Bringing digital skills and thinking into Leading the Way

We know that store colleagues can sometimes find it difficult to get the information they need to do their jobs. Whether it’s hiring a team member or loading a bakery price gun, it’s taking valuable time out of the day and making things generally harder than they need to be.

So we’ve formed a team in Co-op Digital, working with colleagues in Food, to build a new digital product to solve the problem. It’s all part of our ‘Leading the Way’ programme. This product has a working title at the moment, of ‘How to do things in Food stores’. (Got a better name? Answers on a postcard, no citrus fruits please…)

Making things easier to find and understand

First of all we’re taking content from Citrus, the intranet, and anywhere else we can find it, about how to do things in a store, and we’re putting it all in one place. We want our information to be easy to locate with a navigation structure that reflects how store colleagues think about things, and to make searching easier.

We know that Citrus’ search doesn’t work. We also know that our colleagues in store (along with millions across the world) are using Google to find things out in their day-to-day lives. So we want to build something for the Co-op that meets those expectations and does the job it needs to do.

But we’re also making our content easy to read and understand, when it hasn’t always been that way in the past. This is important for everyone: for colleagues who have been with us for over 20 years, as well as for colleagues who might be new, or have English as a second language.

Building digital skills and thinking

As well as building a product, we’re helping to bring digital skills and thinking into Leading the Way. What do we mean by that? Well, a few things…

Working in multidisciplinary teams

Often, companies are organised into functions – marketing, operations, IT. Those teams sit together in their functions, and interact with other functional departments in working groups or steering groups or other groups.

photograph showing part of our multidisciplinary team around a whiteboard.

At Co-op Digital, we work in cross-functional teams every day. Rather than having a team of software developers and a team of designers, each team is a product team made up of lots of different roles. We have an interaction designer, a user researcher, a content designer, a delivery manager, a product manager, and a few software developers too. We all work together and use our expertise in different areas to work quickly. No more waiting for the weekly meeting to find out that something isn’t technically possible, or that a user told us that something didn’t make sense. And we’re collaborating closely with our colleagues in Food – we have 5 colleagues from stores helping us to write content, and a subject-matter expert who is running the workstream, too.

Putting users first

photograph of our work on a white board. main message says: how to do things in Food store. Start with user needs.

The users of the product are more important than the people building it or the business. Those users could be anyone, but in this situation, we think it’s primarily colleagues in stores, and colleagues who work at OSS. We want to learn about how this fits into a user’s life, and what their needs are. For example, we know that a lot of our policy content is quite long at the moment – and we think that really, colleagues go to look up a policy or a procedure when they want to do something. That means we want to give you the information you need at the point you need it – not to have to trawl through lots of irrelevant words.

We’ve seen this kind of thinking in action all the way across Leading the Way, and the way the test and trial process works means that all ideas are getting tested by users before they’re implemented across all stores.

Short feedback loops

Those users I just mentioned…well, in this instance, that’s you: colleagues in stores. We go out into stores often and show colleagues what we’re doing. Usually we’ll show 5 colleagues what we’re working on every 2 weeks. We’ll sit down with a colleague, show them what we’re working on, and ask open-ended questions about what they’re seeing on screen.

photograph from one of our show and tells.

Getting that frequent feedback means we can improve what we’re doing. If no one can find the search box when we show them the website, we can move it, and make sure it is easier to find next time.

What’s next

We’ve given the web address to about 5 stores so far, but there’s not much content on there yet. When we have some more, we’ll be sharing it with more stores. We’ll keep on talking to people in stores across the country to get feedback and insight. It’s been brilliant to meet so many people in stores so far, and we’re looking forward to delivering something that makes life easier for our colleagues.

Anna Goss
Product Lead

Listen, Act and Fix

Co-op store colleagues are the most visible face of our business, and they will be the first experience many members have of interacting with our products and services. So it’s really important that we listen to their ideas on how we can improve things and remove complexity.

This is one of the main aims of the Listen, Act and Fix (LAF) team here at Co-op Retail Support Centre. We want to get behind these great ideas which will help improve the way we operate, for the benefit of our colleagues, customers and members.

We’ve been listening

To get this work off to the right start, we recently held a number of listening sessions for colleagues. We heard from 254 colleagues in 24 events in stores right across the country so that we could get a proper impression of what matters most and, just as importantly, hear colleagues’ ideas about how to make things better. We received nearly 1000 pieces of feedback, a 34% increase on the suggestions we received in 2016’s sessions.

