Education case study: The East of England Co-operative

Initiatives range from moves to drive a culture change on training to an animated talking peach, voiced by staff, which explains new fresh food regulations

Stephen Flurrie is head of learning and development at East of England Co-operative, which has 275,000 members and around 130 stores. It also provides 50 community post offices, 50 funeral branches and several petrol stations as well as owning over 700 properties.

Stephen’s four-strong team looks after the needs of around 4,500 staff in key towns such as Ipswich, Norwich and Cambridge, as well as many working in more rural locations in Norfolk, Suffolk, Essex and Cambridgeshire. In 2017, it was named Team of the Year at the prestigious Training Journal awards.

In recent years there has been a real shift in training at the society, with a focus on e-learning via a custom-built online platform which staff can log into at any time.

“Our task is to step outside the classroom and facilitate learning,” he says. “No-one says ‘I will book myself on a course in July’. Our internal learning and development teams are finding ways to support that cultural change.”

East of England use some e-learning courses from UpSkill People (an e-learning software provider), but have also created many in-house tailored courses. These range from 20 minute modules to micro-learning sessions which offer instant learning at a point of need, whether that’s personal skills, basic communications skills or business needs.

The relationship between the learning and development team and the East of England’s different businesses has also changed, says Mr Flurrie. “From being order takers who answer a particular need and go away and deliver it, we have become more of a consultant team. We will sit down with businesses and look into what they are trying to achieve, and what the actual learning need is.”

He gives the example of the food business, which wanted to do a push on fresh produce.

“Rather than just going away and building a course, we asked what the key performance drivers were and how they wanted to increase revenue. What that allowed us to do was find new ways to deliver training.

“We developed a piece of e-learning done in-house which reached 3,500 people within a month. It was an animated talking peach, voiced by staff members, all about the new rules and regulations around fresh food. It was also about the look and feel of fresh produce and about getting colleagues in the store to implement changes and higher standards. It helped raise revenue by 5%.”

The society also recently changed its ruling on energy drinks and banned their sale to under 16s. They needed a way to get that message to colleagues – and so developed an e-learning module which could be accessed on mobile phones by just scanning a QR code on a poster in the staff room. The resulting output was relevant (discussing a new policy change), credible (staff could hear directly from one of the branch managers) and timely (it was developed and launched in just a few days from consultation).

What East of England is doing, says Mr Flurrie, is developing resources rather than courses – things which are mostly are done in-house and can be accessed online.

“The focus on technology is also increasing the quality of what is going on in manager capability. This year our know-how leadership programme rolled out to branch managers won a silver award from the Training Journal.”

East of England was one of the first societies to have laptops in stores that could be used by staff, but five years on most now access the e-learning from their own devices. More traditional courses are still delivered at the society’s impressive HQ in Wherstead Park, but the classroom training also uses the latest in high impact technology.

“It’s about getting learning to people at the point of need,” says Mr Flurrie. “This allows us to reach people and bring classrooms into the branches. At the start, the only thing colleagues were seeing was compliance training on fire and health and safety. Now it’s more about personal development – people can develop their capabilities on mobiles or tablets during a lunch or tea break.

“When we first rolled out e-learning we had an approval rating of 46%, and we were still measuring things like learning hours and how many people had attended a course.

“Now approval is up to 85%. People have adapted to new ways of learning new skills. We will continue to innovate and put learning where people are.”

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