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Greggs’ ingredients for diverse career paths

“Doing the right thing by its people has always been a critical component of Greggs’ culture,” says Retail Operations and People Director, Roisin Currie, who joined the £1 billion bakery in 2010 following a 20-year career at Asda. As custodian of the people agenda for the last 10 years, Roisin has delivered transformational programmes  during a period which has seen Greggs’ profits and reputation as an employer, soar.

Here, she tells Nigel Wright about the people initiatives underpinning the business’s success, as well as Greggs’ mission to understand the “secret sauce” of its culture.

Roger Whiteside’s appointment as CEO in 2013 marked a new era of growth at Greggs. The agility and efficiency afforded by centralising its operations during the previous decade were maximised to meet the pace of changing consumer tastes.  Roisin explained that when a business undergoes a significant period of change, regular communication helps reassure employees, as well as acknowledge their  needs within the context of transformation.

An immediate requirement identified during the communication process was for Greggs to offer clearer career development routes, along with relevant skills training. 

Career Pathways was launched to train the competencies people needed to progress into various management roles at Greggs. Roisin highlights how the programme offered people four “ladders” to climb: Aspiring Leaders; Developing Leaders, Influential Leaders and Strategic Leaders – for the first time, Greggs had a clear career plan so employees could see how to progress from their current role all the way into management and beyond.  As the foundation for all training at Greggs, Aspiring Leaders remains Roisin’s favourite as she explains:

“If you’ve got the basic skills and desire to become a manager, then you’ll be considered for the Aspiring Leadership course. A focus of the course, however, is dispelling some of the myths around management. Often, the assumption is that you need to know all sorts of things when you’re a manager, yet many basic leadership skills are about understanding yourself better. Aspiring Leaders helps people understand ‘the authentic you,’ so they can determine their strengths, as well as the skills and behaviours they need to become effective leaders.”

Aspiring Leaders who gain management positions can then apply to join Developing Leaders once they’re ready to manage bigger teams and more complex areas of the organisation. The Influential Leaders ladder then offers prospective senior managers decision-making training and teaches them how to “influence upwards, across and downwards in order to make things happen.” Strategic Leaders – the final stage of Greggs’ Career Pathways developed in collaboration with Northumbria University – is for potential directors to prove they’ve “got what it takes to lead from the top.

Roisin and her team also tailored specific training programmes for employees outside of the functional areas of the business. Future Leaders, for example, is designed for Greggs’ retail teams who demonstrate management potential, while the Brilliant Programme, launched in 2015, is a similar initiative for Managers within Greggs’ shops. In the retail division, Roisin explains, all employees first complete Basic Ingredients and Health and Safety training, after which they can undertake Spread of Knowledge, an additional course that gives them a broader skill set. People who progress to Spread of Knowledge within two years of joining Greggs, she says, are often those who end up on the Future Leaders and the Brilliant Programmes.

Furthermore, Striving for Excellence trains Greggs' supply chain teams how to operate within the new bakery supply chain following the on-going restructure programme .


Roisin emphasised the importance of those undertaking training at Greggs to leverage the invaluable networking opportunities it affords. This is particularly the case during advanced leadership programmes where individuals from across different areas of the business are brought together in small learning groups. “Creating an internal network is really powerful,” she says. “To progress within any business, it’s important to seek help and advice from other people. It’s great for Greggs too, because it helps break down silos – the fewer silos in a business the better.”

Gender diversity has also been a major priority for Greggs during the last decade. A Women’s Career Development Working Party was established in 2012, which regularly engages with employees across the business to identify ways to improve gender equality. Outcomes have included Greggs embracing an informal approach to flexible working, as well as encouraging “women sponsors” who motivate women to apply for internal vacancies. “It’s about giving people a work-life balance and the confidence in their own abilities and achievements,” says Roisin.

Another new initiative being explored is offering adequate ‘back to work’ preparation for women on maternity leave. Roisin explains how fewer women progress to the top of organisations because prolonged absence during maternity leave often persuades them to pursue a different career trajectory or leave the workforce entirely. Greggs’ “maternity returners” initiative includes intervening before women return to work, alleviating any concerns that they may have and ensuring the transition is as easy as possible. A 12-month “reverse mentoring” trial where Roger was mentored by  someone who had recently returned from maternity leave, helped inform the project, said Roisin.

In 2018, Greggs launched its Women’s Career Development Program. This was the culmination of efforts to ensure more women move up through the business. “Greggs must reflect the diversity of its customer base,” Roisin explains. “Gender diversity cannot be solved simply by appointing people into key positions. You need to create development opportunities at all levels of the organisation.”

All those who join the Women’s Career Development Programme usually complete a Career Pathways ladder, then undertake the additional development modules tailored for women. The programme, Roisin notes, was created for women at all levels who demonstrate the potential to achieve more. Women initially worked in small groups to identify their individual and collective development needs. Roisin and her team then worked with them to create the modules based on those perceived requirements. “It was very important they built the foundations of the course themselves, rather than us assuming we knew what they needed,” she said.


Roisin hopes that providing career development opportunities, sponsorship and guidance for maternity returners will help create a pipeline of talented female managers and directors over the next few years. 

In addition to its work on improving gender equality – efforts which led to Roger Whiteside receiving an OBE in January – Greggs also recently launched a search for its “secret sauce.” The business has a strong culture built over many years, says Roisin, but to amplify and nurture it, as well as ensure all 22,000 employees understand the critical roles they play in “keeping the business alive,” defining exactly what the culture signifies is essential.

During 2018, Greggs conducted several listening groups with employees who provided personal insights into the business’s culture. A whole cross-section of Greggs’ colleagues were interviewed, says Roisin, including those that have been with the business over 40 years, as well as people who joined within the last three months. Listening group data were then complemented with responses to an annual employee survey where all 22,000 employees were asked to share their views.

Preliminary results were presented at Greggs’ 2019 annual conference, though data collection and analysis will continue with the overall findings revealed in 2020: “We’ve outlined some basic themes and it’s been great to see so many positive attributes associated with our culture. We’re currently focused on identifying specific issues and areas of improvement – including sending a snap poll to all employees asking them to select specific changes they would like to see.”

If Greggs wishes to continue its successful journey it must “remain adaptable, listen to its customers, recognise trends and respond appropriately,” says Roisin.  Over the next 12 months, she hopes the business becomes more representative of all demographics by offering long-term career opportunities and initiatives that allow everyone to succeed, regardless of their gender. Defining Greggs’ secret sauce and how to communicate it effectively is critical to this process.

She added: “The more people understand the perspectives of others through talking, listening and acknowledging how they feel, the closer we’ll get to achieving true diversity enabling us to make impactful changes.”

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