Photograph of colleagues at a listening session in Llandudno

Photograph of staff in Bromsgrove at a listening session

We found that, above all else, our colleagues care about Membership: particularly registering new members. But we know that this is a much more difficult process than it should be and is taking too much valuable time in store. So we’re sharing our colleagues’ ideas with the Membership team, working to speed up registrations and make more customers want to join us. The tablet sign-up trial that’s underway at the moment is just one way of doing this, and the idea came directly from store colleagues.

We also found that colleagues had many suggestions and ideas on how we can improve our tills, which can cause unnecessary stress, especially at busy times. So as part of our annual review of assets and equipment, we’re replacing older equipment with newer, faster models, and making some changes to our software. After this we will focus on improving network speeds so that it is easier to get online – and stay there!

And we know that the TARA system is far too complicated for everyday use. After this came up regularly in our sessions, we decided to trial a simplified job structure as well as an app to provide TARA access from a smart device. We’re pleased with the early results and will hopefully have positive news to announce soon. Watch this space!

We’ve been learning

Visiting stores has certainly taught us a lot about the pressures store colleagues face in their roles and know there is still a huge amount of work to be done to reduce these pressures. But we are determined to keep making things better, and we want to put colleague ideas and suggestions at the centre of this.

We know we need to listen more, and ensure we’re championing our colleagues’ ideas. After all, no one knows better what works in-store than those who actually work there. New digital tools are making it easier than ever before to get insight into colleague ideas, and to respond, making the changes we know need to be made.

Our ambition is better engagement and insight: finding and using the great ideas that our colleagues have, and working together to deliver them. We want to make Listen, Act and Fix cultural, as part of a servant-leadership approach, and we want the insight of our colleagues to form a key part of how we plan for the future. Our mission in 2017 is to keep up the momentum.

The Executive team for Food has seen the recent insight from our colleagues and we will soon be sharing our future plans with them. By listening, sharing our ideas, and challenging us all to fix them, we can bring about the important changes we know will really make a difference to our colleagues, customers and members.

Joe Wheatley
Colleague Insight Support Officer

Introducing our ‘stores of excellence’

We’ve talked about the purpose of the Leading the Way programme before:

We want to help store colleagues with the things they need to do, in the time they have, and give them the freedom to be great Co-op shopkeepers.

To help us change things, we’ve been setting up ‘stores of excellence’ with the help of the retail support centre. We want to create a community of colleagues who speak about the changes we’d like to make within the business and discuss ways of working that will help us make them.

How it works

At the moment, we trial new ideas in around 20 stores. Once we’re happy and colleagues have told us those ideas are working well, we’ll roll them out a little further to our stores of excellence. Then we’ll speak to colleagues there to find out if they think the idea is making a positive difference.

When we go on to roll ideas out to all other stores, colleagues from stores of excellence will be able to share what they’ve already learnt.

Excellent stores embrace change

Image shows a screenshot of a tweet and a Twitter image. The tweet says: What a day! #storesofexcellence event complete. 45 store managers ready to be advocates if the change. The image is a photo of 45 managers sitting around a table.

Over the last few months, managers have been choosing their stores of excellence. The teams from those stores have been told about their new roles in transforming our business. There’s one store of excellence under each area manager and each one was chosen because they’ve already shown they can make changes effectively. In other words, these are stores with high standards that aren’t afraid of changing the way they work. They’re keen to make things simpler and more efficient for colleagues.

Listening to feedback

Listening is really important. Managers in the stores of excellence have been telling us how they feel about letting old processes go and trusting new systems or ways of working.

In the future

This is a new way of working for us in Co-op Food and we’re learning as we go. We hope colleagues from different stores will talk to each other at area meetings, on conference calls and in the stores themselves. Better communication between us will help everyone make changes across all our stores.

We’ll blog again soon to update you how things are going.

Elizabeth Lowther

Reducing paperwork when we’re cashing up

Remember that new cash paperwork that came out the other week? That’s one cool thing that came from Leading the Way (LTW). We know how much paperwork you have to deal with and we want to remove as much as we can.

How I ended up on Leading the Way

LTW aims to make life easier for colleagues in stores. It’s really important that the programme includes field colleagues who know the reality and challenges of working in a store day-to-day. Having people in the team with first-hand experience of that means we can focus on what store colleagues actually need, not what we reckon they need.

That’s why myself and the other workstream leads are here – we all have experience out in shops and know them inside and out.

I started as a CTM at the Co-op over 10 years ago. I became a team manager while I was studying and then took on my first store manager role. I looked after a number of stores including one that was less than 500 square feet (a shoe box!) and one that went through a Gen2 re-fit. Then I successfully applied for the Shining Stars programme and got seconded to an area manager role, eventually looking after Leeds.

