Counter cultures

Egglestone, 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. Stephanie
Sparrow reports

seems fitting that the world’s largest consumer-owned business occupies its own
quarter, 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, but
Manchester. And the business in question is the Co-operative Group.

group has its heart in Manchester’s city centre. Ring-fenced by Victoria
Railway Station and the rejuvenated tram network, stands a collection of
century-old warehouses, solid Edwardian offices and modern tower blocks. These
are the headquarters of a national trading empire, spanning food to finance,
farms to funerals.

an era where corporate identities come and go in a blur of logos and name
changes, the Co-operative Group stands out as a business which has kept its

as 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.

handbooks and in-house publications remind staff of the importance of the
Rochdale Society of Equitable Pioneers. Employees receive training briefs on
Co-operative Values and Principles which touch on the work of these
entrepreneurs who, from 1860, vowed to combine social conscience with business skills
long before Anita Roddick used it to market body lotion. And although the Co-op
Group is a massive empire with sales of more than £5bn and profits of £130m, it
prefers to call itself a ‘family of businesses’.

as cosy and fascinating as this all is, the Co-operative Group is awake to the
challenges of the new century. And sitting at the coalface is general manager
human resource development, Adrian Egglestone.

has notched up 21 years with the Co-op and is responsible for the development
of 52,000 people in a myriad of businesses such as retail, farms, funerals and
travel agency.

The Co-operative Bank and Co-operative Insurance Society are excluded from his
portfolio, but they are always available to share good ideas and Egglestone acknowledges
their achievements in promoting an ethical approach to business.

takes clear vision and common sense to manage such a remit – qualities which
Egglestone has in abundance and which he expresses with plain speaking.

challenge for me is to have the right policies in place as well as the right
structure, and the balance is knowing what needs to be done at corporate level
and at business level."

is preoccupied with giving "some sense of meaning to being in the
Co-operative Group, so even though we have many different businesses, employees
feel they are all part of the same group," he says.

that I mean that we have a common set of values and we should have a common
brand as an employer. Values is quite a trendy word at the moment, but at the
Co-op they are quite unique."

values 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, to
serve our members and fulfil our social objectives."

avowed 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 gap
more effectively, not from the point of view of making money, but by meeting
consumers’ needs more effectively?"

well and good, but of course nothing in business is ever perfect and, at the
end of the day, consumers will not always make their buying choice on ethics

admits that at times the vision has gone awry. "Unfortunately the Co-ops
in the 1960s and 1970s somewhat lost their way, partly because of trading
pressure, but also because the more they mimicked the plcs, the worse it got
because they lost their point of difference."

for the past five years, there has been a lot of hard work to redress the
balance, with the appointment in 1997 of the recently knighted chief executive
Graham Melmoth.

was 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 and
CRS, bringing together the major co-operative movements in the UK, which
resulted in an organisation of 1,000 stores, the specialist businesses and more
than 50,000 employees.

group is also translating its core philosophy into modern business parlance by
publishing annual social accountability reports, claiming back as its own the
stakeholder philosophy – now oh so fashionable, but which could be argued was
practised by the founding fathers of the co-operative movement.

major driving force in moving forwards, Melmoth – showing commitment from the
top which other training departments can only dream of – vowed to push the
business towards Investors in People (IIP) status.

initiative first followed a building block approach, using a number of
assessment centres. CWS started achieving IIP recognition in 1997, while CRS,
although involved in IIP at some stages, had made nowhere near as much
progress. Since the merger the emphasis was to achieve the standard in this
part of the business.

the start, the benefits of IIP were obvious to Egglestone. "When we
decided to do IIP it was a decision deliberately taken so that we could use it
as a vehicle to help us change the organisation and to get some consistency in
the HRD policies," he says.

has obviously been hard work and complicated at times, Egglestone admits. For
example, the milk-processing and distribution arm, ACC, has seen much
restructuring in the past two years which has drained resources. But a major
effort in 2001 resulted in IIP recognition at the end of that year. Corporate
functions, including HR and corporate affairs were first assessed in 1999 and
parts of the retail division in 1999 and 2000.

the assessors acknowledged that some retail regions were ready for recognition
in early 2000, the merger that April changed the regional map and some areas
had to delay recognition, while the former CRS side made what the assessors
called ‘rapid progress’ in implementing the principles of IIP.

there are so many diverse businesses at different stages, they were allowed to
go at their own pace, until we announced that we were closing the gap," he
says. But despite this tricky process Egglestone still confirms it was worth
the effort.

you use IIP because you want to get ‘the badge’ then it is too expensive and a
waste of time," he says. "But if you use it as an internal procedure
to help drive through change then it is useful, particularly the new standard
which measures the feel as well as the processes."

has a training budget of around £4m for the 52,000 staff, and additional
resources had to be put in for IIP. For example, every member of staff received
values and principles training and 1,000 managers trained on a leadership and
management change programme.

used IIP as an opportunity to redesign the performance management process and
spearhead a campaign called ‘Let’s do it Better’. As a spin-off from this
campaign, the ‘Better Groups’ appeared – the Co-op’s version of quality
circles, where individual stores pull together a group of volunteers who meet
four times a year to look at ways to improve the stores.

staff 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 journey
towards achieving IIP," says Egglestone.

how does Egglestone really feel about IIP having taken five years to achieve?
Is he pleased with that timescale?

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 been
assessed 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 would
have done it in three and a half years.

problem we had was that it was quite easy getting parts of the business through
and we were seeing successes within three months of starting, it was getting
that consistency across the board that was the hard part. HRD had put all the
processes in, but the assessors felt it was not ‘in the blood’ at that stage.

however, the organisation is totally over this. Assessors who have conducted
anonymous staff interviews are being met with comments such as "if you
want to learn and develop here they will do everything they can to help

the years of slog towards IIP are over, what occupies Egglestone’s time? He
considers effective diversity programmes, "as opposed to some companies’
perceptions of merely compliance to equal opportunities", as very
important to the Co-op brand and a 
chief executive’s steering group is casting its eye over the issue.

development will also be a major focus. Karen Heather, group management
development manager, has been recruited from the Co-op Bank to overhaul the
approach. The emphasis is on what is needed to be a successful manager in the
Co-operative Group – going beyond knowledge and skills to look at how managers
use their personality and work attitude to achieve success.

will be used to launch a behavioural framework and a development toolkit to the
management population. The toolkit enables managers to take responsibility for
their own development by selecting development activities to enhance their

is also placing continuing emphasis on NVQs – to which he has a very practical
approach. He sees them as a quality control tool. Management trainees take
level 3 – and their portfolio of evidence is useful because it enables
Egglestone to be sure training programmes are meeting his standards. He is
pushing level 2 to promote multi-skilling and a pilot scheme is currently under

am hoping people will have acquired level 2 through a breadth of skills, and
rather than being pigeonholed, these people will be able to work on either
checkouts or merchandising."

despite its 19th Century mission statements, the Co-op has hauled itself into
the 21st Century. Egglestone points out that it is candid with staff about its
challenging business environment (particularly since 11 September for
Travelcare, its high street travel agency) and also urges them to be inspired
by other corporate big guns. Would those Rochdale founding fathers have
imagined that, for example, the in-house magazine would carry articles on
global giant GE as an example to be learned from?


General manager HRD, Co-operative Group

National training manager, Co-operative Group

Group personnel manager, Scottish Co-op

Training manager, Scottish Co-op

Various personnel posts including regional personnel manager for Scotland and
Cumbria, Co-op Milk Group

tips 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 who
are not doing their jobs properly

Don’t underestimate the cultural change required to make the process effective

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