Fairness For All, workplace happiness and an inside look at the John Lewis Partnership – Interview with Lord Mark Price

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Today’s interview is with Lord Mark Price, who is the former Managing Director of Waitrose and Deputy Chairman of The John Lewis Partnership. Mark joins me today to talk about his book: Fairness For All (the first book to explore the unique and much admired model of the John Lewis Partnership), the pursuit of workplace happiness, what companies getting right, what are they getting wrong and what they should be doing differently.

This interview follows on from my recent interview – Getting live chat right is much more than a software sale – Interview with Jamie Edwards of Kayako – and is number 249 in the series of interviews with authors and business leaders that are doing great things, providing valuable insights, helping businesses innovate and delivering great service and experience to both their customers and their employees.

Highlights from my conversation with Mark:

  • Mark’s father owned a retail store, after that went into wholesaling for small retailers and, from as young as he can remember, Mark was at work with his Dad delivery goods and meeting people.
  • Mark’s father was also a preacher and would preach on a Sunday. He taught Mark some very important lessons that have stayed with him his whole life.
  • They are:
    • Everyone is equal (in the eyes of God). No-one is better than anyone else.
    • We all have different skills and abilities.
    • People have a point of view based on the experiences that they have. They are neither right nor wrong. They are just different from your own.
    • Business is all about the long-term and not the short-term; and
    • There is no profit in prejudice.
  • After an impressive career (see his bio below), Mark now divides his time between The House of Lords, writing children and business books and developing a digital capability called Engage.works that is focused on helping promote workplace happiness.
  • Recently, Mark wrote a new book called Fairness for All: Unlocking the Power of Employee Engagement. The unique thing abut this book is that it is the first book to explore the unique and much admired model of the John Lewis Partnership.
  • Workplace Fables, another of Mark’s books, is a collection of lessons that he learned over his 34 years working for the John Lewis Partnership.
  • However, the genesis for Fairness For All came about after Mark visited the Occupy movement’s camp at St Pauls, London, a number of times over the winter months of 2011, where he met a whole host of different people that expressed a range of concerns about how the system wasn’t working for everyone.
  • Fairness For All explains how (John) Spedan Lewis, under similar circumstances in the 1920s, came to the conclusion that there needed to be a different model of capitalism and one that was fairer for all.
  • He decided that the John Lewis Partnership, which didn’t include Waitrose at that time, should be put in trust for the benefit of all of the people that worked there.
  • Spedan Lewis’ view of the world: If you put your people first, your people stay longer and are more committed, they’re more loyal and because of that your customers get better service. That, in turn, helps deliver a profitable and sustainable business.
  • What’s remarkable now is that all the academic evidence is saying that he was is right.
  • The book captures the 6 things that the John Lewis Partnership does to promote workplace happiness:
    1. Reward & recognition – Being fairly paid is a huge concern for everyone, and if you are not paying a fair salary no amount of recognition for a job well done will be enough to make your employees forget they are not being paid enough. Your pay scale has to meet expectations.
    2. Information Sharing – Everybody in your organisation needs to have a realistic and well-sourced view of where they work. Not sharing information makes employees feel an unimportant part of the business. Engagement and commitment can be eroded by this. The closed-door approach doesn’t just have a negative impact on engagement, it can directly impact on decision-making and therefore profitability and success.
    3. Empowerment – Nobody is perfect but a team can be. The aim of any business must surely be to make their employees feel empowered and this means making them a key part of the decision-making process, listening to their ideas and integrating their suggestions to build and refine into your strategy. Our experiences inevitably bring us all to different solutions and ways of achieving them, but only by listening to all views can the best outcome be reached.
    4. Well-being – There is a growing body of evidence to support the idea that well-being is an essential aspect of employee engagement. It leads to improved production, lower rates of absence and stress, and higher levels of motivation. In other words, employee health and well-being has become a hard economic factor.
    5. Instilling Pride – Have you ever heard any of your employees respond to ‘where do you work’? Employees who love what they do and feel proud of where they work will speak openly and positively about it to colleagues, potential employees, customers and people in their community. Instilling such pride is not just about stirring speeches, sharing growth figures, or saying a few well-placed thank yous. It centres on having a purpose and helping everyone see that what they do each day is worthwhile. A big part of that is to do with how your business interacts with the wider world. People want to work for an organisation that cares about how it impacts on society.
    6. Job Satisfaction – We have nothing of greater value than our people. High levels of employee engagement is the key to unlock organisational success. Happy employees equal a solid, successful and long-lasting business. But what makes people tick on a personal level? In other words, what makes workers happy and satisfied at work? More importantly, what can we, as business leaders, do about it?
  • People leave managers, not jobs – 83% of people that leave a job say that they leave a job because of their manager.
  • Middle management doesn’t get the training and development attention that it deserves and this is at the heart of many of the problems.
  • But, it is middle management that tends also to get hollowed out or cut as organisations reorganise or restructure.
  • Did you know that Spedan Lewis had it written into the John Lewis Partnership’s constitution that the business was not allowed to do any marketing as they believed if they served their customers well enough then their customers would talk about them and word would spread.
  • That stood them in good stead from the 1920s til the 1990s when they came to the conclusion, aided by Mark becoming the Partnership’s first Marketing Director, that they needed to change the constitution as they were being ‘drowned’ out by their competitors.
  • The other parts of the constitution of the John Lewis Partnership has stayed relatively constant since the 1920s. You can find out more about it here and more about the history of Spedan Lewis and the beginning and development of the Partnership here.
  • As a business grows there is always pressure to centralise and leverage economies of scale and efficiency. Mark fought this instinct to centralise throughout his time at Waitrose and the John Lewis Partneship as he was a great believer that an hugely important element of the Partnership’s model was decentralisation and empowerment of their people. This meant that Mark refused to have a central call centre for Waitrose so that if ever a customer had a problem with a product that they had bought then they would call and get routed to the store that they bought it from. It was Mark’s belief that that store should be accountable to that customer for the product that they had sold to them.
  • There are rules and there are frameworks but you should allow people to break the rule for the sake of common sense and for the sake of keeping a customer or doing something more efficiently.
  • Mark gets frustrated when companies quibble about how much ‘empowerment’ or discretion they give their employees when it comes to solving a customer’s problem. Particularly if they compared how much they are nominally worried about (i.e. a few tens of pounds) when compared to the cost of acquisition of a customer (which can reach into the region of a few hundred pounds if not up to a thousand pounds). That doesn’t make sense.
  • There is a difference between having high standards and discipline and allowing people to operate.
  • If you are not clear where you will allow freedom and where you won’t then you will get yourself in a real muddle.
  • However, to make this work the really best leaders and managers coach their people to understand the true meaning of high standards and discipline. Mark illustrated this with an example of a conversation he had with a store manager and the stacking of shopping baskets by a cashier’s till.
  • It is Mark’s contention that not enough leaders and managers are equipped with these sorts of skills and that is why service levels can be a bit hit and miss.
  • I would rather train nice people than train people to be nice.
  • With the hollowing out of much of middle management, another issue for Mark is whether people that are now in senior management roles have had the coaching training or have been coached themselves such that they fail to see the value of it as an approach.
  • Whilst a customer may not notice the little details in isolation, it is the attention to detail that accumulates into the overall service experience.
  • Mark used to consistently ask managers at Waitrose stores, when they received a compliment from customer about great service, to ask the customers why they said that. He said that nine times out of ten it would be because a complaint was put right.
  • However, trying to design out all of the ripples or faults out of a process lessens the opportunity a brand has to build a really strong relationship with a customer.
  • That’s not to say that you should design things to go wrong. But, when they do go wrong you should use that as the best marketing opportunity you will ever have to win a customer for life.
  • Many organisations are wrestling with their organisational form and whether or not it is fit for purpose. Tesco used to ask ‘If it isn’t good for our customers, employees and shareholders then we won’t do it’ and Mark believes that that should be the test that its applied before any organisational change is undertaken.
  • Mark has always preferred an evolutionary approach to a revolutionary approach.
  • The important thing about evolution is that leadership has to think a long way ahead.
  • However, many senior leaders may not feel that they have the luxury of time to make those changes and have to resort to something more drastic.
  • Everyone wants to feel that they are making a contribution in the time that they are on this earth, in one form or another.
  • If all managers understood this one simple and very human truth and then did something about it then they would get far more out of their workforces.
  • You can’t go far wrong by focusing on making people happy. In of itself it is a noble cause.
  • Mark advocates a 1 day, 3 years, 24 years approach when it comes to career planning. Listen to his explanation (around 47 minutes in to the interview) about why he says 24 years and how that breaks down to 3 years and then every day. Very, very clever!
  • Check out Mark’s book Fairness For All as well as Engaging.works and the free Workplace Happiness survey that he has developed.

