What leaders think
What challenge did you tackle and overcome in your business this week?
Having traded hard over the festive period with limited down time, getting our Exec and leadership team back and focussed on the opportunities and challenges for the year ahead has been key. Not easy when there’s a number of external factors at play such as Covid lockdowns, Brexit, the impending recession and many ugly inequalities playing out in society. Prioritising our cash, energy and resources on the right things continues to be a challenge.
Which ongoing business challenge is occupying your thoughts this week/month?
3 things on my mind – External pressures, Colleague Mental Wellbeing and Inclusion.
Continuing to be there for our colleagues, customers, members and communities as we navigate the Covid crisis and changes driven by Brexit continue to be a big focus for us. Colleague mental wellbeing is resting heavily on my mind especially through these winter months and with the recent lockdown news. Our colleagues have been extraordinary throughout this pandemic and so resilient but Covid fatigue has impacted us all. Many are balancing work and family pressures and making sure colleagues feel appreciated and supported is critical. And finally inclusion. We launched a bold set of commitments on Racial Equality and Inclusion last year and it’s important we keep pushing on all fronts to truly embed this into our organisation.
We have had 2 national lockdowns and a range of regional tier variations over many months. In what way has your approach to these lockdowns / tier restrictions permanently influenced your own way of working and will you make any adjustments now we’re in a 3rd lockdown?
I’ve continued to go into the office a few days a week as there are a small proportion of colleagues that are unable to work from home and I want to ensure they feel supported. That said all my meetings continue to be facilitated online and what’s worked well is how much more inclusive virtual meetings can be. We’ve really made the most of the raising hand and chat functionality which has made our meetings more effective and efficient.
The other thing is that through flexible working I’ve got to know colleagues on a much more personal level, meeting their kids, animals and other halves. It’s made me appreciate all the more, that my colleagues are so much more than who you see in work with lots going on in their lives. That’s a good outcome for any CEO.
Now that we’re in a 3rd lockdown there’s not many adjustments I would make other than to continue to learn how to make best use of the technology we have available.
Given the reliance on technology during lockdowns, do you now envisage an acceleration in digital/workforce transformation in the short-medium term?
Absolutely and in truth this has already happened throughout 2020. Helpfully we were already well on with the journey. Decisions we had taken some years ago to enable flexible working suddenly became of huge value to us in the Covid context. We already believed in flexible working as beneficial to the wellbeing of our colleagues as well as the efficiency of the business and we’ve seen that play out in practice this year. That said, it was both a technical and cultural change and lock-down has accelerated people’s capacity to learn and leverage the power of tech. We’ve also seen an increase in customers and members choosing online as a channel and so continue to ramp up our online offer.
What are the new working norms starting to look like for your organisation?
It depends which part of our business you work in. The day to day operations in our food stores and funeral branches are very different to a year ago requiring social distancing, PPE and mask wearing. Many processes and ways of working had to evolve rapidly so we could continue to remain open safely which will be with us for some time yet. We’ve also seen a step up in customers and members choosing to go online and so we continue to focus on our online offer.
Since March the majority of our Support Centre colleagues have been working from home. This has taken flexible working to a whole new level. Virtual meetings have quickly become the norm to enable our businesses to remain open delivering products and services safely for customers and members. While many are missing the office and face to face conversations, I can’t see a time where we’ll be back in the office 5 days/ week even after lockdowns become a thing of the past.
There is a dramatic reduction in carbon footprints during lockdowns, what is your business planning to do to help continue this going forward?
This isn’t a new area of focus for us at Co-op, in fact we’ve been responding to the climate challenge for many years now. As a result, we’ve been able to reduce the GHG emissions from our operations by 70% since 2006. For over a decade, we’ve sourced 100% renewable electricity for all our operations through our Co-op Power business, our Funeralcare business has been climate neutral since 2011 and our insurance business provides a carbon offset feature with every new motor and home policy.
That said it continues to be a key priority for us and we have set ourselves science-based climate targets for both operations and products and became the first UK retailer to publish full transparent end-to-end GHG footprint. Co-op is also a signatory and helped to shape the British Retail Consortium’s Climate Action roadmap aiming for retail to reach net zero by 2040.
In terms of personal well-being, what changes have you made and will you stick to them post lockdown?
In truth I’d been focussing on improving my work/life balance and mental wellbeing ahead of lock-down. I’d been leaving the office at a reasonable time, making more time for family and regularly exercising. During lockdown I’ve worked hard to find a way to maintain and sustain it – often easier said than done but something I’m committed to continue post lockdown.
Who or what has inspired you this week? (They don’t need to be famous)
I was recently inspired by Carl who works in our Plymouth depot and as a Co-op Member Pioneer. He’s been working locally to collect and distribute surplus food from local Co-ops and other supermarkets to local community groups. A great example of co-operation and how all our colleagues continue to pull together to do the right thing for their communities. I’m so proud of how all of them, continue to co-operate to support the nation.
How did you spend Christmas?
Christmas Day for me was at home with my Family and Parents playing lots of nostalgic games and enjoying Coop’s array of quality Food.
Any words of wisdom?
If Covid has taught us anything it’s that co-operation and putting people and communities ahead of profit works. We’ve seen that businesses with Purpose will be the winners and those that are prepared to collaborate on the big issues like social mobility and climate change will bring about most change. In these extraordinary times, I’d say stay true to your Vision and join forces with others to achieve shared outcomes and you won’t go far wrong.