In November Stephen Bampfylde was delighted to join Sir Charlie Mayfield, Chairman, John Lewis Partnership, and Sacha Romanovitch, CEO, Grant Thornton UK LLP, on a panel chaired by Matthew Taylor at the RSA. The topic was “Partnership, Purpose and Productivity”.
The areas being discussed by the panel focused on the nature of work and employment and how rapidly it is changing. In the face of an uncertain economic future, what steps do we need to take, and what new models do we need to build in order to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to engage in work that has meaning and value?
Coming near the end of what can only be described as an extraordinary year in terms of local and global politics, as well as a seemingly unsettled economic backdrop in the UK, optimism might have been thin on the ground as this event unfolded.
However, positivity and confidence were most definitely in the air as three senior figures from seemingly very different business worlds took to the stage at the RSA. These organisations which on the surface could be broadly categorised as executive search, retail and professional services, were also very striking in what sets them apart from others in their sector, and aligns them so closely with each other.
Apart from the more obvious point that they all represent models of employee owned business, the overwhelming alignment comes in their recognition of the need for a fundamental shift in leadership and management style to facilitate and ease the pathways of change, and to evolve for the future.
High on the agenda was the indisputable advancement of technology, which is too quick for the majority, according to research referenced by Sir Charlie Mayfield that 51 per cent of people in the UK think ‘innovation is happening too quickly’. In retail the impact of technology is vast and so obvious to all consumers on a daily basis. However, for those within the industry, and particularly leaders within it, what is important is how to harness this technological revolution to ensure that current and future employees remain engaged, and more importantly employed and valued. The concept of workplace automation is one that strikes a chord across all sectors, with the threat that all workers (and even the leaders) might one day be superfluous. However, this idea was strongly refuted by the panel with Sir Charlie predicting a greater number of jobs being created from the growth in technology, just different roles and methods.
Throughout history across many areas of life, there is a recognition that an increase in automation often goes hand in hand with an increase in production. However, does this always mean an increase in productivity? The buzz word from the Chancellor’s Autumn statement (delivered a few hours before this event) ‘productivity’ and how we can increase it, was front of mind for many of those in the room.
It is not automation however that is the apparent key to this, although of course improved systems and methods to increase efficiency are very important, the overall consensus was that to improve productivity requires a greater understanding of, and listening to, what drives employees and leaders. What makes them tick, what drives them to succeed and how can they be supported to be more productive is essential.
According to Sir Charlie, nine out of ten people to be employed in the next decade are already in the workplace. The time to act is now. We need to be looking at understanding their needs, their progression abilities and not simply focusing on the entry stage and how to get people in the doors. We need to understand how we can make them stay, improve them, preserve and value them. This is what will provide greater productivity in the workforce.
Sacha Romanovitch describes the absolute need for a huge cultural shift for business. The current industrial model of self-interest, hierarchy and competition is on course to fail in today’s connected and enlightened society, she believes. Business, and indeed other sectors, need to look to an agile business model which engenders collaboration, listening and a shared purpose. A model that is more akin to that of an employee owned or shared enterprise organisation.
The language needs to evolve, the approach needs to be more positive and inclusive and a trust in employees to deliver success, will in turn bring a greater trust of leaders. Autonomy, even in a heavily regulated industry such as accountancy and financial services is possible, according to Romanovitch.
Those most receptive to this change is the very generation that will help drive it forward – the millennials. With one audience member even claiming businesses she has overheard summing up their future direction with a comment such as: ‘We must have a purpose; we need some millennials.’ While this paraphrasing of a very real issue may cause more amusement than anything, it is a very stark warning to business that this is where the balance of power lies.
Stephen Bampfylde agreed with this outlining that the millennial generation knows what they want, how they want it and also are prepared to work hard and evolve to deliver it. They know they need to work together (usually) and that they also need to have time to live. Losing that balance is a very real and present issue and one that must not be ignored.
Ultimately, the challenge lies with how leadership is to be interpreted and undertaken across all models of business in the UK. Stephen Bampfylde reflected that there is a mood of change across many leaders of the sectors his firm works with. Whether it be paranoia, inspiration or optimism for the future, he indicates that many are looking over the horizon at what needs to be done to evolve the leadership model.
Despite the results of our most recent political referenda, the future of business is not and cannot simply be a yes or no answer. is not binary, and neither can leadership be. We need to be asking questions, rather than always providing instructions. We need to build communities and put trust in others, and make those people see that this is the future. There is no denying that profit and productivity are important to the future of business in the economic and political environment in which we live. However, what must not and cannot be forgotten is what makes us prosper, what makes us human: how we live, thrive and evolve together.
The RSA is an organisation renowned for its positive and collaborative approach, encouraging and inspiring its networks to think creatively and offer insight into how society can be advanced and improved. This event generated some very interesting thoughts and insights right across the spectrum. From globally recognised brands, family businesses, charities, and faith organisations, through to policy makers, social care providers, and students, there was a consensus that positive change is needed.
This decade looks set to be the time when employee ownership enters the mainstream of the UK economy, according to the ‘Nuttall Review of Employee Ownership’. With champions of these models using the inclusive and innovative rhetoric we heard, but also practically implementing these methods to drive forward their organisations, it seems that the optimism in the room was not misguided.
SIR CHARLIE MAYFIELD Chairman of John Lewis Partnership. John Lewis is one of the UK’s most recognised employee owned businesses, having retained its commitment to this model since 1920 when the John Lewis Partnership was created. Sir Charlie Mayfield is the fifth Chairman of the John Lewis Partnership. He joined in 2000, was appointed Managing Director in 2005 and then became Chairman in 2007. Charlie is the Government appointed Chair of the UK Commission for Employment and Skills and President of the Employee Ownership Association.
SACHA ROMANOVITCHCEO of Grant Thornton, UK LLP. Grant Thornton’s partners chose to move to a shared enterprise model at the end of 2015. Sacha became the first female to be elected as CEO of a major accountancy firm and took up the role in July 2015. She also sits on the UK National Advisory Board to the Global Social Impact Investment Steering Group.
STEPHEN BAMPFYLDEStephen is co-founder and Chairman of Saxton Bampfylde. The firm, now in its thirtieth year, made the transition to becoming employee-owned in 2014. Under this structure has an elected Trustee body of six elected Partners and an independent Chair. Stephen co-founded Saxton Bampfylde in 1996 and oversaw its transition to becoming employee-owned in 2014. Stephen was on the advisory boards at Cambridge and City Universities, and a former Chairman of Guildford Cathedral Council.