Guest Blog | The EOA Awards – A Judge’s Thoughts

As a first-time judge last year and after being fortunate enough to be invited back to judge again this year, I’ve been asked to share a few thoughts on the judging process with the aim of encouraging employee-owners from all corners of the UK economy to consider entering this year’s UK Employee Ownership Awards. As ever, the winners will be announced at the Gala dinner of the EOA Annual Conference in November – the highlight of a great evening that celebrates the best of our sector. Entries for the Awards close on Tuesday, July 24th, so there’s still time to enter. As well as my thoughts here, by visiting the link to the Awards page itself, you can watch short videos explaining what we saw in last year’s winners that marked them out ahead of the very tough competition.

The first and absolutely crucial point is this – Have a go! You’ve every chance of winning….

The competition is indeed tough, but that’s only because there are so many brilliant stories being told all around the UK at employee-owned companies – and we want to hear all about them. Every entry has an equal chance of being successful – whatever size or sector your company is, it’s what’s happening inside as a result of being employee-owned that’s the key.

The categories and what they represent is set out on the Awards page and the nomination process itself guides you through what is required and what evidence you should try to include. This year, there are two new categories – Employee Owned Culture of the Year and Public Service Mutual of the Year. These complement the retained awards of Rising Star of the Year, Employee Owned Business of the Year and Employee Owner of the Year. Whichever you go for – and your company can be nominated in more than one category – as judges, we’re looking for detailed and relevant insight as to how and why your EO status has made a difference to your company and helped its success. For example:

  • How embedded is EO in your organisation?
  • What evidence is there of an EO focus?
  • What structures or changes have stemmed from EO?
  • What evidence of an EO culture can you show?
  • Has it developed or improved and if so, how?

When I was asked to talk about the Awards at the recent Northern Regional meeting, as well as the above I outlined a couple of specific examples of companies or people who were recognised last year, whether as Winners or Highly Commended entries. On the judges’ video for Rising Star of the Year, you can hear why we selected Rowlinson Knitwear as the winner – and as I describe in the video, their staff satisfaction survey showed an improving trend following the move to EO, getting better and better each year, and this was just one of the factors that stood out. Another winner was Rochdale Boroughwide Housing, who were able to demonstrate the ways that being employee owned helped the company make a positive impact.

Companies Highly Commended included the National Self-Build & Renovation Centre (NSBRC), which almost wasn’t a business but for a core handful of people who took a gamble that there was something viable worth sticking with despite the previous operator going into administration, and with specialist financial support to help set up an EO structure, have turned the business around. There was Alfa Leisureplex, whose staff turnover has reduced hugely since an EO structure was adopted and where the company is now trouncing its major and larger rival that isn’t an EO business.

It isn’t just about companies either, with the Employee Owner of the Year award recognising the difference that an individual can make. Last year’s winner, Lucy Farrow at OPM Group, had successfully built a bridge between the management and the employees when the company was experiencing some hard times. There were tough decisions to be made, but she was able to steer a way through that balanced everyone’s interests and the business is now on a stronger footing as a result. The final point to make here (and referencing again NSBRC as above) is not to think you can’t enter if your business has gone through a rocky patch. It isn’t just about sweetness and light and constant good news – some very powerful EO stories can come from the ability of people and businesses to harness the power of shared ownership to make things better.

The best way to finish is as I started, and encourage everyone to have a go! I know I speak for all of the judges when I say that it’s a real privilege to read all of your stories, and we look forward to seeing all of this year’s entries. Before then, you can find me on the EO Hub if you want to ask about the Awards, or post a general query looking for guidance from any of the Hub members.

Simon Holman