In early October I had the opportunity of going back to Liverpool for an Employee Ownership Association (EOA) Conference. This was probably one of the best conferences I have been to in a revitalised City I was able to walk the same streets around which I sold insurance with Royal Insurance decades ago. A truly memorable event in which I will be writing about in future months when I have deciphered my notes! In the meantime, I want to focus on a book called the Ethical Capitalist by Julian Richer whose company Richer Sounds is an Employee Ownership Trust (EOT) similar to companies like John Lewis and Lush.
Julian’s ethos initially came from Tom Peters’ and Robert Waterman’s classic business book – In Search of Excellence, over 30 years ago. It’s a simple formula. The key to increased sales is good value products alongside good customer service. The key to the latter is having a highly motivated, well-trained staff. All employees often want is to be valued and treated well; they all have a lot to contribute given the chance. Their job satisfaction is much more likely to come from getting on well with their colleagues, feeling part of a team and seeing customers happy.
Companies that create a culture based on fairness, honesty and respect reap their rewards. They acquire motivated, hard-working staff who are there for the long haul. Ethical businesses are ethical employers. ‘Do as you would be done by’ is a good straight forward definition. Creating an ethically minded company is not something that’s achieved the moment a list of company values has been put together. It’s a process that involves hard work and requires constant attention.
Richer Sounds’ policy is to hire for personality and train for skills. They pay the Living Wage which is based on the real cost of living and does not discriminate against young people. A theme of the conference was how EOTs help their people through what is going to be a difficult winter. Outstanding performance in this retail sector, means not only achieving sales but giving excellent customer service and meeting customers’ needs. To be outstanding, companies need to monitor every aspect of the business including individual performance. Everyone can therefore see how they are doing: there is no secrecy, discrimination or favouritism.
It’s worth bearing in mind the obvious but often forgotten truth that repeat customers are the most profitable. Richer finds it bizarre that some companies, often banks and insurance companies, think it clever practice to go out of their way to alienate existing customers. For many organisations the biggest obstacle to the fair and ethical treatment of customers, is that seemingly most simple of concepts: the truth! Telling the truth also means acknowledging when things go wrong. It demands that complaints should be handled honestly and fairly and then swift action. “What would you like us to do about X”
Richer has a good final chapter of “Nowt for nowt” – a good Yorkshire expression and goes on to talk about companies which give good value and some that don’t. Julian also quotes Benjamin Franklin: “It takes many good deeds to build a good reputation, and only one to lose it” I would like to mention the conference again, where these EO companies were collaborative, sharing ideas, honest about challenges ahead. So different from the corporate life I remember from years ago.
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