transforming EX through technology: Coles Group's strategic journey

In 2018, Coles Group stood at a pivotal juncture. With technological sophistication a driving force in retail, Coles Group People & Culture (P&C) needed to transform. With the clarity of purpose—to help Australians eat and live better every day—and a vision to be the nation's
most trusted retailer, P&C embarked on an ambitious journey to revolutionise their HR landscape.

Tammy Ryder, General Manager of People & Culture at Coles Group, spoke with David Owens, Managing Director of HR Partners at the HR Now virtual event to dissect the company’s HR transformation. Tammy’s story offers a strategic blueprint for leaders aiming
to steer through the digital transformation of their HR function.

The need for a radical shift

Managing a vast workforce of 120,000 (representing one per cent of Australia’s workforce) during uncertain times prompted Coles to undertake a thorough HR review. With 20,000 line managers supported by a P&C team of over 300 using more than 200 paper-based forms, a 15-year-old core system and 40 disparate, disjointed systems, it caused data integrity issues and an inconsistent, unfulfilling employee experience. This led to an undeniable conclusion: a robust, technologically savvy, and streamlined approach to P&C was not merely ideal but imperative. For Coles, it wasn't just about keeping pace with change but about leading it, especially when 17 million customers per week count on you.

Strategic response

The objective for P&C was clear: modernise HR through technology and align it with the business strategy to elevate the workplace experience. The solution came through an extensive RFP process, adopting SAP's cloud-based SuccessFactors, which Coles Group branded internally as "myhub." This pivotal step enabled HR Business Partners to focus on strategic partnership rather than getting lost in
cumbersome administrative work.

Implementation and the 'big bang' strategy

Coles Group's strategic implementation peaked with the launch of SuccessFactors modules in September 2020 bringing the new P&C shared services model to life. The 'Big Bang' approach—rolling out all modules simultaneously—countered the risks of protracted rollouts.
This approach proved to be a success, leading to a seamless transition to a new operational reality.
Each module had gone through three iterations using a three-phased approach—design,build and test—before being deployed in the ‘Big Bang’ approach with a one day ‘Go Live.’ What followed next was an extended period of iteration and optimisation, which continues still today.


Overcoming obstacles through innovation and adaptation

While transitioning to the new system, P&C encountered practical challenges. Initial process and workflow designs, while promising on paper, encountered real-world hurdles. Addressing them with agility, P&C launched a hypercare phase to tackle immediate issues, followed by a stabilisation phase to smooth out processes. The iterative process of monthly system enhancements and internal workflow adjustments underscored Coles' commitment to a continuous improvement mindset. A key strategy was involving employees from all levels early on, creating a network of change champions. This inclusive tactic not only fostered ownership among staff but also
streamlined operations and improved decision-making through better data utilisation.


Navigating workforce dynamics in a pandemic

Coles Group's workforce strategy had to pivot during the COVID-19 pandemic, with lockdowns leading to unprecedented escalating turnover and the need for escalated recruitment drives. Detailed data analysis of the high turnover rates revealed over-hiring and under-allocation of hours. Following the Covid years, Coles embarked on a 'desired hours' program, which significantly reduced hiring needs and improved both employee engagement and turnover rates. It was due to access to robust data which enabled P&C to make informed, evidence-based decisions, and showcased the effectiveness of their new HR operating model and data-driven management which enhanced HR practices.

Cultivating a culture of continuous improvement

Acknowledging early implementation challenges, especially with the recruitment module of SuccessFactors, P&C sought to simplify, refine, and unify their HR processes. Conducting a post-implementation review (PIR) P&C sought insights from global peers, leading to the selection of a new platform, which enhanced their recruitment with advanced automation, AI, and optimisation capabilities.
From the outset, P&C established clear design principles to guide their HRIS implementation. One principle was aiming for simplicity and consistency in the user experience, resisting the temptation to customise the system for each part of the organisation. P&C also aimed for an intuitive, user-friendly system that required minimal instruction, likening the desired simplicity to the intuitive nature of an iPhone.

Empowering digital transformation

Coles’ P&C digital transformation essentially spanned multiple strategic phases. In FY19-21, the focus was on laying down foundational systems, centralising processes, and aligning the operating model with the implementation of ‘myhub’ and SuccessFactors. The goal of the 'Brilliant Basics' phase in FY22 was to optimise the fundamentals, enhancing the self-service experience, releasing efficiency gains, and setting the stage for intelligent P&C operations.

FY23 to mid-FY24—dubbed the 'Continuous Growth' phase—fostered a culture of digital innovation and organisational productivity through smart automation and data-driver insights. The introduction of bots, assists in processing high volumes of pre-hire and visa compliance checks, represents P&C’s digital workforce and highlights the functional integration of AI into their operations. Other built-in automations are saving thousands of hours and significantly reducing paper use, in line with Coles Group’s commitment to sustainability.

Looking ahead

From late FY24 to FY26, P&C will embark on the 'Differentiating Practice' phase, with a vision to digitally empower team members with seamless and enriching P&C ‘WOW’ experiences anytime and anywhere. Coles Group P&C is gearing up for a significant year in 2024 with the renegotiation of its Employment Agreements impacting over 100,000 employees (one of the largest EAs of its kind in Australia) and rolling out customer automated fulfillment centres. The ongoing digital transformation excites Coles’ P&C, as it shifts focus from highly repetitive, manual tasks to more strategic, value-adding business partnering. Looking to the future, the focus will be enabling predictive insights and leveraging intelligent automation for continued enhancement of the workplace experience.

A note from David Owens
“Coles Group's journey exemplifies the power of technology in reshaping HR. They have transitioned from outdated practices to a state-of-the-art, data-driven HR infrastructure that sets a benchmark for employee experience, showcasing the transformative impact of a
well-executed digital strategy in HR.”
“I want to extend my thanks and gratitude to Tammy and the Coles’ People and Culture team for sharing such a fantastic case-study with our HR Now attendees, and the rest of our HR Partners clients and connections.”

HR Partners’ virtual event series: HR Now brings together the HR community and Australia’s leading industry experts to cover the most contemporary HR topics. Its aim is to elevate the HR community. For more information, visit:

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