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Powering Unparalleled Front-Line Leadership Across Sainsbury’s

Challenge: Facing ever changing customer preferences, Sainsbury’s needed to provide their front-line management with the tools to maximize their performance and inspire ownership among their colleagues.

Solution: The architecture of the program created cultural change by combining the SHARP behavioral change model with Sainsbury’s leadership values. The cohorts participating were staggered to maximize momentum and establish the company’s new peak performing cultural.

Impact: Participants witnessed an increase in meaningful and authentic interactions gave people a greater sense of belonging and a greater desire to help customers . The positive environment created by Sainsbury’s leaders provided them with the tools to increase team psychological safety allowing people to think and act locally.

What was needed to inspire leadership at Sainsbury's?


As one of the UK’s largest retailers, Sainsbury’s has always placed customers first. However, after facing an ever-shifting sea of consumer preferences, Sainsbury’s realized that the only way of putting customers first was to put their own people front and centre of their strategy. Sainsbury’s needed to equip front-line leaders to motivate and empower high performance. Seeking new ways to meaningfully engage and develop thousands of their people, working across different localities, Sainsbury’s found Potentialife. Our unique approach could offer a leadership development program that could reach thousands in a personalized way. Sainsbury's aim was for the target population to see themselves as "resilient, agile and inclusive leaders, who develop great people, are cultural role models and provide meaning for their teams".

"Potentialife has created a new language across Sainsbury's. We are all now on the same page when it comes to getting the best out of each other"

Mike Coupe
CEO, Sainsbury's

How have personal work habits changed?


It was quickly apparent that there was significant overlap between the values Sainsbury’s ascribed to great leadership, and Potentialife’s SHARP behavioral model. Over the course of two months, the Potentialife team worked alongside Sainsbury’s L&D team to design and integrate a leadership development program, which later became known as "Inspiring Leadership". The architecture for Sainsbury’s program focused on both retail leaders in the field and Sainsbury's headquarters to create a unified, consistent view of what great leadership was and how it enabled company strategy. A momentous wave of cultural change was essential, which meant closely staggering the cohorts on the program to maximize the energy-levels throughout the organization. Minimization of travel time was also a priority. This meant creating regional cohorts of 100 store managers and functional cohorts of the same number at headquarters. Overall, the program would be rolled out to almost 4,000 colleagues over 3 years.

"My team find me more focused, and my objectives are SHARPer"

Ann Eyre
Direct Service Delivery Manager

How are teams inspired at Sainsbury's?

"The approach is different to anything we've experienced before, providing a catalyst for both personal and organizational change."

Di Blackburn,
Inspiring Leadership Coordinator, Sainsbury's


Improvements were felt across SHARP, specifically around Absorption and Relationships – which are crucial to a customer facing environment. This was bolstered through role-modelling from senior management.

On a individual level  participants experienced a change in how often they engaged in meaningful activities, translating to more energy when engaging in customer facing roles. An increase in time spent in flow (to 44%) translated to increased engagement, productivity and commitment to their work. In flow is defined as the mental state one enters when performing an activity with full involvement and energized focus.

On a team level, participants flourished. 54% of time spent in authentic interactions and 46% of time spent in positive interactions translated to a psychologically safe environment where people aren’t afraid to make their needs known and take ownership by thinking and acting locally.

"I've been doing this job for 30 years but I feel like a brand new store manager all over again. I haven’t been this excited about going to work in a very long time. In fact, I’ve decided to postpone my retirement as a result."

Vince Brimble,
Store Manager