‘Give employees time to understand what becoming employee-owned means for them’ | Ovation Finance guest blog

In this guest blog, EOA member Ovation Finance provides tips to any company starting out on the process of transitioning to employee ownership. The Bristol-based firm of independent, chartered financial planners, which has over 20 years’ experience helping clients, became employee-owned in March 2018 when founder Chris Budd sold the majority of his shares to an employee ownership trust (EOT). Director Tom Morris and Tammy Devonald, Ringleader of Creative Operations and employee trustee, provide their insights looking back at their own transition as they celebrate four years EO. Read their joint blog here:

When it first happened back in 2018, we didn’t quite grasp what it would feel like because a lot of the changes that needed to be put in place to go properly employee-owned – which means that the owner-manager needs to have stepped away and you need to start giving control to the team to start running the business, because pure ownership of shares isn’t enough, you still need a good element of the employees actually running the business – that process had already started to come into place for a little while.

So, actually, when we did go employee-owned, it was like ‘this is great, oh, but nothing has drastically changed’ because it was a real lead-in, it wasn’t something that suddenly we did, it was something that was planned purposefully, and that certainly helped.

Employee ownership is still quite a new concept, it’s not something that is done by an awful lot of businesses still, although it is more now than it was back then, but certainly in our world we were pretty much first movers in terms of financial planning companies like us.

So, when it was first proposed to us that employee ownership was on the horizon, or something we were going to go down, it was all very new. Trying to understand what that looked like, what the structure of ownership looked like, how we fitted into that as individuals, that took time.

Therefore, a key message to anyone who is looking into this, any owner-managers, is give your employees time to understand what this means for them.

Bring everyone along at the same pace

We tried to do it fairly closely together, this pattern of sharing the news, but there was definitely a little bit of needing to make sure everybody was constantly at the same pace. It was no good if one part of the workforce knew what it was all about and another didn’t, we needed everyone to be able to dispel the myths together, so that was definitely one thing we took from it.

We did that relatively successfully in the end we feel, but it’s also important to realise that not everybody goes with employee ownership, it’s not for everyone and that’s ok, but once you get past that hurdle it becomes a lot easier.

When it came to that understanding, the EOA was terrific, we would start going to some of the regional quarterly meet-ups and just start to get a feel for what it actually meant.

For anyone to expect a team to understand what employee ownership is overnight or understand what that means to them is naïve. It takes time and it takes patience, it needs constant information being shared and bringing the team up together.

Engagement linked to understanding

We carried out an employee survey in 2018 when we became employee-owned, which was fairly positive with a few things to work on, and then we did another one in the middle of 2021 which showed an improved outcome.

It was really heartening to know that the things we had worked on had improved. The two key words that came out of them were ‘empowerment’ and ‘education’, in terms of making sure the staff know what being employee-owned means and empowering them to know they have a direct effect on the business.

We’ve definitely seen the engagement notching up every time something clicks as people started to really understand ‘ok, so this is our business to make work, ultimately if we make Ovation better there is a benefit to me personally as well’.

So, the team definitely has a better understanding now of what employee ownership means. We’ve also noticed there is a bigger buy-in from new recruits, they understand what they’re getting into when they come to Ovation in terms of the employee ownership, which is fantastic.

Ovation Finance appeared in Episode 2 of the EOA Podcast on Growth Ambitions, listen here >>

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