According to Sheetal Choksi, Co-founder, TRRAIN (Trust for Retailers and Retail Associates of India), the success or failure of any business to a large extent depends on its employees. Most companies talk of the importance of treating employees as equals but only a few follow on through the promise. We can learn from their global counterparts and begin to treat our employees as partners in progress. Since employees contribute to the ROI and sales of a business, they should be given an equal chance to share in its success and profits.
Rising consumerism in India is leading to an upsurge in the number of brands available to consumers. The domestic brands are not the only ones proliferating – international brands too are being launched at a lightning speed. Looking at the larger picture, we find that global brands do not enter India with their product range alone – they actually walk in with a very different set of work culture and professional ethics.
We may not like to accept it but the fact remains that internationally, retail employees carry with them a much better sense of pride and commitment to their work compared to what we see in India. Due to the work culture existing in our country, most retailers automatically feel uncomfortable entrusting front-end employees with decision-making responsibilities. Most of the time, they do not get any opportunity to make some real contributions to the growth of the business beyond sharing a few of their ideas with the management.
But it is time for all of us to involve our employees in our business and treat them as stakeholders. International success stories like Walmart, Starbucks, and John Lewis show us the way. We must shed our reservations and unleash the combined wisdom of our employees to mutual benefit.
The Need to Treat Employees as Partners
Let us begin with understanding and, more importantly, accepting our basic psychological block: it comes naturally to most of us to view our employees as subordinates, as people who need to follow orders and instructions of their immediate superiors. But if, for a change, we begin to consider them as net contributors to our ROI and sales, perhaps we can remove this mental block and view them as our valued partners.
Employees can contribute much more to the company than theyusually do. They shall be more willing to do their best if you genuinely value them. When business owners work towards their personal growth, the feeling of “I am a part of the organisation too” automatically gets ingrained in the employees.
The more the employees learn and evolve in their jobs – through on-thejob or vocational training – the more likely they would be to stay and grow with your company. It is a good idea to involve them in a few decisionmaking processes as well (especially for decisions which involve them) to get their ideas and views. By enabling an environment where the employees are treated as partners, a feeling of ownership gets cultivated among employees which is not merely restricted to the routine tasks expected of them. Instead, they begin to consider themselves as a part of a larger organisation. This promotes harmony between the company’s different departments and teams, and boosts innovation as employees get motivated to look beyond their immediate job profiles. They develop interest in the business as partners and willingly participate in various activities to help it grow.
The John Lewis Way
Take the employee-owned John Lewis store chain of the UK. The John Lewis Partnership’s 81,000 partners own the leading UK retail businesses of John Lewis and Waitrose. The company is defined by the vision of its founder who wanted to create a successful business powered by the employees. The profits generated by the success of its various businesses are shared by the partners.
I believe the John Lewis Partnership is a visionary and successful way of doing business, boldly putting the happiness of the partners at the centre of everything it does. It is the embodiment of an ideal, the outcome of nearly a century of endeavour to create a different kind of company that is owned by partners who in turn are dedicated to serving customers with flair and fairness.
The partners, who are nothing but all of the 81,000 permanent staff of the company, today own 35 John Lewis shops across the UK (29 department stores and 6 “John Lewis at Home stores), 274 Waitrose supermarkets, an online business johnlewis.com, a production unit and a farm. The entire business has annual gross sales of over £8.7 bn. All employees share in the profits.
The company’s website states: “When our founder, John Spedan Lewis, set up the partnership, he was careful to create a governance system that would be both commercial, allowing us to move quickly to stay ahead in a competitive industry, and democratic, giving every partner a voice in the business they co-own. His combination of commercial acumen and corporate conscience, so ahead of its time, is what makes us what we are today.” To make sure the integrity of the partnership and the company’s democratic system remain intact, Lewis created the position of registrar and the partners’ counsellor monitors to uphold the values of the business.
Another interesting example is that of Starbucks, each of whose employees is also treated as a partner. The partners are at the heart of the Starbucks Experience. The company believes in treating its employees with respect and offers two programmes for their benefit: (i) a comprehensive health coverage and (ii) equitysharing, that is extended to the fulltime and part-time employees.
Still a Long Way to Go
Accepting employees as partners would inculcate a sense of responsibility in them and they would eventually begin putting business interests ahead of their own. They would realise that their own growth is dependent on that of the company. So treat your employees as business partners and make it a point to share the company’s vision with them. Reward their performance and motivate them to share ideas and suggestions. Find ways to make employees think on behalf of the company; find solutions to its issues. The success of business depends not just on management but also on employees. They are your partners and you should begin to treat them as one!
Sheetal Choksi has 20 years of experience in retail marketing and visual communications, brand communications, and consumer research. Choksi has worked with companies such as Shoppers Stop, JWT, Ambience (Publicis) Advertising, Quipper Research & Consultancy and K Raheja Corp.
**This colum was originally published in April 2012 issue of Images Retail.