I used to work for the John Lewis Partnership, and it’s a great way of working. Universities could look to worse for inspiration.
John Lewis’ shares are settled in a non-revocable trust. The beneficiaries of the trust are the employees (“partners”). The trust deed sets out the ultimate purpose of the organisation: “the happiness of all its members, through their worthwhile and satisfying employment in a successful business”. Via a substantial and formalised system of representative democracy, the employees are directly responsible for the success of the firm. The organisation is kept flat and equitable via a restraint on pay differentials, preventing expropriation of business wealth by managers.
Trust universities could follow suit. Universities would be placed in non-revocable trusts: as institutions of the knowledge commons, ownership should be irrelevant, but purpose all-important. The raison d’etre of trust universities would be to support the teaching, learning and research work of their staff and students, all of whom would be “partners”.
Democratic structures enshrined in the trust deed would ensure that partners were responsible for, and empowered to effect, the efficient operation of their workplace towards socially, economically and culturally beneficial outcomes. Like John Lewis, their failure to do so could lead to organisational demise.
Read full story in Times Higher Education.
Dr Bex Lewis is passionate about helping people engage with the digital world in a positive way, where she has more than 20 years’ experience. She is Senior Lecturer in Digital Marketing at Manchester Metropolitan University and Visiting Research Fellow at St John’s College, Durham University, with a particular interest in digital culture, persuasion and attitudinal change, especially how this affects the third sector, including faith organisations, and, after her breast cancer diagnosis in 2017, has started to research social media and cancer. Trained as a mass communications historian, she has written the original history of the poster Keep Calm and Carry On: The Truth Behind the Poster (Imperial War Museum, 2017), drawing upon her PhD research. She is Director of social media consultancy Digital Fingerprint, and author of Raising Children in a Digital Age: Enjoying the Best, Avoiding the Worst (Lion Hudson, 2014; second edition in process) as well as a number of book chapters, and regularly judges digital awards. She has a strong media presence, with her expertise featured in a wide range of publications and programmes, including national, international and specialist TV, radio and press, and can be found all over social media, typically as @drbexl.