Safeway’s fresh approach

Becky Ivers has been instrumental in promoting and formalising coaching at
Safeway Stores. Simon Kent checks out how she did it

Passion and enthusiasm have always been key to the delivery of effective
training and development within organisations. However, there are occasions
when theory and ‘the next big thing’ can get in the way of this basic
requirement. It is refreshing, therefore to meet Rebecca Ivers, corporate
learning and development manager at Safeway Stores. Over the past three years,
she has played a key role in formalising coaching initiatives across Safeway.
She is working together with her team and others to reach a position where
coaching is a way of life for Safeway, integrated into the duties of managers
and constantly improving the performance of all employees.

Ivers has remained passionate about the technique throughout the process of
encouraging coaching, ensuring it is used to enhance the performance of the
individual and through them, the organisation. "Coaching builds
confidence, gives courage, and helps individual creativity," she says,
"All these elements are important to Safeway. Coaching can be painful
sometimes, but it helps people to understand how to grow and find answers
within themselves."

Coaching has always had a part to play within Safeway. Five years ago, as a
management development manager, Ivers was responsible for providing career
coaching to store managers and senior operations staff. When the benefits
became clear three years ago, Safeway decided to widen the use of coaching.
Working with consultancy company Lane 4, it introduced a programme with
coaching at its heart which would address the leadership skills of the top 125
employees in the company: "Participants learnt about coaching and how
important it was to the role of being a leader," explains Ivers.
"They formed coaching groups of three or four people who would link up
with a coach from Lane 4 and coach each other through various scenarios"

Meanwhile operations and store staff in other parts of the company realised
the benefits of coaching. "There was a waterfall effect," notes
Ivers. "People saw what was happening and wanted to bring it into their
part of the company."

Employees in support roles were encouraged to find ways of winning improved
performance through coaching, rather than follow traditional management
approaches of instruction. Put simply, the difference lay between telling a
store manager they should be presenting their fresh food in a different way and
working with them to ask them how they believed their fresh food is presented
and how it could be improved.


Now, the supermarket has introduced a Best in Leadership programme, being
rolled out to 800 employees over the next two years. As before, participants
will be given the skills they need to be effective coaches while accessing
support for themselves through action learning groups, advanced and even
external coaching resources.

As Ivers details the various coaching activities ongoing in Safeway, it
becomes clear that it is impossible to put a figure on exactly how many people
in the organisation are being coached at any one time. There are strategic,
centrally organised initiatives such as ‘Best in Leadership’ but coaching also
takes place informally – in the coffee shops, in stores and among graduate
recruits. Ivers has found herself automatically taking a coaching approach when
conducting presentations to new employees – a feature which means recruits are
exposed to this kind of personal development method at a very early stage of
their career with the company.

With such a large organisation – where each division is essentially a
separate business – similar schemes are being instigated independently. There
are geographically-based and function-led schemes in areas such as logistics
and finance. While Ivers and her team are consulted on these, the power of the
technique remains in the fact that each new programme is owned by the employees
concerned. "The finance programme was superb," notes Ivers, "The
employees organised it locally and approached us for some support, but it was
designed to address their specific need."

The key to successful take-up of coaching at Safeway has been to ensure each
employee has access to the form and type of coaching which best suits them.
This has occasionally meant securing the work of an external coach, although a
dozen members of Iver’s team have received advanced training from Lane 4 in
giving coaching, gaining a high level of coaching skills for the company
in-house. In spite of this diversity of resources, the company follows two
models of coaching – the simple GROW model (Goal, Reality, Options,
Willingness) by John Whitmore, and a transition model, designed and owned by
Lane 4.

Using the latter tool, coaches can identify the approach they need to take
to coach a specific individual, based on where that person is along the change
curve. If the individual is at the ‘denial,’ stage for example, the coach may
need to take a more direct approach in terms of delivering feedback and
challenging the individual. If the recipient has reached a stage of acceptance,
the approach will be softer. Ivers makes clear, however, that these models are
not prescriptive: they are simply tools the coach can choose to use if and when
appropriate. The amount of time spent on coaching relationships can be flexible
too. "I coach some of our senior executives and might see some every four
weeks, while I may see others every eight weeks," she explains. "It
depends on their agenda – where they’re at and what they want."


