Best embodiment of corporate purpose
A Journey to Happier
How John Lewis Partnership embodied their new purpose
When John Lewis Partnership looked to refresh its 125-year-old purpose, it recognised that this needed to remain true to the founding vision, when John Spedan Lewis, son of the company’s founder, who adopted the partnership structure in 1929, and said its ‘supreme purpose’ was simply ‘the happiness of its members’.
But it also had to be memorable, actionable, distinctive, and more relevant to the modern world. Consulting with more than 11,500 partners, customers and other stakeholders, the refreshed purpose was defined as Working in partnership for a happier world. ‘Happier’ because John Lewis is always on a journey, and ‘partnership’ because it is a collective. The purpose has now been enshrined in John Lewis Partnership’s constitution.
Drafting a statement is one thing. Ensuring that it is lived is another. This led creating opportunities for partners to think about how, through their actions, they could bring the purpose to life every day and create a happier world.
Such discussions prompted partners to consider how they can influence their own happiness within the partnership, which in turn leads to happier customers. It reiterated the belief that the John Lewis Partnership is about more than purely financial gain, but about generating sufficient profit to make a difference to the lives of all its 78,000 partners, suppliers, customers, and communities in which it operates, as well doing good.
As chairman Sharon White explains: ‘Purpose isn’t a fluffy side-line to our business strategy. It is our business strategy.’
Brand purpose agency Given worked with the partners to develop three principles that underpin the purpose: happier people, happier business and a happier world. ‘Happier Hows’, embracing connections, voice, passion, kindness and trust, clarified what this meant in practice and also how to bring it to life.
Connections translates into creating opportunities for partners to connect with each other in a more meaningful way, developing new ways to bring partners, customers and communities together and forming deeper connections with customers.
Voice involves creating the conditions for a thriving and impactful democracy. It means drawing on customer feedback and suggestions to develop new products, ideas and services to go beyond what was acceptable before. It means supporting employees of John Lewis Partnership’s suppliers to voice opinions, ideas and concerns.
Passion is about creating products that customers will be proud to own, that have meaningful stories. It is about campaigning about issues and causes that partners care for. It is about helping partners find their passion and, if possible, to turn that passion into commercial opportunities.
Kindness is what it says on the tin: it is about shaping a fairer society through employment opportunities, forming mutually beneficial partnerships with suppliers that improve working conditions and create better jobs and about encouraging partners to be kind to each other.
Trust relates to delivering on the promises made to customers, suppliers and communities. It is also about being transparent, open and honest about the environmental and social impacts of the business and being principled in decision making.
In the end, though, corporate purpose must come from the top. Every leader was engaged with the relevancy and potency of the refreshed corporate purpose, and every member of the executive has made a purpose pledge. White has promised to ensure the purpose influences every decision taken as a partnership.
All board and executive papers now carry the question: how does this decision advance our purpose? This ensures that the refreshed purpose is increasingly used as a framework against which decisions are taken.
More than 2,000 leaders and managers were also invited to events to give them advice on how to cascade the refreshed purpose throughout their teams, and to ensure that it is embedded into their colleagues’ working lives. Each session was built around a toolkit, while each attendee received a ‘Finding Happier’ workbook, containing exercises to support them in their efforts to embed purpose. The exercises comprised a mix of in-person and online, and were of varying lengths and formats.
In total, 1,500 partners attended five lead unit events, while 160 of JLP’s most senior partners participated in a full-day leadership occasion, with a network comprising the entire workforce.
An internal campaign also inspired, engaged and motivated partners to connect with the refreshed purpose, while colleagues also created happiness academies, made happiness pledges and created happiness walls, sharing positive stories. And all 78,000 partners met with their people manager to discuss the purpose, what it meant for them and their role in bringing it to life.
The judges described the campaign as ‘a real demonstration of the development, harnessing and embedding purpose through an extraordinarily large organisation’, adding: ‘A through-the-company approach will no doubt leave a positive lasting legacy for all stakeholders.’