The Co-operative Group Case Study: Graduate Assessment Exercise Design 

The Co-operative logo RGB[1]

Client Profile

Industry sector: Retail

Number of employees: 100,000+

Location: Nationwide

Challenge

The Co-operative’s previous Assessment Centre exercises had reached the end of their shelf life and as a result of being used consistently for three years running, it was becoming clear that some of the content was in discussion in student networks via networking forums.  They needed fresh exercises to enable the identification of graduates achieving the benchmarks against their leadership framework.  The key challenge was to ensure that these exercises adequately reflected the culture and business of The Co-operative as an ethical, yet commercial organisation to give graduates a realistic job preview.

Following a graduate process performance review undertaken by a&dc, The Co-operative reviewed our suggestions and particularly liked our approach to job analysis, which supported inclusion of competencies and exercise tasks.  This thorough analysis provided an evidence base for the exercise design and inclusion of relevant leadership behaviours.

Solution

To fully understand the culture of the graduate roles within The Co-operative, and to gather evidence to support the development of additional indicators of each of these behaviours, the a&dc project team researched the roles thoroughly.

In order to offer a cost-effective approach and to gather rich data, this information gathering took different forms, prior to analysis.  a&dc’s online job analysis questionnaire allowed data to be gathered from a large number of existing graduates on the programme to understand the types of tasks and activities they engage in.  This was distributed to graduates at different stages of the two-year programme to ensure a thorough coverage of tasks throughout.

In addition, a focus group was carried out with a selection of The Co-operative Managers who line-manage previous and current graduates, during which the tasks and effective/ineffective behaviours of graduates were explored.  Alongside analysis of existing documentation and the leadership behaviour framework, this information allowed the identification of key behaviours, of what success ‘looked like’ and idea generation for the bespoke Assessment Centre exercises.

The Co-operative were keen to create two new exercises to replace their existing Group Debate and Case Study that were designed to give candidates an interesting, yet business relevant experience during the Assessment Centre.  For this reason, a set of two ‘day in the life’ exercises was designed, set in a parallel industry to The Co-operative.  This allowed both exercises to contain the same branding and similarities in background to truly reflect a ‘day in the life’ approach.

It was also important to create a user friendly Assessor Guide that allowed assessors to quickly and appropriately, yet fairly and consistently, identify the effective and ineffective behaviours demonstrated by candidates.   After design, the exercises were fully reviewed by The Co-operative so that they could provide feedback and any additional changes to content, timings, level and relevance.

Outcome

The Co-operative’s new exercises were fully tailored to ensure the measurement of leadership behaviours, relevance to the role and the business, and to enable candidates the opportunity to demonstrate the required behaviours.  By increasing the number of specific behaviours to be measured for each of the leadership behaviours, the exercises now offer greater consistency between assessor ratings, therefore yielding valid results.

One of the key requirements set out during the scoping phase was to adequately reflect the culture of The Co-operative and to demonstrate that, whilst being an ethical business, they remain a commercial organisation.  This objective has been achieved and the project was completed to fit in with The Co-operative’s timescales.

What the client says

“As our graduate programme is all about providing the Group with future leaders, it is vital that our assessment exercises effectively assess candidates to ensure they are of the highest calibre. What made The Co-operative select a&dc as the exercise provider was really their approach to the information gathering stage of the design process. They did thorough research both with our current graduates as well as line managers from across the Group and they ensured they had a really good understanding of the programme which is really important to us.  Since initiating the design of the exercises a&dc have been great to work with. Tracy has kept in regular contact and responded quickly to all design amends; the quality of the exercises is excellent and really reflects our organisation’s values – and all this was delivered well ahead of schedule.” Rachel Rotherham, Graduate Programme Manager, The Co-operative Group