6 Steps to Achieving a Happy Workforce | A Q&A with Former Waitrose MD Mark Price

13 April 2018

The former Managing Director of Waitrose, Mark Price, spoke to us about how to ensure employee engagement in the workplace, the success of the John Lewis Partnership Business model and the relationship between business and politics.

Can you give us a summary of your career to date?

I thought I was going to be a professional golfer or a marine archaeologist, but actually, I ended up at the John Lewis Partnership, where I spent 33 years of my career. I was Managing Director of Waitrose, the supermarket chain for 9 years and I was also Deputy Chairman of the John Lewis Partnership. I eventually left there to move into Government where I worked both David Cameron and Theresa May. In May’s Government I became the Minister State for Trade Policy. I have since left that position to write, I am a prolific author of business books, children’s books and food books.

What makes the John Lewis Partnership a successful business model?

The supreme purpose of the John Lewis Partnership is the happiness of its employees. There are only two other places I know of where happiness is an objective. The first is the King of Bhutan who wishes happiness on his subjects and the second is the American Constitution. The really clever thing about this idea, which has been backed up by academic research from Harvard, is that if you have really engaged people they work harder, stay longer and as a consequence of this, they’re more loyal, the customers are more loyal, the customers spend more, and the companies are more profitable.

"My father taught me that really good business is about thinking to the long-term."

So, it was a really happy coincidence for me to end up at the John Lewis Partnership as in my childhood my father taught me a few key business lessons which apply to how the Partnership operates. He always said it is important to listen and understand other people’s points of view because they will legitimately be different, so they will help shape your thinking and that everybody is equal, so you have to draw out those skills and abilities. My father taught me that really good business is about thinking to the long-term and so those values that I was brought up with, I was able to translate to the John Lewis Partnership.

How can other businesses replicate this successful model and see similar results?

So, from my years in the John Lewis Partnership, I think there are six steps that are critical to achieving a happy and engaged workforce. They are:

  1. Reward and recognition
  2. Sharing of information
  3. Empowering people
  4. The wellbeing of your workforce
  5. The feeling that they are doing a job that is worthwhile
  6. Their job satisfaction which is felt through respect and career development

What do you think is important about the relationship between business and politics?

The truth is that business and politics are very different. Politicians view their careers differently as they need to achieve direct results to stay in power, whereas in business you think about your shareholder, employees and customers, so the two worlds are fairly incomparable.

From your time in Government, what do you think the EU needs to do in order to prepare for Brexit?

If the UK is going to take proper advantage of leaving the EU, and being globally competitive there are a number of things it is going to have to do. The country is going to have to make sure the government is investing in the areas that make the greatest difference, we need to have a better digital network in order to trade successfully, but also we have to improve productivity. We are the poorest performing of the G7, and by a long measure, we are 18 percentage points behind the average. So, what I want to do with my books ‘Fairness for All’ and ‘Engaging Works’ the website I have built, is to help people understand how they can make their employees more engaged and the commercial benefits that come from this.

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