Business Fights Poverty’s Katie Hyson catches up with Mark Price to talk about his passion for happy employees and the vital role business plays in society.
Life peer, The Lord Price CVO, Baron Price of Sturminster Newton – also known as Mark began his career at The John Lewis Partnership. Working his way up from graduate trainee for 33 years to Waitrose’ Managing Director and then Deputy Chairman of The John Lewis Partnership.
During this time Mark was also founding Chairman of The Prince's Countryside Fund for HRH The Prince of Wales, Chairman of Business in the Community and Deputy Chairman of Channel 4 TV.
Mark’s non-executive roles were replaced in 2016 when he joined the UK Government as Minister of State for Trade and Investment. Stepping down a year later Mark is now dedicating his life, as he says: ‘to making people and business happier!’
Mark’s latest research; ‘Apostles and Anarchists. An assessment of job satisfaction and engagement’ reveals the correlation between happiness of people at work and engagement in the workplace.
Business Fights Poverty’s Katie Hyson was fortunate to catch up with Mark and talk more about his passion for happy employees and the vital role business plays in society.
BFP: What does purposeful business mean to you?
Mark: After 30 plus years in John Lewis Partnership I have come to learn one key thing, happiness in the workplace is the key to better business. Happy employees give more, which means customers get more. Suppliers and communities all benefit as a result and so do shareholders.
I think there are six key factors, which drive employee happiness:
Number five; instilling pride is all about purposeful business. In my experience, people are more inclined to go over and above discretionary effort when they have pride in their workplace and also in its status in society.
Further, in my view, damaging the environment and acting irresponsibly for the short-term benefit of those looking for a quick return on capital is morally bankrupt. Short termism has arguably driven down the trust in business and the growing discontent with capitalism.
In my book: ‘Fairness For All’ I go into this in some detail as to why employee happiness and spend a whole section exploring how different organisations have instilled pride through small local community actions right up to embedded and integrated corporate social products and services.
BFP: What is the role for civil society, including NGOs, to play in helping business be responsible, purposeful and a happy place?
Mark: In my experience, the deepest positive societal impact comes when NGOs and businesses collaborate and work together for common goals. Although I know that NGOs play a vital role in lobbying and campaigning, I am also indebted to organisations such as Fairtrade for working closely with us in order to gain better understanding of and to build proactive support for farmers and small businesses within our supply chains when I was at Waitrose.
BFP: What is the role of policy makers in creating better business?
Mark: I am not an advocate for unconstrained capitalism; companies, more than ever need to be actively involved in supporting their supply chains, communities and consumers. Policy makers can help by creating the environment for businesses to do this – whether it’s increasing the conversation about employees on boards, ensuring taxes are paid and then invested into health, schools etc.
BFP: What trends do you see in progress towards better business?
Mark: I am not convinced, at the moment, that business is going in the right direction.
I see management teams struggling to adapt to the digital revolution, workforces who feel the world is changing but who don't see this in their day to day. I think there is a ground up feeling of lack of empowerment and lack of informed understanding.
Workforces need to be engaged and empowered for this new digital era. Whether through workplace training or re-training; we need to help build understanding in new skills and new roles.
I know that happier workforces result in increased production, better service delivery and ultimately increased profitability. But uncertainty brings with it a drop in happiness. Businesses need to address this at the workforce level now.
BFP: What would you recommend to businesses, in order to stay relevant and to create a happier workforce?
Mark: To get measuring.
Businesses need to measure their workplace happiness and workforce engagement. It will give them real insight into their corporate performance, their service levels and how resilient their businesses are. I firm believer this is as important, if not more important, than the profit and loss sheets executive committees currently pore over each week and it is certainly not hippy, fluffy, self-indulgence stuff.
Measuring workplace happiness can be as simple as sickness days and staff turnover. My Engaging Works online diagnostic tool takes it to another level. The tool enables whole businesses to understand better their workforce’s happiness, and also empowers individuals. Everyone can take the short questionnaire and the output of the diagnostics tool provides recommendations into how to make your own workplace experience happier.
My next ambition is to develop a job-matching capability, so that people can, not only find what roles would make them happiest, but then go on to be matched to just such jobs.