Maya Gibbs

Product Director

Ben Heasman

Product Director

Kyle Bayliss

Principal Engineer, Trustee Director

Olly Willans

Chief People and Planet Officer

Exploring democratic vitality: Key takeaways from a John Lewis Partnership Council Meeting

Related post categories Culture
2 mins read
A female speaker addresses the audience from a podium with 'Partnership Council' in the background.

Image supplied by John Lewis Partnership Council

We recently had the opportunity to attend a John Lewis Partnership Council Meeting. It was a fascinating experience to see how they do things at an organisation of this size, and it supplied some valuable lessons on enhancing our employee ownership model.

Here’s a summary of our key takeaways:

1. Enhancing two-way communication

The concept of "Democratic Vitality" is a central theme at John Lewis. This principle fosters two-way communication, which John Lewis exemplifies through its elected council, and ensures a robust communication chain. While Torchbox is (considerably) smaller and might not need such extensive structures, we recognised the importance of capturing and valuing employee voices more effectively.

2. Integrating co-ownership into daily operations

A standout observation was how deeply co-ownership is integrated into John Lewis’ operations. Co-ownership feedback is not isolated; it's part of broader operational feedback. At Torchbox, there's a need to bridge the gap between co-ownership and management feedback. Encouraging conversations through line management and team meetings can naturally increase feedback loops, making it a regular part of our operations.

3. Creating open forums for employee voices

An inspiring practice at John Lewis was the open forum where Partners could directly share their thoughts with the board. This transparency and accountability are crucial. Inspired by this, we have implemented a new Slack channel to address business challenges openly, allowing employees to voice their concerns and ideas and helping the board make informed decisions based on this input.

4. Improving transparency and decision-making

The John Lewis constitution, which outlines their business operations and decision-making processes, was particularly impressive. This framework provides transparency and trust. Implementing a similar framework at Torchbox could help to build broader trust that business decisions align with our core principles.

5. Encouraging managerial involvement

John Lewis emphasised the role of managers in fostering democratic vitality. Managers are responsible for encouraging Partners to express their opinions and lead employee-driven initiatives. We ensure our managers actively promote and support employee input and initiatives, but we can do more to enhance our practices to foster a more inclusive and participative environment.

6. Fostering inclusivity and professionalism

John Lewis' use of live-streamed meetings with sign language interpreters showcased their commitment to inclusivity. This level of transparency and professionalism ensures communication channels are inclusive and accessible for all employees.

Moving Forward

Our experience at the John Lewis Partnership Council Meeting reinforced the importance of hearing from our employees and fostering an environment where their voices can shape the company. While we may not adopt the exact mechanisms used by John Lewis, the underlying principles we observed on the day, including transparency, inclusivity, and continuous improvement are crucial.

The insights gained from this experience have already started influencing our practices, and we look forward to seeing the positive impact and continuing to make us proudly EO.

We believe employee ownership is a better way of doing business, so it’s always great to meet other employee-owned businesses to share best practices and learn from one another.

Your attendance and follow-up meetings with us demonstrate to me the importance you place on getting this right and a continued commitment to enhancing your employee ownership journey.

Matt Heap Democratic Vitality Specialist Manager, John Lewis Partnership

Male stands with a microphone among a busy conference room, actively participating in a discussion while other attendees listen intently.

Image supplied by John Lewis Partnership Council

Read more about our employee ownership journey.

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