Karen and Kathryn

Kathryn Scordino and Karen Polymniou stepped into a new role three months ago as Head of Leadership and Talent. Here they explain their plans to develop our leaders of the future and help all colleagues fulfil their potential.

Kathryn and Karen are leading a new team in our Co-op, and they’re leading the way when it comes to flexible working having job shared for the last five years in a leadership role.

After setting up their job share at Barclays, an opportunity came up in our HR department. With their joint CV bagging them an interview (the first they’d had as a duo), they were successful and are now enjoying their third job share leadership role in the Co-op.

As well as helping our leaders develop skills for the future, Kathryn and Karen are keen to help Co-op become better at offering all colleagues opportunities to be flexible in their role, and want to see more women at all levels across our businesses. You can read the interview they did with Aspire, our women’s network.

Leaders of the future

“If you take it back to its basics we want to make sure we equip colleagues with the skills they need now and in the future,” says Karen.

“We’ve achieved some of that through the Back to Being Co-op and Being a Co-op Leader events last year, but now we need to go back to grassroots. What are we providing now? Is that fit for the future? Then we can build up our leadership portfolio which looks at the fundamental things needed to be a leader in our Co-op.”

Right now the organisation focuses on three capabilities:

  • Leading change
  • Managing performance
  • Commercial acumen

“We’ve also got the Ways of Being and the skills we learnt on Being a Co-op Leader but we’ve got nothing that draws them all together,” admits Karen. Are those enough? Will there be different skills we need in the future? Resilience, agility, digital capability?

“How do we join up the how with the what? The idea is that next year we’ll launch a new leadership capability framework. That will provide the base for everything you do as a leader in your career here.”


What’s happening next year?

  • Launch of a new leadership capability framework (the main skills you need to succeed as a leader in our Co-op)
  • My Co-op Career goes Group-wide (already exists in Food) 
  • Possible new development programme like Shining Stars (a small number of leaders are chosen for a 10-month programme crash course in how to be a future leader)

My Co-op Career

Talkback last year showed a low score when it came to the question: Do you think there are opportunities to progress in our Co-op?

Rebecca Palmer, from the Leadership, Talent and Learning Team, is doing all she can to reverse that by taking My Co-op Career Group-wide in 2018.

“Our aspiration over the next 12 months is to put some solutions in place to define ‘this is what you do to get on around here’” says Rebecca.

At the moment Food are using a model called My Co-op Career which has three pathways:

  • Core (looks at induction and being brilliant at the basics)
  • Excellence (the skills to take you from good to great in your role)
  • Boost (the skills to help you progress to the role you want in the future)

“The challenge for us is how do we get people to reach their full potential,” says Kathryn. “For one person it might be about getting promoted, for someone else it might be about being an expert in their field.

“Everybody needs certain foundation skills whatever their role. How to coach your teams, how to do a performance review, how to hold a disciplinary, what it means to be a leader from a community and Being Co-op perspective.

“We need to make sure we’re building products and helping people to access those products whatever their role is in the organisation.”

Karen continues: “It’s also opening people’s eyes to the possibilities of working in a different Co-op business and equipping them with the skills to move across. That’s already happening a lot to an extent, but people might not know it.”

Shining Stars or something else?

Our Shining Stars graduates from 2017 celebrating

In 2014 our Food business started Shining Stars, which takes a small group of colleagues on a 10-month development programme to set them up as future leaders. This year the programme was opened Group-wide.

But do we need a more tailored programme for different types of colleagues across the business?

Shining Stars touches a small number of people,” says Kathryn. “There were 180 applicants and we’ve only been able to put 28 people through. There are lots of fantastic people out there but we haven’t yet developed ways we can reach them.”

Karen continues: “We’re going to link up the leadership development we offer with the talent that’s out there and their needs.”

Young, old or in between – it doesn’t matter

“This is not about your age,” says Kathryn. “It’s about how do you want to drive your own career. We want to support everyone.

“We know we’re not as strong as some other organisations are at this – but we’re working hard to build up our own team capability to open up leadership development options whatever your role is in the organisation, and whatever age you are.

“We’ve shown through our apprenticeship programme that we span age groups. People are stepping into leadership roles in their 50s. What we’re doing is inclusive – we’re developing people wherever they are in their life stage.”

Ways of Being – begin at the beginning

Kathryn and Karen readily admit that we’re on a journey with our Ways of Being, and they still need to be woven into our processes and how we do things.

