In the battle to lead a highly competitive market, Sainsbury’s HR team’s bold plan to unite its enormous workforce through a single change programme was never going to be easy – especially without external help and at a time of change even within the function itself.

But it was this gumption, a readiness to continually learn, outstanding teamwork and a grounding in solid change management theory that enabled the aptly titled Winning Team initiative to level up 116,000 colleagues across 1,400 teams.

Knowing a generalist HR function was not going to cut it when it came to such a huge undertaking, it was extended to include specialist change and talent roles. HR and Operations worked closely and transformed the way the two functions collaborated within the business. Communications produced a compelling and clear narrative for those on the ground, while managers were engaged in a robust implementation plan so key messages were delivered with authenticity.

An extensive consultation period meant every employee had a say in the change and ultimately the programme empowered thousands of employees spanning the country to pull together and offer a “consistently effortless and personalised service”. Every employee was brought up to speed with the latest technologies being used in-store and equipped with the skills to work flexibly across multiple areas.

Creating a future-fit culture with “trust at the heart” was a cornerstone of Winning Team, so legacy contracts were scrapped and 94 per cent of employees have benefited from a new market-leading, equitable rate of pay. A recognition scheme invested in by the company has seen millions of pounds worth of awards for outstanding service presented to colleagues, further embedding the behaviour change underpinning the ambitious scheme.

The increase in productivity as a result of the programme has been marked. Three-quarters (75 per cent) of employees now have one new skill while over 50 per cent have three and customer Ease of checkout satisfaction has increased by 4.8 per cent.

Reacting to the initiative, Investors in People feedback stated that a “bold step-change in working practices” had been “exceptionally well executed”, that employees were “genuinely being themselves” and that they were “trusted by the business to do their job.” The judging panel was similarly wowed by what the team achieved, praising a “great demonstration of how to successfully land a huge change programme”.