Our mission

It’s simple really.

We want to help store colleagues with the things they need to do, in the time they have, and give them the freedom to be great Co-op shopkeepers.

How do we do that though? We’ve started with 7 different projects or ‘workstreams’, with the intention that each one will tackle a different instore area. My workstream is called Simple Stores and focuses on how we make admin, paperwork, back office systems simpler in the day to day running of a shop.

This year we’re looking at what we can simplify quickly, and we’ll also to begin to think about how we transform entire parts of our operation over the next few years.

Simplifying cash paperwork

Our Simple Stores workstream is looking at how we can simplify cashing up. I’ve been cashing up since I was a CTM and one of the things that really bugged me was the number of bits of paper.

photo of 5 forms that used to be used during cashing up

They add unnecessary complexity. If we just had everything on one document, we wouldn’t have to print all the bits of paper off every week – better for the environment and cheaper for the store. Plus it’d just be much neater being able to complete all tasks needed to cash up on one page.

The central cash team, Helen Holland and Pauline Wilton, were really keen on helping out and we worked together to create the simplified document.

photo of Dave Tyas holding one sheet of paper. this is the new condensed version of the cashing up forms.We tested the new document in our Green Quarter store – thanks guys! We listened to feedback and changed the document based on recommendations. After we had it right, we rolled it out to 2 areas for final feedback before we rolled it out further.

This was the first piece of work that we sent to our ‘stores of excellence.’ These are stores that try out new things first and then help the other stores in the area if we roll out the new thing out further.

It’s gone down well. Here’s some of the feedback:

“I now find that in terms of recording, the paperwork is much simpler to use and easier to follow.” – Mike, SM

“Better visibility for colleagues. Easier to chase discrepancies. Welcome the change!” – Kath, TM

“The new cash document is great and easy to use, which results in less of a paper trail.” – Carole, TL

What’s next?

Simplifying cashing up is just the start for the Simple Stores workstream. Here’s what we’re looking next:

  • How can we completely revolutionise how we cash up using technology and digital tools?
  • Do headsets make life easier for store colleagues?
  • How can we get rid of all paper from the office and make it digital?
  • Can we make the back office systems mobile so we can access them wherever we are?

We want to hear from you

We’re running ‘Listen Act and Fix’ sessions in 26 locations across the country. The aim is to bring colleagues together to talk about how we can make things simpler.We’ll keep you posted about the details.

We’re already hearing some brilliant suggestions, ranging from how we can sign up members more easily at the checkout, to how we make our store processes simpler. If you have ideas on things that could make life instore simpler, let us know by emailing

We are listening!

Dave Tyas
Workstream lead

Being open and honest through blogging

photograph of the Leading the Way team in Federation House

The aim of the Leading the Way programme is to transform how our Co-op Food stores operate. We want to help store colleagues with the things they need to do, in the time they have and give them the freedom to be great Co-op shopkeepers.

Over the last few weeks we’ve started to let you know about some of the work we’ve been doing to help make things simpler in store.

Blogging: our latest way to communicate

Now, the Leading the Way team is going to blog regularly to share what we’re working on and ask for your thoughts and feedback. We’re keen to have an open communication channel with all the business and enhance the existing more formal comms channels. We want to keep connected with you all and share what we are seeing, hearing and discovering as the project develops. 

Quick intro

Photograph of Steve Logue in a Co-op Food store

I’m Steven Logue, Head of Stores Transformation, and I have the privilege of heading up this exciting piece of work. We’re aiming to make your life in store better by making tasks simpler and removing the things that just don’t make any sense. We know everyone works hard and we need to make sure our solutions are about working smarter not harder.

You’ve all had a busy Easter trading period and the start of hopefully a good summer and along with my colleagues from the Retail Support Centre, I’ve spent some time in stores over the last few weeks. It’s great to see the passion and enthusiasm in our store teams and a real focus to get things right for our customers.

Making things simpler

We need to challenge ourselves to get the basics right and complete activities and tasks in the way they should be done, not creating work-arounds or additional checks for example. Ask yourself if you’re really working to the model in your store?

We want to hear from you

We’re looking at different ways of talking to and listening to you that will make sure we listen, act and fix the things that get in the way of you delivering a great service to our members and customers.

It’s been great to start to share this today and I know that all the team are really looking forward to talking to you regularly. We encourage your comments, questions and feedback on our progress so let us know what you think below.

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Steven Logue
Head of Stores Transformation