· 3 min read · Features

L&D case study: Sainsbury's


The processes involved in re-applying for Investors in People accreditation flagged up that some of Sainsbury's longstanding people policies would benefit from a rethink.

The challenge

Sainsbury's first secured Investors in People (IiP) accreditation in 2001 and again in 2005. When it came to renew it again, the business wanted to use it as an incentive to streamline its values and working practices. Since its last accreditation, Sainsbury's branches have expanded to small convenience stores as well as its large supermarkets. The business needed to find out what management practices worked and where, and whether individual stores' people policies had filtered outwards effectively. "We wanted to understand the reality of working within the whole organisation," says Sue Round, Sainsbury's head of learning and development. "We wanted the extra dimension from IiP feedback to support initiatives already in place or ones we were about to launch. To be honest," she adds, "the previous IiP award came at a time of change for the business and we just scraped through. One of the reasons for re-applying was to get external feedback on what we had achieved since then."

The programme

Representatives from all areas of the business met with IiP and IiP assessment company Capital Quality Ltd (CQL) to set out the development plan. This involved a confidential paper-based survey for all employees, as well as face-to-face interviews for randomly selected staff and all senior managers, and focus groups for colleagues representing all areas of the business. Besides gathering information about success and establishing how Sainsbury's could strengthen existing collaborative working practices and implement new ones, it also asked about areas that needed improvement. It flagged up that the induction programme needed some adjustment and that performance management across the business needed modification.

The results

"Part of me held my breath when we sent the survey out," admits Round. "We run our own internal survey but this was seen as totally objective." Fortunately, the results were positive. CQL found that Sainsbury's has achieved a 10% upturn in employee engagement in the past three years, and is managing absenteeism and training better. "IiP helped us to focus activity on areas that needed it," says Round. "Sainsbury's is the only major supermarket chain with IiP accreditation - and the pride we have in that runs through the whole organisation. The measures of success are mainly anecdotal but they focus on the fact that colleagues feel more valued and know more about the company they work for."


- Sue Round is head of learning and development.

She admits the company debated re-applying for IiP because the process is very time-consuming. But the board decided that the qualification was still relevant and amendments had made it more strategic and business-focused. "It is well respected in retail and we knew it had credibility with colleagues," she says. "It has also proved to be a useful recruitment tool. Those who work in stores particularly value working for an organisation that has IiP." Round admits to being concerned initially that the whole process might be too bureaucratic but was pleasantly surprised. "It is not an easy qualification to get but the process is made as simple as possible and CQL proved invaluable. The process flagged up some interesting points," she says. "We have improved our induction process as a result and we also found that communication over career progression needed to be sharpened, as colleagues on the lower rungs weren't always aware of the opportunities available. We had a lot of positive feedback."


- Marie Boucher is an HR business associate for finance, property and corporate services.

She was in one of the focus groups for HR colleagues. There were five others in her group, all from different parts of the business, including retail training and pensions, as well as the store support centre. "We looked in detail at processes and initiatives already in place, as well as our own goals, values and leadership behaviour," she explains. "We examined our people policies, asking: Do colleagues know these? Are they robust, fair and consistent? Are training and development opportunities available to everybody? What are our support networks? Does everyone know who to go to when they have a problem?." On the whole, the answers were pretty positive, she says. "The most positive aspect for me," she says, "was it reinforced the fact that we have consistency throughout the business. We found out we all have 'huddles' every day and that everyone gets the same information on sales, customer feedback and availability measures."