About Mark

Mark PriceMark Price lived in Crewe as a child and attended Crewe Grammar School for Boys. He read Archaeology and Ancient History at Lancaster University graduating in 1982. In that year he joined The John Lewis Partnership as a Graduate Trainee and remained with the company for 33 years, eventually retiring in March 2016. Mark was Managing Director of Waitrose for the preceding 9 years, and Deputy Chairman of The John Lewis Partnership for 3 years. From 2010 – 2016 he was the founding Chairman of The Prince’s Countryside Fund for HRH The Prince of Wales. In 2011 Mark was appointed as Chairman of Business in the Community, a position he held for 4 years.

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Alongside his responsibility for running Waitrose Mark joined the CHANNEL 4 TV board in 2010 as a Non Executive Director. In 2013 he was appointed Deputy Chairman. He stepped down from the role in April 2016 when he joined the UK Government, at the invitation of the Rt Hon David Cameron PM, as Minister of State for Trade and Investment. He was made a life peer in February 2016 to become The Lord Price CVO and Baron Price of Sturminster Newton. Mark was reappointed by the Rt Hon Teressa May to her post Brexit Government, with specific responsibility for negotiating the UKs future trade deals.

Mark’s first book ‘The Great British Picnic Guide’ was published in 2008. That began Mark writing for pleasure in his spare time. ‘The Food Lover’s Handbook’ was published in 2016 and records what he learned about food and drink during his 17 years on the Waitrose board. His first children’s book ‘The Foolish King’ was also published in 2016. In 2017 he published his first business books: ‘Fairness for all’ and ‘Workplace Fables’.

Do grab a copy of Mark’s book Fairness For All and don’t forget to check out his other books here. Don’t forget to take a look at Engaging.works and the workplace happiness and career tools that he has developed.

Say Hi to him on Twitter @EngagingWorks and connect with him on LinkedIn here.

Thanks to Wikimedia Commons for the image.

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