Case study: Costa


Costa asked if we could support the implementation of a new people deployment system.

We worked with the project team to create a simple narrative framework they are now using to engage colleagues in the change programme.

We have also advised the project team on how best to approach the behavioural change challenges they may face and the likely impact on management practices, culture and employee engagement.

The challenge

Costa’s fantastic success in recent years is well known, indeed the company has grown so rapidly that some of its systems have struggled to keep pace with the growth of the business. So in line with other Whitbread companies, Costa is now making a major investment in a new digital solution to help managers ensure they have the right people, in the right place at the right time.

In itself, the new system will offer a significantly improved day-to-day experience for team members and should have a direct impact on their engagement with the company. However, senior leaders were also keen to ensure that the new approach facilitated a change in managers’ behaviour by enabling them to spend more of their time on coaching and developing colleagues and further improving customer service.

It was clear to everyone that realising the value of the investment was dependent on how well it was received and used by colleagues.

Our insight

We felt we could make two contributions to the project:

  1. Helping the project team to create a simple story about the programme to share with their colleagues. This narrative framework will ensure that everyone within Costa gets a clear and consistent message about what’s happening and why. Critically, taking a narrative approach allows the project team to connect with colleagues on the really important emotional benefits of the new approach, rather than talking about functional improvements and IT jargon.
  2. Advising the team on how best to approach the behaviour change challenges entailed in the programme and in particular how they could utilise our model for group behaviour change within their existing project plans.

Our approach

We started by facilitating a half-day workshop with the project team to co-create their story around our project story framework. This approach allowed the project team to align around a series of key questions like: why are we doing this and what will success look like? We also ensured that the conversation and the emerging story balanced a clear and concise ‘rational’ message with opportunities to connect with the key ‘emotional’ drivers behind the project.

Following the workshop, we tidied up the drafting, before a final version of the story was shared and signed off by the project sponsors.

We then ran two further workshops with the project team. The first of these looked at how they could use the story as a framework for communications throughout the lifespan of the programme. We shared some of the key principles to successful corporate storytelling and how stories could be used to promote the cultural changes they wanted to see.

Our final workshop introduced the project team to some of the key principles and practices of behaviour change. We talked about the science of decision making and practical ways of influencing how your message is received. We also looked at people’s natural biases, the theory of habit formation and The Pioneers model for group behaviour change and discussed how this could be incorporated into their plans. Finally we offered some advice about the likely and perhaps unforeseen consequences of the new system, potential risks and ways in which these could be mitigated.

What they said about us

Jackie Power, Dayforce Project Manager: “The Pioneers brought a fresh perspective to our project and challenged our thinking to get a large complex project described in a way that is easy to understand and works across all levels in our business. We all refer back to the story on a regular basis when designing communications.”

Priya Farish, HR Director UK Retail at Costa Coffee: “The Pioneers helped our project team to strip back the complexities of the project and find the simple core story we could tell people about why we were doing what we were doing. This really helped the team come together in the early stages and understand the massive journey we were about to take people on. It became the glue that held the project together as it progressed.”