2016 has been a year full of expectation, change and progress. Rachel Woodman, Group Transformation Director, takes Rachel Machin behind the scenes of this change to find that although we’ve scaled many mountains (something she loves doing literally in her personal life), we’ve still got a few big ones to conquer as we rebuild the Co-op.

If you were stuck on top of the Matterhorn in Switzerland – known as the ‘Mountain of mountains’ in climbing circles – you’d want Rachel Woodman with you (the 4,478m summit is next on her list of things to do).Her determination and resourcefulness as an ‘extreme’ walker, a regular off-piste skier and a lover of the great outdoors, is evident in everything she turns her hand to – which includes one of the biggest and most complex change programmes she’s ever been involved in here at the Co-op – our rebuild.

While Rachel’s akin to dealing with ‘truly troubled’ organisations – she’s referring to her time with Morrisons which she joined after a series of profit warnings – the true scale of our rebuild programmes would send some of us running to the hills, or mountains. But not her.

“I can honestly say the Co-op’s change agenda is one of the most exciting I’ve ever seen”, she enthuses.

“It’s not unusual to have 15 change programmes in an organisation,” she says. “But while we express it as 15 programmes, when you actually look under the skin you’ve got nearer to 30 or 40. The scale is much bigger than it perhaps seems on the surface.

“Then there’s an added complexity with the Co-op’s structure. You’ve got some programmes that sit within the four walls of their business unit and others which touch multiple businesses and functions. So the Release programme [the launch of membership, our new look and the Being Co-op events] impacted everyone, and everyone needed to be involved.”

Succeeding together

When she arrived last November, there may have been excitement and anticipation in the air but it was clear from the start that there was still so much work to be done if we were going to re-launch the Co-op.

“Some of the programmes weren’t working as well as they should so two weeks in I had to push back my induction, roll up my sleeves and work with the team to help fix,” she reveals.

Stepping in on virtually your first day is nothing new to Rachel. She says herself: “I was one of those scary children who knew at 15 I wanted to work in change management.” This self-assured, steely attitude was also evident on her first day as a graduate in investment bank Citigroup.rachel-woodman3

“They introduced me to this team of Essex boys who supported the trading floor and said: ‘Rachel’s going to centralise the funding process for Europe’. I didn’t even know what a funding process was! Through sheer determination I managed to do it,” she laughs.

She certainly needed this work ethic in her first few weeks here. “We had three big programmes [Membership, Brand and Being Co-op] and they were all making progress on different tracks but the join up across those wasn’t where we wanted it to be.

“It wasn’t that people didn’t want to collaborate but they hadn’t really practiced working in that way before so it was a bit of a bumpy start. Over Christmas we had to do a lot of re-planning and we chose to lead with the colleague which was the right thing to do.

“We really had to get lots of people from across the Co-op round the table but it catalysed a new way of working and it brought together different functions, programmes and business units. In an organisation like this you can’t create a big central team that does change to the organisation – change has to be owned by the people delivering it,” she explains.

Changing ways

Creating this new way of working is one of the main focuses of Rachel’s team. Look back at the Kelly report [a document which highlighted the failings of the Co-op in 2013] and we were criticised for our failure to deal with change as a Society. Not good in a world that never stands still.

“We’ve taken a big leap forward,” she says. Last month Rachel’s team launched a Learning and Development programme for 250 people with transformation and change-type roles in the organisation.

“We need to equip people for this enormously complex and challenging agenda and it’s really important that we do it long-term for the Society. So part of it is around consistency, working in a common way makes things easier. The businesses have started to make big strides in putting these processes and practices in place already,” she says.

2017 and beyond

With so much achieved this year, what does 2017 look like for the team Rachel describes as ‘the Co-op’s air traffic control’?

“Next year is another big year. Although it’s our final year of rebuild some of our programmes will go on longer into the renew phase so we’ve got an extremely challenging agenda,” she admits.

“I’d like to see us move the dial dramatically in the way we’re doing things – be more robust, more progressive, a more joined up approach to landing change, making fewer mistakes. We also need to paint a clearer picture of where we’re going,” she adds.

“We’ve come a long way in a year. It’s about keeping going. We’ve got big mountains to climb and a lot of challenges facing us but I believe you can do most things if you put your mind to it. Determination and will power will take you a long, long way.”

Quick-fire questions

In three words, what kind of culture would you like to see at the Co-op in the future?
Ambitious. Empowered. Member-centric.

What’s your top priority in the next couple of years?
Membership. We’ve fired the gun but we’ve now got to make membership live and breathe in all parts of the organisation.

What’s the one bit of advice you’d give to your fellow leaders working in our new Co-op?
Be brave.

Most difficult moment at the Co-op: A couple of weeks in when it was pretty clear that we were on the verge of re-planning and I was quite new to the organisation. I had to put my induction on hold and step in.

Proudest moment at the Co-op: When the team came together over Christmas to re-plan our launch of Membership, Being co-op and Brand.

What three words best describe you?
Determined. Adventurous. Family-orientated.

What makes you happy outside work?
My family. My lovely daughter Lily (even though she’s a teenager). Because I stay away three days a week family time is important. I also love the great outdoors.

Personal ambitions
Have a crazy idea that I’d like to climb the Matterhorn. I’d love to push myself.