5 lessons I’ve learnt from my first 5 years

Today (1st December 2017) I celebrate 5 years with the Employee Ownership Association (EOA).

And whilst 5 years is not necessarily an anniversary normally celebrated (unless my husband is reading this, in which case, our upcoming 5th wedding anniversary IS to be celebrated!), reaching this milestone has caused me to reflect and consider what have I learnt in that time.

#1 – It’s a team game

Leading a not for profit membership organisation is the biggest team game ever! The EOA is not just a small but perfectly formed executive group of Oli, Keely, Lisa, Hannah, Alex and Annabelle, we are blessed with the expert direction of the EOA Board, the practical input from our new Membership Council and of course the ongoing support, encouragement, generosity and inspiration of our 330+ members. Add onto this, the various relationships we are developing with other key stakeholders across the economy with the EO Sector Group and through the Ownership Effect Inquiry that I’ve now realised the first lesson I have learnt – that this is actually the biggest team I have ever had the opportunity and pleasure to lead!

#2 – Members matter most

Without our 330 members, the EOA would not exist. It is their financial contributions which allow us to exist and to deliver the scale of events that we did earlier this week at the EOA Conference; it is their successes that provide the ammunition for our marketing and promotion of the sector – just look at the winners of this year’s UK EO Awards; it is their implementation of employee ownership which provide the valuable lessons for others; and it is their commitment to a better way of doing business which is a shining light for a better for of capitalism. Back in 2012 I had an appreciation of the importance of members – but now I understand this lesson well – that members take primacy in the EOA.

#3 – Tell ‘em, tell ‘em, tell ‘em again

The challenge of raising awareness of employee ownership and developing understanding of its relevance to the economy is a long term campaign. Five years on from my first experience of speaking on behalf of and for the sector, the same challenges still exist. There are still too many business owners who, only through serendipity, find out about employee ownership. There are still too few professional advisers actively and consciously promoting it. And we still need to overcome the myth that this is only a model that works when a generous founder owner gives their business away. This lesson is a simple one; we must never give up telling our employee owned story.

#4 – Dare to be different

Employee ownership is a different form of capitalism. It forces people to think differently about how to measure business and economic success. It requires and delivers a more patient approach, a longer term orientation and more inclusive consideration of employees. It places long term client relationships above short term profit; it seeks to actively involve employees, requiring additional effort and resource to build business literacy or to share relevant information; and against a backdrop of jaw-dropping senior corporate greed, it rewards fairly and evenly. The lesson is clear; it’s good to be different if different is better – and employee ownership really is better business.

#5 – Have fun!

For most of us, work is where we spend the majority of our time, it is what often gives our personal lives meaning, outside of family life, it is our route to adulthood and financial independence and it is where many of us achieve and learn in a way that is not possible in other areas of our lives. So work should be fun. Not necessarily the sort of fun you would describe after a night on the town. But it should be a place that inspires, educates and informs – a place that supports our personal growth and in which we can contribute to others’ development. Having met with and visited more employee owned businesses than I can count in the last 5 years, my final lesson is this – that work is too important to not be enjoyable – and that employee owned businesses are the best examples of work environments where fun is an essential part of the mix.

Thank you for making the last five years such a life lesson!