How does Midcounties maintain its co-op values as it grows?

'The society has stayed true to its roots as it has grown by having strong and consistent values, encompassed by our Blueprint for the Future'

The Midcounties Co-operative was recently voted Leading Co-op of the Year 2018. This award, given to the society for the third time, is presented by Co-operatives UK for co-ops with a turnover above £30m, and is voted for by the UK public.

“This honour reflects the society’s ongoing commitment to its members, colleagues and the communities it serves,” says Mike Pickering, Midcounties’ community and sustainability manager. “The society has strong and consistent core values – known to colleagues as the ‘DOES’ values. DOES stands for Democracy, Openness, Equality and Social Responsibility, and reflects the ICA Co-operative values in an easy-to-remember format.”

These values are introduced to all new colleagues on their first day, as part of the induction process – and have been a vital part of ensuring co-operation stays at the heart of the organisation as it has grown to become the largest independent co-op in the UK.

Midcounties’ roots go back to 1853 when the Swindon Society was founded. By the end of the 19th century, it was neighboured by dozens of other co-op societies, which merged over the years until there were just two – Oxford, Swindon and Gloucester Co-op (OSG) and West Midlands Co-op. These came together to form Midcounties in 2005.

Today, the society has over 667,000 members, 539 sites, and 8,500 colleagues working for a wide range of businesses including Food, Travel, Healthcare, Funeral, Childcare, Post Offices and Energy. It has recently broadened its utility offering following the recent merger with the Phone Co-op. Its gross sales for 2017-18 were £1.48bn.

Related: Co-operatives of the Year 2018

“The society has stayed true to its roots as it has grown by having strong and consistent values, encompassed by our ‘Blueprint for the Future’,” says Mr Pickering. “The Blueprint consolidates our core DOES values and includes an ‘Imagined Future’ to inspire activity and guide everything we do.”

Midcounties’ management ensures that the Blueprint for the Future is reflected in all aspects of business planning, and present back to the board on an annual basis on how all its businesses are doing against co-op values.

Mr Pickering adds that the consistency of language used among colleagues to talk about the values “is key”, as is the reinforcement of these values with the regular reporting of both financial and non-financial measures.

The society has created a ‘steering wheel’ model, to enable consistent monitoring across the key areas of co-operation, people, customers and delivery. “Each section has a number of objectives, monitored on a monthly basis; they are coloured red, amber or green to indicate whether they are below target, nearly on target, on or above target,” says Mr Pickering.

“All our sites have their own steering wheel targets which ensures the society is addressing its co-operative aims as a business on a continuous basis.”

He believes that having the core DOES values, a Blueprint for the Future and its steering wheel in place has helped Midcounties grow significantly while staying true to its roots. As well as the Leading Co-op of the Year award, the society also received recognition in 2018 with a 5 star rating in the Business in the Community Corporate Responsibility Index, while in 2015 it was awarded the Queens Award for Enterprise in Sustainable Development.

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