Nicky Brimmer is a Partner at The Chemistry Group. In this blog she talks to Ben Fletcher, MD of Boots Opticians about the importance of purpose, and an inspiring children’s book.
When Ben was FD of Boots he became interested in the power of a clear purpose to make a difference to business performance. When Ben became MD of Boots Opticians he similarly worked with his leadership team to define their purpose and their main principles. After the merger of Boots Opticians and Dolland and Aitchison, all of the standard integration work had been completed, but he wasn’t happy. Something was missing. Ben wanted to understand what the point of the new-look company was. What was their purpose?
Ben joined a team of other senior executives to work out why the company existed. They established that Boots has been dedicated to providing affordable healthcare since 1849, and to enriching the life of every person. Establishing this purpose enabled better decision making, encouraged innovation and reduced conflict. Having a guiding set of principles made choices easier.
Again, it was good for business. But, more importantly, it gave the organisation a chance to contribute to society, which is what most inspired me.
The optician’s industry is typically run as Franchisees and Joint Ventures and, as such, has significant pressure to maintain high margins. This pressure has seen many opticians steer clear of investing in children. The “kiddy market” tends to have lower margins, so is seen as a poor investment in a high pressure industry.
This was a big concern for Ben. There’s an estimated one million kids with undiagnosed eyesight conditions. Whether it was financially prudent or not, Ben thought it was right to do something about it. Also, he was convinced that it would pay off in the long run anyway, because, as he says “if you get it right for children, you’ll get it right for parents too”.
If you can’t see properly, you can’t read properly and reading impacts everything.
Today’s youth is no more literate than our grandparent’s generation, despite all of the advances we’ve made. One in seven children don’t own a book. Kids with eye conditions are often misdiagnosed, given the wrong treatment, which leads to behaviour issues, which can stick with them for life.
So Boots needed to find someone who could help make a difference and start to solve some of these issues. They found that partner in the Literacy Trust, and set about utilising their biggest asset: Boots’ 6,000 employees, who have two days volunteering a year. An infrastructure was built to give all of these volunteers as much support as they needed.
Boots provide free NHS eye tests, and also a free service for schools that allows them to conduct a simple eye screening check that allows teacher to spot where a child might need an eye test
Every year Boots give thousands of children the opportunity to correct eyesight issues, and changes their lives. They wanted to figure out how they could help hundreds of thousands more children. And this is when Zoe the Zookeeper was born: Boots Opticians and Penguin Random House have worked together to produce a book that contains four eyesight tests, so every parent can check if their child needs to see an optometrist. And the book’s free.
My meeting with Ben showed me the power of creating purpose, how it can inspire a wonderful book (totally free for everyone!) and how it can inspire 6,000 people to give their time and skill to help children.