By Martin Buss, Executive Resourcing Partner

I’ve worked for Co-op for the past six years and manage the recruitment for our Exec and senior leadership teams, to ensure they have the skills and behaviours needed to deliver our business objectives and our ‘Co-operating for a Fairer World’ vision.

My job is to proactively seek out the best candidates to build a diverse leadership pipeline, and I do this with a focus on improving diversity across our Exec and senior leader population. I also work closely with my colleagues in the Organisational Effectiveness team to create robust and inclusive succession plans for our business critical positions.

I’m a very social person. I get my energy and excitement from interacting with people. I guess you could say, I’m a bit nosey, which I think helps me in my job! I love listening to people talk about themselves and their careers – understanding what motivates them, where they get their energy from and what brings them to work. That’s fantastic for me.

If I look back at my time at Co-op, across our senior leadership team I’m really proud to say we’ve achieved nearly 50/50 equality in terms of gender split when it comes to recruitment. And now my focus is on the other areas of diversity, to make sure our senior leadership team reflects the communities we serve. That’s my ultimate goal and we’ve recently made some massive strides to make this a reality.

What makes a fantastic Co-op leader?

This must be our reference point. Delivering a commercial advantage for Co-op in whatever business unit our leaders operate in is essential, and there’s a cost control piece to that, as well as a focus on innovation too.

But at the same time, because we’re a co-operative, candidates must have an overwhelming sense of social purpose as well and demonstrate they can deliver back into our communities through the great work that they do at Co-op. It’s about finding people whose personal purpose aligns with our leadership behaviours and ‘Co-operating for a Fairer World’ vision – that’s success for me.

Making it inclusive

It’s probably safe to say that for many people from marginalised communities (people with disabilities, minority ethnic backgrounds, gender, and LGBTQ+), the recruitment industry has not always been fair. But the great news is that I’ve seen a real shift over the last couple of years. That’s why, I make it my mission to work with inclusive search partners and inclusion specialists to make sure we can tap into a diverse pipeline of candidates. We get them to report at each stage in a recruitment process on what diversity looks like across a list of potential candidates. And that can be gender, ethnicity – essentially any of the protected characteristics.

When confidentiality is not an issue, I prefer to recruit directly without using third party agencies, but inclusivity still remains my focus. A great example of that would be the recruitment of our Co-op Finance Director. Working closely with our Candidate Marketing team, we made sure our advertisement was written in such a way that it was completely inclusive – in fact we have a tool that we run it through to make sure there’s no gender prevalence. I also directly approached a number of candidates from diverse backgrounds, whilst helping our Exec to share the role across their networks to ensure a really broad and inclusive candidate pool.

The result was a shortlist with a good gender split, with 60% ethnically diverse candidates versus those that would identify as white British, and they also all came from different industry sectors and so it was diverse in all of its aspects, which was really fantastic. Ultimately it led to the appointment of a wonderful leader and finance professional in Surojit Majumder, who joins us in January 2022 – and with no expensive search fees either!

Making it innovative

I recently recruited our Divisional Managing Director (DMD) for Food’s Central division. Working with a team of colleagues, we adopted a totally new approach. Our colleagues told us they want us to be more transparent and inclusive in our recruitment, so we tried something really different for us, with a Recruitment Hackathon style event.

We’d never before involved our store colleagues in recruiting somebody at DMD level, so it was really new territory. We had a crowdsource approach to capturing the questions that colleagues would want to ask their new DMD candidates – and we identified individuals who’d physically ask those questions ‘on the day’. The event was live streamed so colleagues could watch them answer the questions and then vote for their preferred candidate live online.

The massive difference with this process is you’re getting the store colleague voice and input from the people who are going to ultimately report through and be led by this individual – and never before have they had a voice in recruiting at this level.

It’ll be great to open it up to more people if we do this again – we struggled with the volume of people who wanted to take part in it! The fantastic news is that it’s also the first time I’ve appointed a DMD internally, which I’m really pleased about as it aligns with our ambition to empower colleagues to grow their careers within Co-op.

Measuring success

I love working at the Co-op and my role in recruiting the right leaders for this organisation. If the business leaders I have helped to recruit deliver on our vision and strategy, I feel I will have succeeded.

However, whilst I’m proud of my successes to date, ultimately when I come to reflect on my time at the Co-op, I want my legacy to be that our Exec and senior leadership teams reflect the communities we serve in all aspects of diversity. There is more work to be done, but if I manage to achieve that goal, then that will mean real success for me and a legacy to be truly proud of!