A leading supermarkets approach to talent development

We talked with Alison Tansey, Former Leadership Development Specialist | Talent and Performance at a leading supermarket group, who gave us some useful insight into talent development and what has worked well for their talent pool. And how our Rising Talent programme has helped them.


One of the things that I lead on which The Method are part of is talent development for our talent pool.  We work in conjunction with both the leadership development and the talent and performance team. The talent team set the talent strategy who then work collaboratively with their leadership development team to deliver the solutions that then support that talent strategy. That is my role essentially.  I make decisions on all the solutions that we bring in to the business to support our talent strategy. And our talent strategy is industry leading in my eyes.


Every individual within our top talent has a talent coach that they’re paired with. They then have initial deep dive conversations about what type of development and what development journey would really work for that individual.  There isn’t an end date to the programme. We partner with the individual in the talent pool for as long as they need it and for as long as they want to be in those talent pools.  

So rather than being a quick let’s get a load of development and learning thrown at this individual, some of which may stick and interestingly which we’re also going to be throwing at other individuals. It’s more of let’s understand you, let’s understand what great looks like, let’s understand where you want to go, let’s understand your starting point, how you like to learn, what areas you want to develop, what your strengths are, what are your areas of opportunity, and then let’s walk alongside you as you take your development journey over the next couple of years.


I play a large part in the up-skilling of  the talent coaches on what a great conversation could look like, how we could use the development solutions that I’m picking and putting out there to best support those individual journeys.  I pick solutions based on them delivering a blend. We use business schools for some formal courses. But again we don’t pick the courses we just signpost to the business schools and the individual would pick a course.  We use mentoring, coaching, and at executive levels, we use board-level mentoring, we use experiential opportunities with companies where they will go out and they will work, for example, as social entrepreneur mentors,  they will work with the CEO and top leadership team of charities to solve specific challenges. It’s really exciting stuff.


We’ve been doing this for a couple of years now and initially, it’s quite an interesting blend of responses. Some people thought it was absolutely fantastic and others wanted a really heavily structured programme.  What we did do to create a little bit more of a cohort feel for individuals is we introduced a couple of what we called ‘Go Large’ events. This was where we put events on and twice a year where participants could come and listen to really great thought leadership in future facing areas, connect with each other and leave with really useful tools and tips to move forward with.


We looked at the themes that were coming back through from the talent coaches in terms of people’s areas of needs.  We had some common themes appearing around strategy and communication for example. And we then went out and sourced great suppliers to deliver on those specific areas, not limiting ourselves to standard supplier lists, we looked at Authors, Professors, innovative consultancies, in some cases we used high profile personalities if their messages and expertise were aligned to the needs of our colleagues, we wanted to really challenge ourselves on the standard of development our colleagues received.


Yes everybody gets their own development bespoke to them. It’s relevant, it’s meaningful. They get a time and space that works for them, so it’s more likely to land which is important.  But the other side of it is that what we found when we did a pilot of this type of development option, is that people are much more confident. They are pushed to go out of their comfort zone and they can feel uncomfortable because they have to go out and really think about their development and it’s not spoon-fed. In the end they feel much more confident, they develop a better sense of curiosity, they have more self-belief that they can direct their own journeys in the future.  They understand more about development from a broader spectrum rather than just thinking that it’s in a classroom for example.


We get them together a couple of times a year and the talent people do an upskilling around the functional tools they can use for the conversations. How to frame those conversations, what that contact looks like and I would then talk about the development solutions in the context of those conversations.  One of the things that we found when we first introduced this concept to the business, was that the talent coaches, although a lot of them were Master coaches, and a lot of them were senior leaders within our business, they actually didn’t have a huge amount of experience with having development conversations.  So, it was about what is a great development conversation and what does that then mean for how you position the solutions that I’ve created. It’s almost like a pick and mix because what we’re finding at the very beginning, is that they were picking coaching and classroom because they were the two solutions that had been embedded in the business for a long time.  So talent has always had access to coaches whether they’re Master coaches or executive coaches outside of this business.  

