A few weeks back, triggered by some pretty incredible sales results that were posted after the festive period, we blogged about the John Lewis Partnership model – here’s a retailer that seems to buck the recession trend for fun.

Since then, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg has announced that he wants to see more of these partnership-style businesses throughout the UK, and while we don’t advocate that every leader should sell shares in their business to staff and make them all partners, we do believe there are clear ways that those at the top can replicate the ethos behind the partnership model.

I could go into any John Lewis store in the UK confident in the knowledge of the level of service I’m going to get. Whichever department I’m in someone will approach me and see if I need some help. If I do and I ask questions it feels like they own that part of the store – it’s a fab model and of course some of that stems from the fact that they do own part of the store.

Here are THREE of the ways that leaders can begin to replicate the John Lewis ethos, and reap the rewards

Ownership – Ownership and responsibility are key wins for organisations like John Lewis. Giving individuals the opportunity to take responsibility for their time, department, sales or customer service dialogue, might give them the room they need to flourish and go perform at a level never seen before. Offers lots of autonomy to be creative, as well as flexibility in finding the ideal working conditions for THEM. Interestingly, ownership is not as simple as just telling someone ‘it’s down to you’, but more about our behaviour. In particular, it’s about our communicating behaviour. Many people who attend our programmes are shocked to discover that their particular behaviours are often actively working against their intentions, ie giving ownership to individuals.

Employee satisfaction – As I mentioned before, it really doesn’t matter which John Lewis store you go in, you can be pretty sure that you will be greeted by staff who are proud to serve you – and again, leaders don’t need to sell sections of their business to achieve this level of engagement. Ask questions of everybody you interact with (and, perhaps more importantly, find opportunities to ask questions of those employees whom you don’t ordinarily interact with) what makes the people in your team tick and what could be done to boost employee satisfaction? Ask them what YOU can do to support them.  Engage with individuals, ask lots of different and varied questions and then, listen to what they say.

Undercover work – Ask yourself these questions: What do I really know about working on the front line, customer facing part of my business?  How can I learn more about what my employees experience? I love the concept of the Undercover Boss series – go to the front line of your business and do their job – do it quietly, not for just an hour, not under a huge fanfare but to get a taste of what is really happening on the front line. If, as a leader, you’re too well-known get someone else in to do it. More often than not, what you’re hearing at the top isn’t actually going on at the coalface. You could be looking to fix something that isn’t actually real. One of the opportunities which often gets missed when consultants come in is to run an audit of what is real for your business right now. Before any intervention (bearing in mind the huge financial and time investment) undertake a thorough and comprehensive audit of what is actually happening, not just in terms of profit and attrition, but a thorough and honest sense check of the reality – honest feedback is always key which requires an investment by the leadership to communicate the purpose of the audit.

Emma Littmoden

The Living Leader – Management Leadership Training

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