Context is King – when change isn’t change

On 19th March the BBC reported that John Lewis was considering plans to change its staff-owned structure.

For 70 years John Lewis has been an employee-owned business structure. In one way the move was not as seismic as the headline was suggesting, the firm was ‘exploring’ alternatives and it was only looking at selling a ‘minority stake.’ A minority stake that would raise £2bn, which would enable future proofing such as technology, data analytics, and an improved supply chain.

If I was an employee, I would view this as a positive move.


  • As an invested party I would be delighted to see we were ready to secure our future.
  • I would be delighted that we were looking at all options.
  • I would be thinking that in these difficult times in retail, I am working for a business that is combating the impact of this.

However, I am not likely to be typical.

For many, this will feel like a huge change. It could feel like the beginning of the end.

As such, just seeing it discussed as a possibility in the public domain can be daunting.

For many, this will signal a change in the relationship. It will signal an end to what they signed up to when they joined this business. It could be perceived as a change in values.

This may therefore signal a need for John Lewis to focus on change management techniques that help people cope with this ‘change,’ and ensure that the concerns that led to this plan aren’t disrupted by a change in employee behaviour.

Often at Connor we will talk to organisations about being ‘change ready.’ What we mean is that we will enable the business and its people to be curious, resilient and adaptable.

For a change of this nature, John Lewis may need their people to be exactly that, so that they can cope in and indeed thrive in a new way of working, even if that that change is just the need to cope with public speculation about options the business is exploring.

For these to land and be sustained, as a business you need to be compassionate and have the trust of your people. Something many businesses don’t have.

At Connor another thing we say a lot is that ‘context is king.’  

It’s unlikely to be a coincidence that this news came out on the 19th March – 3 days after the BBC revealed that they were ‘axing’ the staff bonus and planned to cut jobs.

Whatever changes are happening, whether it be the ownership model, the profit sharing model, job cuts, the bonus being axed, or even just your ‘Partnership Chair’ talking publicly about options, it will impact your people and it needs careful managing.

If you have disruptive news, a need to change or a need to get your people change ready, give us a call on 01491 414010, or get a call back from one of our experts by completing the form at the bottom of this page.


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