This is one of the major strengths of coaching which has been realised at
Safeway. While ‘mentoring’ programmes (which exist in some form within the
company) tend towards the passing on of knowledge between senior and junior
employees, coaching encourages knowledge to come from within the recipient.
"As a coach you don’t pass on your knowledge the way a mentor does,"
says Ivers. "For me that’s the big difference – the growth has to come
from within. In Safeway we’ve been able to promote a ‘pick and mix’ approach.
You can look for people with expertise in a certain area and ask for their
advice if you need it, but you wouldn’t necessarily ask them for help with

While retaining this flexible approach, all coaching is tied to the
realisation of improved performance within the company. Moreover, giving and
receiving coaching is now a critical part of the store manager development
programme. "Store management is very challenging in terms of technical levels
of knowledge," explains Ivers. "There are certain behaviours you must
have to manage a megastore with around 700 employees." Safeway’s
assessment programme ensures candidates for these positions are suitable for
the job. By using a coaching approach the assessment isn’t just a matter of
measuring against criteria, but of creating a dynamic picture of that candidate
which can be used and built upon for their personal development.

"Coaching provides context for an employee as well as the skills they
need to do their job," says Ivers. "If you observe the work of a
store manager you don’t just say ‘you did this’ you can say ‘you did this, now
what can you do differently?’ That’s the only way you can develop someone to
take on that kind of leadership role."

There is little formal evaluation of coaching within Safeway, but to some
extent trying to put a value on the activity is to miss the point. To begin
with, coaching can be carried out at next to no cost within an organisation.
Individuals simply need to free up time to coach or be coached and this can be
structured around their working lives, or provided on a one-off basis for
specific challenges according to their need and availability. There are no
materials or training resources required because training takes place between
people at work.

In addition, measuring the effectiveness of coaching is not straight
forward. The success of a sporting team can be linking to the skills of a coach
to some extent, but there are so many other factors which impact on performance
– from technical equipment through to how individual team members are feeling
on that particular day. It is not therefore, about identifying specific
successes, but about ensuring employees feel the benefit personally. "We
can see the success of coaching through seeing our people learning and
growing," says Ivers. "Our employees say that they are developing, so
it clearly has value."

Return on investment

More important than this is Safeway’s own attitude towards coaching. This is
not about gaining return on investment, it is about creating a coaching
culture, where employees are supported and encouraged to succeed at every
level, from shopfloor to head office. "We’re not doing this as a means to
an end," says Ivers, "We want to create a mindset of coaching within
the organisation – a situation where everyone is doing it and it is a natural
behaviour which employees use as part of their everyday work. This will, in
itself, bring us competitive advantage."

While pushing forward and advising on coaching initiatives across the
organisation, Ivers is still very much involved at the cutting edge. She
regularly coaches individuals throughout the organisation and clearly gets a
lot of satisfaction from doing so. "It’s very rewarding to work with someone
through a project or a particular issue and see them develop. A good coach has
to have ultimate belief in someone’s potential and I believe everyone has
potential," she says.

Coaching in its basic form is a simple model for encouraging growth and
development among employees, however, the skills required to deliver this
method effectively should not be underestimated. Ivers notes that coaches must
be effective listeners, able to provide constructive feedback and challenge
their coachees effectively. Above all, they must have a clear desire to help
others. These are not behaviours which can be learnt overnight, but they are
increasingly becoming part of every leader’s role at Safeway.

Rebecca ivers

2001 to-date Learning and development manager corporate,
providing full management and development, organisational development and
people potential service to entire business

2000-2001 HRD manager stores, providing a full HRD services to
all of retail, and personal coach to senior operators

1999-2000 HR Ops managers (South) providing full HR support to
South and Midlands

1998-1999 Management development manager (North and Scotland)
including personal coaching

1994-1998 Divisional training and development manager for North
and Scottish regions

1989-1994 Regional personnel and training officer for 46 stores
in North East of England

1988 Safeway: HR manager with responsibility for 150 members of

1985-1988 WM Morrison Supermarkets: various roles

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