This case has multiple theoretical linkages at the micro-organizational behavior level (e.g. job enrichment), but it is best analyzed and understood when examined at the organizational level. Students will learn about shared entrepreneurship, high performance work systems, shared leadership and virtuous organizations, and how they can develop a sustainable competitive advantage.
The case was prepared using a qualitative approach. Data were collected via the following ways: literature search; organizational documents and published historical accounts; direct observations by a research team; and on-site audio recorded and transcribed individual and group interviews conducted by a research team (the authors) with organization members at multiple levels of the firm.
John Lewis Company has been in business since 1864. In 1929, it became the John Lewis Partnership (JLP) when the son of the founder sold a portion of the firm to the employees. In 1955, he sold his remaining interest to the employee/partners. JLP has a constitution and has a representative democracy governance structure. As the firm approaches the 100th anniversary of the trust, it is faced with multiple challenges. The partners are faced with the question – How to respond to the environmental turmoil?
Complexity academic level
This case has environmental issues – How to respond to competition, technological changes and environmental uncertainty and an internal issue – How can high performance work practices provide a sustainable competitive advantage? Both issues can be examined in strategic management courses after the students have studied traditionally managed companies. This case could also be used in human resource management courses.
This case was prepared as a learning exercise. An earlier version was the winning entry in the 2018 Molson International Case Writing Competition. The authors would like to thank the Partners of the John Lewis Partnership who so generously gave of their time in the development of this case.
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