Lord Mark Price is known to be one of the nicest people in politics. Not a pushover, just a nice person. I love spending time with him, he always has something interesting to share and always makes you feel welcome even when he has only a tiny amount of time in his busy schedule. He set up the business WorkL focused on happiness within workplaces. It has developed and grown through Lord Price's tenacity.
I had a 30 minute interview with him and I wanted to ask him about politics and also the links between kindness and happiness in workplaces. Here's what he has to say:
It's been interesting, politics is different to business. There are two sides, three sides, four sides, depending on how many political parties you want to count, all of whom want to be in power, all of whom want to govern the country. They want their ideology and they will argue their point of view. And if that means undermining the government, then they will undermine the government in any way they can. It isn't a normal business environment where you have competitors, but you both get on.
In that sense, it is a very different world, the way I played it was to try and be open and transparent, and to be thoughtful, and to be polite. And wherever I could be to be kind. I walk down the corridors of Westminster, I smile at everybody, and I say, Hello, irrespective of their party, irrespective of their background, what's interesting is some smile back and some don't, but I'm still continuing to do it every day. I think that that kind of humanity is important. I believe that all people have integrity and kindness within them. It's just a question of finding where it is."
I wanted to know more!
What do you think stops them from having that kindness or stops them from walking down the corridor and saying hello and smiling back? What is it that stops that from happening?
"I think is what you're taught, behaviours that you in inherit. I can remember when I was in Waitrose, we took over a number of shops from a competitor. Because of the rules that exist, when you buy a business, you have to take on all the people that work there. There was concern within Waitrose that the people coming with this particular supermarket were not sufficiently well trained and of the Waitrose type. We had a great debate about whether we should take the shops but in the end we did.
What was fascinating is that the same people changed the way they worked and operated, because the culture of Waitrose was so different to their previous employer, because Waitrose value their collective endeavours.
The night before opening in this particular shop, we'd spent one and a half million pounds refurbishing it, and somebody graffitied in the loos, so the manager called in a painter and decorator, who repainted the loos, and it cost £200. The manager put the bill on the table in the staff dining room the next morning and said "£200 has been spent on this, that's now not going to be in our bonus for us to share together". Overnight, all of that petty nonsense stopped.
About a week after we opened as a Waitrose, one of the cashiers came to see the manager and said, you know Rose who's phoned in sick, she's not really sick, she's gone see her mum in Brighton. The manager saw Rose and said, "Look, we don't do that". Rose left, because she didn't like the fact that there was a culture where people were encouraged to work. And all of a sudden, sick absence dropped remarkably.
I'm a great believer that if you start to set a culture, people follow it. If people behave badly, it's because they've been taught or trained either to behave badly or to accept that bad behaviour is acceptable. In a business world if a customer is really rude and obnoxious to you, just tell them that you won't serve them. We just don't want that kind of behaviour from our customers. I'd rather not have the sale than a member of the team be abused. And some people accept that and some people don't accept that. So it's really about the conditions that you set, for the behaviours that you want to see"
With kindness in leadership, do you believe that it's going to become more or less important going forward? I still see huge number of companies that aren't on board with that. They've talked about it, but they're not really there. They're kind of ticking the boxes. How long do you think that that can survive?
"In a sense, it will survive because some people think that they can get more from people in the short term by just being nasty with them and driving them. But all of the academic evidence says, if you look after your people, if you look after their happiness, they will work harder, stay longer, have less sick absences, are more productive or more profitable. The research is really clear on that. There is clear evidence that says, those companies that have the highest level of staff happiness and engagement, are 20%, more profitable, or 20%, more productive."
This is just a snippet of a fascinating and interesting interview, and you can listen to the full conversation by clicking below.