When the Edinburgh Chamber of Commerce put on one of their Premier Business Dinners with Andy Street, Managing Director of John Lewis as the keynote speaker, I was going.
John Lewis is a brand I very much admire. And it’s not just me. John Lewis has remained one of the UK’s most cherished brands, even through the huge changes that have occurred in retail over the last couple of decades.
I went to the dinner with high expectations and I was not disappointed. Andy was entertaining, informative and inspirational.
During the evening I engineered myself into a seat next to one of the other John Lewis attendees at the event. He very kindly answered my barrage of questions and put me in contact with Barry Blamire, the Head of Branch of John Lewis Edinburgh. In turn, Barry very kindly agreed to be interviewed by me.
The John Lewis interview
Armed with a few dozen questions, I made my way to the Customer Services department at the St James Square store.
I was very keen to find out about how they indoctrinated new staff into the culture of John Lewis. I asked how the brand was articulated? Did they have a staff handbook or brand guidelines? I was expecting a three inch tome to be dropped on the table. I didn’t expect the answer I received. They don’t have any sort of brand induction. The brand is so deeply rooted in the culture of the business, new staff, or partners as they call them, are immersed in the culture on the shop floor from day one.
Barry stressed how important recruitment of new partners was. Getting the recruitment right. And recruiting people with the right values was paramount. If they got that right, then getting them to ‘buy into’ the culture was easy.
The power of partnership
Another benefit of the right recruitment and the right culture is staff retention. The partnership culture creates a bond between people. By providing a working environment that is based on the importance of individuals, you have a work force that a) want to do the best for the business (after all, if the business does well, they do well), and b) want to stay.
Barry has been with the company for fourteen years and Andy Street had been with John Lewis for over 35 years. Paula Nickolds, the incoming and first female Managing Director, has been with the company for 20 years. Andy has decided to leave the company run for mayor of the West Midlands.
To hear someone talk about their primary purpose being to create happiness for the people working within the company makes a refreshing change. Most retail businesses mantra is the customer is king. At John Lewis they understand that if their employees are happy, they will make the customers happy.
We talked at length about the relationship between the management and the partners. How important is was to keep them informed and, equally, how important it was to listen to them. They have Partner Voice meetings four times a year, were the agenda is set by the partners.
This posed another question. Why don’t more businesses work this way?
Our conversation also included how they review their branding roughly every 10-12 years, how they review their brand messages every 4-5 years, how they have recently introduced paid-for advertising and printed catalogues (while many other retailers are doing away with them). We also talked about their huge success moving online (the UK’s fourth largest online retailer with £1.5bn revenue – Source: RetailWeek) and, of course, the John Lewis Christmas ads.