“We need to recruit people with the right values and behaviours in the first place, or we’ll always be rushing to keep up with ourselves,” admits Karen.

“There’s been some great work done last year linking the Ways of Being with store goals and they invested in some launch events which gave some high intensity training on how to hold a performance review, how to bring the Ways of Being to life.

“To properly change the culture as an organisation we have to get it right from the start with recruitment or we’re never going to be sure we’ve got the right leaders. We’ll be working closely with the recruitment team to make sure that happens.”

Join the conversation! 31 Comments

  1. Teeny tiny comment. As a web article this was far too long. Less is more ladies.

  2. How would someone who works in a food store in Northern Ireland be able to find out more information about the Apprenticeships in Accountancy or CIPD?

    • Hi Sam. I’ll ask the question and get back to you. Thanks ^Rachel

    • Hi Sam. Karen has got back to me with a response. Hope this helps:

      “Thanks for your interest Sam. Apprenticeships linked to CIPD, CIMA or ACCA qualifications are only just being designed by the apprentice companies and are likely to be available from early autumn next year. Unfortunately the situation is complicated in devolved nations like Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales – there’s no government funding for apprenticeships, so any apprentices would need to be fully funded by the Co-op. We’re currently looking into whether the Co-op can fund a limited number of apprenticeships in devolved nations but won’t know whether this is possible until late this year. Please can you give your HRBP your name and contact number so that they can let you know later in the year whether there are any possibilities – we speak to them regularly so they’ll be up to date with what’s happening.”

  3. It amazes me that we invest in programmes like Shining Stars, develop the selected colleagues and then after they have graduated from the programme, make them redundant…..?

    The Co-op is not joined up, individual function leaders are running their functions as a friends group and no forward thinking is being done about the Group and the talent being lost!.

    • I wouldn’t say things aren’t joined up.

      The article above is a fantastic joining together of HR and management cliches so clearly the skills of joining up are out there

      • Yes Brian’s right, the article is a fantastic joining together of HR and management cliches, as are the cut and paste replies to questions.

        Maybe HR is automating itself and the whole thing was written by chatbots?

  4. Hi Kathryn

    Similarly to Debbie’s comment I want to take a different path in my career and go into HR or ER and have studied independently to achieve my CIPD level 5. There needs to be more to do with my career to aide colleagues in gaining work experience to move into new areas of the business. Unfortunately having just a qualification doesn’t get you a job.

    • Hi Jennifer. Congratulations on getting your CIPD Level 5 – it’s always challenging to study something different at the same time as doing your day job. Your message doesn’t say which part of the business you’re from, so it’s difficult to know who’s your best contact. I suggest speaking to one of your local HR team to ask whether there are any possibilities for work experience, further HR development, or even a secondment. You may need to keep in contact with them, as there may not be possibilities now but something could come up in the future.

  5. I’m looking forward to this……

  6. Same old yarn, never happen only to a select few.

  7. Mmmm

    All sounds great – but the development of people is impacted by … well, People

    Shining star, really, so you say to these people you are the next leaders, you have got to be joking (ive seen a couple and no way are they leaders) – how did anyone get to “apply” was it through a “nomination” – I would suggest no transparency- for clarity how do you get on this opportunity

    And we then have the issue of “friends” getting jobs. We had one person who was replaced and it was shared before he “left” – must have been a big payoff otherwise that was clearly constructive dismissal.

    Have some teams where “jobs” are created so people can develop – but “selected” people – people incidentally who are no better than the rest but have “sucked up” – now these none jobs are not on the TOM so operational teams are reduced and weakened to ensure these “jobs” exist.

    What I see, is a lot of jobs going to people who have gone out of their way to suck up, BUT have done poor jobs and delivered little

    Seen jobs go to people and better candidates rejected on the basis of relationships.

    More senior jobs that on balance seem influenced by relationships eg. Godparents; wives etc.

    People promoted only to find they have left a world of mess behind them – but not then demoted

    Some people call it the value of networking

    Now it may well all be above board and the positions would have been filled by these individuals regardless – it is how it looks that’s the problem and it means the real shinning stars leave

  8. Cue lots more spending by HR on the high risk (of failure) approach of top down, meeting led, powerpoint driven ‘talent and leadership strategies’.

    Yet another leadership capability model. I expect lots more cards, notepads, pens, stickers, mugs etc.

    Everything written above is the standard text produced by many previous, almost identical attempts at this.

    Perhaps time to try something else? Completely, totally different?

