Blogs

Jo Geraghty

Director

Organisational culture in action – John Lewis

Date added: 15th Oct 2014
Category: Organisational Culture Change

Whilst no two businesses are identical, there are some ingredients which are common to all strong organisational cultures and just as success breeds success, learning from those who have mastered the secret of organisational culture can help others to set off on the road to transformation.

If it is true that we learn from our mistakes then business in general must have learnt an awful lot over the last few years.  Organisations which are so lacking in innovation that they are swept away in a tide of technological change; businesses which are so bound up in short term profiteering that they invest in toxic assets; companies which care so little for their customers that they happily mis-sell product after product: we’ve seen so many examples that it can be all too easy to be overwhelmed by a morass of poor culture.

Admittedly organisational culture failings are instructive but so too are cultural success stories.  Whilst no two businesses are identical, there are some ingredients which are common to all strong organisational cultures and just as success breeds success, learning from those who have mastered the secret of organisational culture can help others to set off on the road to transformation.

In this article we are highlighting one of the leading UK success stories, the John Lewis Partnership, but for future articles we are keen to share stories from across the business spectrum.  So our challenge goes out to CEOs and other organisational leaders to share with us your success stories so that others can learn.  Get in touch with Jo or Derek if you’d like your organisation featured in a future article.

What is a strong culture?  More importantly, how do organisational leaders ensure that the values and attitudes which they map out are translated across the board into engaged employees, happy customers and satisfied investors.  Take a look at the John Lewis website and the elements of a successful culture spring out starting with its principle aim:

The Partnership’s ultimate purpose is the happiness of all its members, through their worthwhile and satisfying employment in a successful business.” 

 Admittedly, the John Lewis model is somewhat different from many.  Its employees are its partners and it has therefore never had to contend with the accusation that employees are expenses of the business to be used and discarded.  This, of itself, makes for a different business model but it is one which then develops through seven basic tenets which are as relevant today as when they were set out in the original constitution.  Aside from day to day operating, profitability and employee inclusion beliefs they include:

  • Dealing honestly with customers
  • Conducting business relationships with integrity
  • Contributing to the wellbeing of local communities

Living these beliefs and behaviours every day has resulted in happy and loyal employees and happy customers.  In fact, 84% of John Lewis retail partners recommend John Lewis as a great place to work and 86% of customers feel valued when they shop with John Lewis outlets.  Key to the success is the way in which employees are engaged in the aims and success of the organisation.  Of course it does help that employees are partners in the business and indeed a Cass survey in 2012 revealed that “employee-owned businesses had a higher rate of sales growth and job creation during the recession than companies in conventional ownership.”

It’s easy to dismiss the John Lewis culture as being unique to itself, a product of its founding constitution. But the principles at the heart of the organisation, those of trust, fairness, engagement and inclusion are ones which other organisations could equally follow.  In particular, the engagement mode which seeks to create worthwhile and satisfying employment is one which any other business could aspire to, thereby reaping some of the benefits of having a workforce which takes pride in serving customers and the community to the best of their ability.

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