Leadership and motivation: 10 things you can learn from John Lewis

Leadership and motivation

1 May 2014

John Lewis is often held up as a shining example of how companies should treat employees to get the best out of them.

The retailer, which is the UK’s largest employee-owned organisation, is regularly named as one of the best places to work, and has many staff members – or partners as they’re known – who have been with the firm for more than 20 years.

So what does it do that others don’t? The answer appears to be clear and inspiring leadership and motivation in the form of both material rewards and personal and professional growth.

Here are 10 elements from the John Lewis success story that your business may be able to take ideas from.

1. Have a clear strategy

John Lewis’s strategy is based on three simple objectives – partners, customers and profit. Everybody understands what the company’s core values are, and it’s a philosophy that its employees can buy into.

2. Hire inspirational leaders

The company prides itself on its inspirational leaders, including its highly regarded chairman Charlie Mayfield and managing director Andy Street, who talk passionately about their objectives and beliefs. The board of directors also includes a number of women – a rarity in many businesses.

3. Adopt a culture of democracy

John Lewis employees are not only handed a share of the profits, they’re also given a say in how the business is run.

The company holds regular staff council meetings so ideas and grievances can reach board level. There’s also a weekly magazine where staff can air their views about policies and management – anonymously if they wish.

4. Offer employee perks

The partners also receive many staff benefits and perks, ranging from access to holiday homes and sports clubs to discounts on theatre tickets and theme park admission fees. They’re also encouraged to put on plays, concerts and exhibitions. The most popular sports club on offer is the sailing club, which offers employees the chance to sail on the retailer’s yachts. There’s also a wine club and a motorcycle club.

Rachael Abbott, reward manager for benefits, told Employee Benefits:

“This is just one part of our total reward proposition; the reason people want to work for the partnership, and when they join, tend to stay for a long time, is because of their total reward package.”

5. Focus on staff contentment

According to chairman Charlie Mayfield, “what matters most to us at John Lewis is the happiness of our people”. Sadly, this approach is often ignored by many companies, who focus all their attentions on maximising profit rather than making their staff feel valued. John Lewis aims to ensure every position has the potential for fulfilment.

6. Create careers for life

Of course, no company can guarantee a job for life, but John Lewis does try to create ‘careers for life’, ensuring that every employee has the opportunity to play a role in developing the business.

7. Have a relaxed management style

John Lewis employees flourish because they’re not micro-managed. They’re given clear guidelines and trusted to get on with the job rather than being watched like a hawk.

8. Empower staff

Similarly, all employees are encouraged to think for themselves and show enterprise. This gives them a sense of responsibility, and they’re more likely to take pride in their work. They’re also encouraged to work together to solve problems.

9. Encourage personal development

All John Lewis partners are given the opportunity to learn and develop. They can take NVQs in a range of subjects, while trainees are mentored and there are training schemes in place for every member of staff so everyone has something to aim for. Performance reviews are also held every year.

10. Offer extended leave

John Lewis retains talent by offering its staff sabbaticals. Workers with more than 25 years’ service can receive paid leave for six months. This allows them to recharge their batteries and learn new skills.