    I think there’s a good litmus test you could do on head office programmes – go around asking colleagues how sceptical they are that the outcomes will be achieved and the money is well spent. Nothing like asking the people who actually know.

    • What would you like to see in a Leadership Development Programme?

      • In my opinion – nothing, that’s exactly the point being made I think.

        I wouldn’t have a centrally controlled ‘programme’ with one team’s hands firmly wrapped around it.

        I’d look at how to push things out to colleagues so that line mgrs have the ability to develop leadership and capability with their teams. Enable people to do it for themselves and facilitate it with some in-house built software that gives everyone some ownership.

        That, after all, sounds like leadership to me.

      • At companies I have worked in the way you attain development is via application to a talent pool via interview and test. If you are successful in getting into the talent pool (or even a development pool) you are then given training to attain future leader roles. Then when roles become available, only those who made it into the pool and have successfully applied for and completed the training to a satisfactory level can apply for the roles. This ensures fairness, is open to all, is completely transparent and ensure those who put the effort in get rewarded.

  9. TL;DR

  10. Back to basics, Drive your own career, How do we join up the how with the what, et al.

    Was this article taken from the big book of managerial clichés?

  11. All well and good if you are in that big shiny building in Manchester but elsewhere?

  12. Thanks everyone for your thoughts. We’re working closely with our colleagues in the Learning teams across Co-op to make sure that we’re providing great development for all colleagues. We talked about My Co-op Career in the blog post and this is for all colleagues in our Food business. This will be rolled out next year across other business areas. Please talk to your line manager or HRBP if there’s specific development that would support your Personal Development Plan (PDP).

    • Yes exactly – you’re talking to ‘learning teams’ about PDPs. For 99% of colleagues they have no idea what those are. HR seems to struggle to get off the 7th floor and actually get a domain knowledge of the business.

      HRBPs!? Who knows who they are!? The one time I tried to contact one I got passed around by colleagues all saying I needed to talk to someone else.
      Oh and the HRBP only actually replied to my email when I said I was taking legal advice (weeks after the email was sent).

  13. This entire article is basically “How to progress your career in management”. How about the company realises we have more staff in the clerical band than management.
    I see course after course being offered for various leadership skills, while we have to give up our first born in order to get something as measly as a course on excel to do our actual roles.
    The company needs to wake up and realise there is more to the co-op than its managers.

    • Well said Minion. Some departments do better than others but generally you’re right.

      It’s easy to get the senior managers to agree that they are the most important people in the building and have them sign off on cutting everyone else’s training budget to zero while continuing to have training at their level.

  14. I would be interested in what development there is for a sideways step. Not everyone wants to develop into a leader, what about an equivalent to CIPD for example?
    Great that it is being looked at, though.

    • Hi Debbie,
      Thanks for your question. We absolutely agree that not everyone wants to be promoted and it’s important that colleagues can develop at their own pace. Many people are now changing careers at different stages in their life and we’re developing our Apprentice offerings to include professional qualifications such as CIPD and Accountancy to open up these opportunities. Please talk to your Line Manager or HRBP to discuss your PDP and what options are available.
      Thanks, Kathryn

      • Hi Kathryn,

        What if I like my current job and I don’t want to be promoted into a new role?

        Can I convert my current role into an apprenticeship to get the benefits you’re offering under them?

        • Hi Can you tell me
          Thanks for your comment. Without knowing your current role I’m not sure what Apprentice opportunities might be available. Please chat to your line manager or HRBP who’ll be able to point you in the right direction.

  15. Does anyone watch the TV satire about the BBC, W1A? really really funny, but its just occurred to me that it could be about the Co-op HQ too, and that wiped the smile off my face. All these ‘ new roles’ when what we need is more staff on the ground sitting with families, helping them, listening to them, spending time with them.

  16. We’ve been here before at the Co-op.

    It’s not that long ago that two men were also talking up the achievements of Being Co-op. Where are they now?

    All the talk is of “going back to grassroots”, making a fresh start , asking questions and “joining the how with the what” . So much “blah, blah, blah, blah” !

    I’m sure this approach has been through a lot of stakeholder guidance and sign-off before they dared to go live with it like this but why has that had the effect of removing all the vitality from the announcement?

    This is cautious and conservative in approach.

    It might get a tick in the box and a nice salary but “the idea is to launch a leadership framework” in a timescale as vague as “next year” doesn’t set the pulses racing.

  17. Really good to read Kathryn’s comment about people in thier 50’s. As someone in that age group, its good to know there are still options.

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