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Manage and Move

15 March 2005

As retailer, John Lewis, works though a business reorganisation, its relocation partner, Total Move Solution, co-ordinates not just the internal moves but also the refurbishment of office space. Jane Fenwick reports on how this extended role meets the needs of a changing business

JOHN LEWIS PARTNERSHIP stands out as an organisation with a difference. Founded by John Spedan Lewis, it has a unique ‘partnership’ ethos to promote the “happiness of its members” and that includes sharing in the company’s profits. The John Lewis department store business is also part of the fast moving retail environment and like any business it has to keep abreast of developments a wide range of market sectors. Currently, its head office is undergoing a process of ongoing change.

The John Lewis retail empire of 26 stores is run from its HQ in 171 Victoria Street, London and a total of 1,400 staff, referred to as ‘partners’, are located there. Later this year, 330 ‘partners’ involved in corporate division and related functions will relocate to a building next door, to be called Partnership House. Meanwhile, the organisation is also vacating its offices in Clipstone Street, north of Oxford Street, and relocating 500 ‘partners’ into 171 Victoria Street.

If that wasn’t change enough, the buying departments of John Lewis’s retail business in 171 Victoria Street are reconfiguring the way they work. Under a strategy code-named, Buying to Win, John Lewis’ retail business is restructuring and ‘beefing up’ its buying organisation to prepare for expansion plans. As Mark Kendall, assistant to the Merchandise Director explained, “The buyer used to undertake the whole buying process but now he or she will focus more on sourcing and developing the product, and the financial merchandising side of the operation is being developed to allow this.”

Developing the function has involved the need for new skillsets, and as a result, up to 100 more people will be appointed to these new functions, together with related training and system support functions. Kendall added , “The Buying to Win’ strategy not only requires more people, but also different adjacencies to enable the business to function better.”

This change process involves moving new people in and moving existing people around, modernising the decor, furniture and IT, moving towards more open plan working and introducing some hot desking. Kendall commented, “Mostly the move is to open plan, but buyers have retained offices because they need to privacy to negotiate with suppliers and to review and store the products, while for people working in John Lewis branches 3-4 days a week, hot desking is more appropriate.”

The strategy has been evolutionary, Kendall said. “We are learning as we go along. We didn’t know at the beginning how many people were going to be in each buying office, and since it is a phased process, we didn’t know the impact of these new functions until we had tried them. It has been a moving feast as the numbers continually changed.”

Cliff Thomas, administration manager Corporate Facilities, is the man charged with executing all the business changes and moves across a range of interlocking projects. He recognised that the key ingredient for dealing with these changes was to be flexible throughout the move process to cope with a fast speed of change. For this wide ranging business transformation, it was recognised that the company needed to work with an organisation that could bring new ideas, flexibility and a faster pace to meet the speed of business change. Thomas sought a project management package in the market that incorporated not only relocation experience but also the management of all trades that the phased refurbishment would need. Total Move Solution won the tender and has been working with John Lewis since August, already totalling about 700 moves around the building.

Business continuity
The ethos of John Lewis extends down its supply chain, so the fact that Total Move Solution runs like a ‘partnership’ was a consideration in its favour. As MD Andy Carr explained, “ Total Move Solution is also a partnership since the management buyout from BCL last year, with seven directors sharing in the business and committed to making it work.”

At John Lewis this is a capability much in demand. With the necessity to keep the business working throughout the change process and with little if any ‘swing space’ within the building, much of the churn and refurbishment has been undertaken on a fast-track weekend working schedule. Total Move Solution is complete involved in the change process from attending the weekly project management meetings that digest the previous weekend’s activity and plan the next moves, to lending a hand on Monday morning to make fine adjustments for individual ‘partners’ workplace or remove empty crates.

As Total Move Solution Director, Steve Beber, explained, every move is different. Some people are moving to new locations, others are moved out, only to be moved back into the same location albeit refurbished and arranged to facilitate new adjacencies. Each departmental layout will be different to suit its business need but, in the refurbished areas, the overall look is that of light and space. It is the responsibility of Total Move Solution’s project manager, Glyn Stickings who also has construction expertise, to co-ordinate the various trades on site - including construction, painters, electricians and telecomms engineers, carpet layers, furniture installers and Total Move Solution’s moving teams - with John Lewis’ customer coordinator, Richard Tait and the company’s IT team.

The recent churn of the Electrical and Household Technology buying department is fairly typical of the routine that has been developed of moving, in this case 40 partners in one go. On Friday after work, the area was cleared of all furniture, storage and crates, and partitions removed and other structures demolished as needed. The floor was rescreeded, new glass partitioning was put up in new locations, the lighting changed and the whole area painted, before finally carpet was laid and furniture assembled ready for the installation of PCs with flat screen monitors. By working long 12 hour days, the 40 partners were greeted on Monday morning with a completely refurbished and now correctly aligned working environment for their new business roles.

The key logistics and co-ordination skills brought by Total Move Solution to the project management role have enabled John Lewis to continue business as usual at a time when business is for many of its partners is far from ‘normal’. Mark Kendal remarked, “With all the things going on in terms of their jobs, sometimes the physical work environment becomes the thing that people become most attached to.” How important therefore that the move process be so closely integrated with rather than in conflict with the business change process.

“With all the things going on in terms of their jobs, sometimes the physical work environment becomes the thing that people become most attached to.”

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