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Leadership for change at the Co-op

Turquoise ocean and land


Co-op is the UK’s fifth biggest food retailer, one of the world's largest consumer co-operatives, and a leader in social enterprise. 

An ambition to be the number one convenience retailer in the UK meant that Co-op’s Food Retail Business needed core changes to its operating model, including improved efficiencies and modes of working.

Impact challenged Co-op’s existing change process and co-created a collaborative and engaging way forward, focused on achieving sustainable behaviour change across multiple levels. The Leading the Way project forms one part of Co-op’s wider programme of transformation.

Previously, approaches to change at the Co-op had not succeeded. They were launched successfully, with key messages delivered and cascaded, but change implementation was slow or non-existent. In the Food Retail Business, area managers were identified as the key to transformation, with the potential to either block or enable change.

The objective of Leading the Way was to involve colleagues in the change process, inviting them to solve problems creatively, engage with the reasons behind the change, and open up space for dialogue with senior leaders.

Ultimately, the programme aimed to capture managers’ hearts and minds to inspire them to lead the way.  

Phase 1 – Consultancy

Through observation, enquiry and dialogue, Impact worked with Co-op’s top team to understand and challenge their thoughts on change. Impact’s Team Performance Inventory© diagnostic tool was also used to strengthen team dynamics and align a common purpose within the Retail Business’ senior managers team.

Phase 2 – Change conferences

Co-op’s quarterly conference-style change events for 250 managers were revolutionised with creative and experiential methods to maximise engagement and inspire attendees.

The focus changed from simply delivering a change message to actively involving colleagues in the change process through a focus on leadership action, open dialogue, and honest conversations.

Phase 3 ­– Coaching 1:1s and workshops

To embed a coaching culture, Impact designed and delivered a series of ‘Honest Conversations’ workshops. This gave area managers the space and skilled guidance to practise coaching skills and explore leadership action in relation to change.

Each area manager received one or two days of 1:1 Impact coaching at their workplace, further progressing their coaching capabilities.

Involving colleagues in the change process and using coaching to help people to do work differently is a progressive methodology with tangible results.

The new way of 'doing change’ received glowing feedback, and the quarterly change events have been revolutionised:

  • 95% of evaluation respondents believe Impact’s delivery style is engaging.
  • 100% of participants now feel prepared to engage and brief their teams on the change messages.

The Honest Conversations workshops were also well received, and real differences in behaviour can be observed, with managers adopting a coaching leadership style.

Executives are noticeably more aligned and supportive of each other, and managers are openly appreciative of the opportunity for dialogue and collaboration with senior leaders.

Impact continues to work alongside Co-op to develop an innovative partnership and expand the reach of the Leading the Way principles.

Margaret Ollerenshaw
Head of Leadership, Talent Development
“Impact have built a strong and trusting partnership with Co-op, which has allowed us to explore leading-edge, unique ways of approaching and landing our transformational change agenda. The response from our leaders has been amazing.”
Area Manager
“In 30 years of retail this has been the best change conference I’ve ever been to.”