – and their portfolio of evidence is useful because it enablesEgglestone to be sure training programmes are meeting his standards. He ispushing level 2 to promote multi-skilling and a pilot scheme is currently underway. “Iam hoping people will have acquired level 2 through a breadth of skills, andrather than being pigeonholed, these people will be able to work on eithercheckouts or merchandising.”Sodespite its 19th Century mission statements, the Co-op has hauled itself intothe 21st Century. Egglestone points out that it is candid with staff about itschallenging business environment (particularly since 11 September forTravelcare, its high street travel agency) and also urges them to be inspiredby other corporate big guns. Would those Rochdale founding fathers haveimagined that, for example, the in-house magazine would carry articles onglobal giant GE as an example to be learned from?CV2000General manager HRD, Co-operative Group1996National training manager, Co-operative Group1994Group personnel manager, Scottish Co-op 1987Training manager, Scottish Co-op1980Various personnel posts including regional personnel manager for Scotland andCumbria, Co-op Milk GroupToptips on winning IIP–Get firm commitment from the top–Have action plans integrated into line managers’ objectives–Be prepared for it to take time–Be prepared to carry out internal monitoring – naming and shaming managers whoare not doing their jobs properly–Don’t underestimate the cultural change required to make the process effective Counter culturesOn 1 Feb 2002 in Personnel Today
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Going off the rails
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