The Co-operative Group … Rome is burning

From a people perspective it’s been a fascinating few days at the Co-op (and a story that will continue to run for a few more no doubt!)

Rich in learning for us all and a case study in how social changes impact business cultures.

The requirement to have a burning platform to initiate change seems to be in place. One suspects that a £2bn loss should do it alongside the repaired £1.5bn black hole earlier in the bank.    The unhelpful additional element seems to be the over simplistic commentary in the media setting up a battle between mutuality and plc. There is clearly a lot of emotion attached to this dualism that isn’t helping any of the stakeholders.

The Co-operative Group is a vast, highly complex business that us in trouble – Rome is burning.

It requires strong, confident leadership and teamwork. One suspects that the incumbent board had a lot of this.   The root cause of the problem seems to have been the pace of change and a perceived disconnect with the values of the organisation.

One suspects that the pace isn’t hugely up for grabs. From the outside it looks like something has to give which is to either sell off some of the businesses, run them much more efficiently or frankly both. A pound for a new CEO drawing the same conclusion.   The opportunity looks like harnessing what is clearly a strong culture towards rapid change.

The conversation needs to move quickly to what stakeholders do agree on and to develop some principles that inform change. Again, whilst there has been some criticism of the questions in “Have your say”, this is a ground-breaking approach set up by this organisation, a form if which can be deployed internally to get things started.

All of us are better than some of us and getting this large workforce engaged in the solution not the problem is fundamental in the months ahead.   Dialogue, trust and respect will be the required hallmarks of success.

The Co-op has a deep belief in itself which needs to be pointed at transformational change. Pointing that belief at maintaining the status quo one suspects could mean that change happens even faster – uncontrolled and very painful for many loyal stakeholders.