‘Acting like an employee-owned business during our transition journey helped make the process a success’ | LDA Design Blog
LDA Design, a planning and design consultancy with 180 staff and eight UK offices, started its journey towards 100% employee ownership in 2018, before transitioning in August 2021. It told the EOA Annual Conference it felt the success of the process was helped by the fact it started acting like an employee-owned company before it became one during that journey. Here Lindsay Tilley, LDA Design’s Head of People who led its culture and communications project during the process, details how it became employee-owned by bringing its people on the journey:
It all started with a workshop on a snowy day in London and as a group the owners defined what they were trying to achieve through employee ownership.
They set out that, for them, it was about greater participation and collaboration, they were really keen that we had an even greater emotional connection, in the sense of us all being in it together, and wanted to achieve further empowerment and responsibility.
It helped us to see employee ownership as an opportunity to unlock the potential of all our people. We’ve got hugely talented individuals across the business and we wanted to tap into that greater creativity and entrepreneurialism we felt was there.
For me personally, I was really keen that during our journey towards EO we actually felt like an employee-owned business before we became one, so that once the transaction happened it felt really natural and obvious for all our people.
LDA’s culture and communications group
As a culture and communications group, our role was to develop the organisation, leadership and culture to achieve those ambitions and so early on we defined several objectives.
The first was that we knew we needed to set up the infrastructure for employee ownership and that included: thinking what we needed in place; being clear how governance supported our culture and ambitions; symbolic changes we might need to make; how to make it feel like a real difference becoming employee owned; and how to use this to bring our values to the fore.
Another of the objectives was about defining what the leadership environment needed to be about and how we supported our leaders to lead that change, but also how would they lead in an employee-owned environment, recognising that was probably different from what we were doing in 2018. We also had to develop a communication plan.
When the group started in spring 2018, it was made up of owners and members of the leadership team and it became clear as soon as we started that we were in danger of repeating old ground.
We needed to hear from a much wider range of employee voices from the outset, so we formed our employee involvement group, which was absolutely key in guiding and informing our transition.
The processes to become employee-owned
We wanted to use this process as an opportunity to develop our governance and organisation structure in a way that made a real statement about the type of business we were aspiring to be.
We needed it to make really clear what the matters that were reserved for our leadership team and the matters for the Trust, so we had a clear framework from which the business could operate.
A key part of that governance was our Trust. Part of the role of our group was to define the make-up of the Trust and how those individuals should be recruited or nominated. We decided we would have five trustees, two from the employee group, two directors, including one former owner, and an independent trust chair.
We also developed a framework of our rewards, which was about us all being in it together and needed to make sure we rewarded high performance and enabled us to recruit and retain the best.
We also defined the structure of our leadership teams in the new world.
We knew that a critical role for the leadership team going forward was to be able to paint the picture of what an employee-owned LDA was like, and to continue to reinforce that, so we introduced a leadership programme where we defined what leading in an employee-owned business meant for us.
It’s very much focused on coaching an inclusive leadership and I think we’ve seen a real shift in how we operate as a result of that programme.
We made it clear we needed to have that employee involvement group as a formalised part of our governance structure going forward.
It was key for us that employee involvement was a feature throughout the project, and the employee involvement group’s outputs directly informed decisions we took.
But we knew it couldn’t just be eight people involved, it needed to go much further than that and so the members of the involvement group were fantastic in facilitating what we call ‘big conversations’ and that happened across the business in every studio.
We set that up to help us really understand what an employee-owned LDA Design should look like and what’s important to us, which was a really powerful moment of engaging the whole business.