One of the highlights of Management Today’s coverage of its #MTLive event recently was hearing from Andy Street, CEO of UK retailer John Lewis Partnership. Street is, by the publication’s measure, Britain’s most admired business leader.
Reading his comments and, subsequently, a series of articles written about him it’s not hard to understand why he is most admired. But he is, first and foremost, a Manager not a Leader.
In one Management Today piece Street attributes his success to strength of the business model he inherited; a business model created by the founders son in 1929 and adhered to ever since. Street is the steward of this model. He is accountable for creating and executing a plan that allows the company to prosper. And, prosper it has. While many UK retailers have struggled in difficult trading conditions and increased competition from low-price retailers John Lewis’ premium business has weathered the storm better than any other.
How has it done this? Andy Street says he thinks it is in large part down to the culture of the organization. “People trust organizations because of a sort of total peace around the organization. So we want to be perceived as an organization that’s a good employer and has a fair approach to pay, for example”, he told the publication.
John Lewis are renowned for their staff’s morale and engagement. This requires clarity – everybody must know what they are accountable for. This requires direct, truthful, conversations; sometimes difficult ones. This also requires transparency. But, most importantly, it requires management. Most companies struggle to create a culture where employees are engaged and inspired. The most common cause is not a lack of a leader – somebody pointing the way – but the lack of a Manager.
The Partnership in the John Lewis name means that all employees share in the profits. You might think that having partners might make direct truthful conversations about corporate and individual performance – and applying consequences – in a transparent way difficult. But, says Street in his #MTlive interview, it makes them easier. Management and employees at John Lewis are able to have direct truthful conversation that are accepted and understood by all – and this produces significant competitive advantage in innovation, customer engagement and strategy execution.
Creating and maintaining this culture doesn’t happen by accident: it starts at the top – with the CEO and senior management team. Creating it is easy; maintaining it is incredibly difficult. It requires continual management.
I believe Andy Street should be recognized as Britain’s Best Manager – a far greater accolade in my book than the one already bestowed on him. He doesn’t just point the direction, he manages the organization to ensure it achieves its goals for the benefit of every single employee. I call it CEO management.