Everybody was always aware of the classroom and the old-style way of doing things. For example, when somebody was saying, I’ve got a real problem with confidence and self-belief, I’m not very confident in X, Y, Z,  then the go-to was always going to be a coach or a classroom. But actually, some of the other solutions that we’ve put out there really did potentially hit that topic spot. We wanted to help people understand there is life outside of a coach and life outside of a classroom and what that could look like.


As with any business, but particularly in the retail environment, the need to have the best people on board is absolutely imperative. The best people are the differentiators.  Anyone can have a physical product but you need the best people to continuously deliver that product. To be able to innovate and to challenge and to be creative and to be on the front foot and to be pushing through.  Our talent deliver a disproportionate amount of value so we need to be sure that we look after them and give them everything that they need on an ongoing basis so we don’t lose them. There is absolutely a war on talent in some particular roles within our business, and it really is our duty to make sure that we keep our best people.  And not only keep them, but keep them forward thinking, and keep them future facing. So not only are our development solutions for the ‘in the moment’ and for the skills for the next two years, we create an environment where we push people to think to the future so we have what’s called #futureyou events which are the Go Large events. Where we look at the skills for the future for these guys as well.  Yeah, It’s an absolute no-brainer that we keep our best people.


We don’t necessarily look at the retention figures per se, but we have got one eye on them in terms of whether we are losing people in the business.  But what we do tend to do is check in with the talent coaches and the individuals for that qualitative feedback on how they’re finding the relationships.  And we’re finding that many of the relationships are ongoing with talent coaches suggesting people aren’t dropping off after 12 months because they’re not gaining anything from it.  We do regular kind of PIRs and we find out what else they’re looking for and what else they want. And in terms of that there are some talent metrics that we have.

We have measures around the success of percentages of individuals going into those higher roles.  With regard to C-suite individuals, we have qualitative feedback in terms of what we’re providing for them, is it doing what they need it to do, is it developing their skills. We get that from the talent coach, we get that from the line manager, the board director, for example.  We have action learning groups as well which pretty much about 80% of these individuals are in and are delivered by talent and leadership development. We have a window into their world every eight weeks how they’re getting on, what’s working for them, what are their biggest challenges.  And then we come together as a group of nine of us and get feedback. So we’ve got a number of different ways of getting pulse checks from our solutions as well as those kind of more hard measures around who’s going into roles when expected, is that succession and talent pipeline working as we’d expect it to be, which we do at talent reviews on a quarterly basis


I personally really like the message. It’s a really fresh way of approaching behavioural development.  And I think the initial conversations are really around supporting our gurus being much more confident and having much more presence.  Our gurus are our technical specialists that often have really great technical knowledge in their areas and work at a reasonably senior level, but their behaviour soft skills may need developing. So with The Method approach you can really envisage what do you want to come across like and then what does that look like from a physical perspective and how would that be perceived from those around you and then have a go at it so you feel this relief, you feel what it feels like to be that person, to be that successful then you can go away and continue to practise those.  

So the message was really simple but the impact is really, really strong and really powerful.  

When I was looking at solutions that are out there, I was really looking for something a little bit different because I personally didn’t believe that sitting in the classroom for eight hours learning theoretically was actually going to deliver the value that it needed.  You actually need to get up and have a go.  

So, you’ve got a great portfolio of products and I love the fact that you can build your own programme.  We don’t have a one size fits all and actually, we don’t know what’s going to come through every year because we get yearly themes.  So being able to say, “Actually, do you know what, this year we want to put personal brand in because it’s coming up as a theme for whatever reason.”  Being able to have that flexibility to build that in and knowing that participants are going to get a good, solid, high quality experience where they’re on their feet and they’re putting themselves out of their comfort zone and they’re seeing results before they leave is really important.


Our participants have really enjoyed them and they’ve tried them out. They’ve done what they’ve learned and I personally have learned some stuff and I went and tried it as well.  Because it is so simple, you can remember it very easily. And because you’ve had a go, it’s there, it’s in your muscle memory, so you do use it. So yes, our people have been using it, they thought it was great, because it just works.

Alison works with businesses and individuals to help unlock the potential of self and others, using progressive person-centric approaches and her own unique rapid action coaching model she helps people and organizations get un-stuck! You can also find Ali on Facebook and Instagram under @losethegrey.