How forming an employee council helped bring ‘tangible’ change for 3P Innovation after its transition

Automation company 3P Innovation says giving its employees a say has resulted in a “tangible” change for the better in its business a year on from transitioning to employee ownership.

The Warwick-based firm, which “makes the machines that make pharmaceuticals”, became employee owned in late 2020 and states its top tip for any company doing the same is to “talk to your employees and set up a council”.

After transitioning, 3P said the “next natural thing” was to form an employee council and it shared its lessons from doing so to delegates at the EOA Annual Conference.

Dr Dave Seaward, Founder and Engineering Director, said: “When we started on this process, I said once we get to a year through what is the tangible that I can see to say something has changed for the better.

“And I think what has changed for the better is we have more focus, and we are actually changing things in response to what the employees are asking for.

“What we’re seeing as a management team is that the employee council has actually provided this level of focus for us.

“Within any management team there’s only so much you can do, but what we’ve now got is the employee council coming back and saying these are the things we’d actually like you to focus on, so rather than trying to move forward on a broad front we will focus in on this area.”

Overwhelming support to transition to employee ownership

3P Innovation was formed in 2006 by a group of six “like-minded” engineers to focus upon the niche of medical device and pharmaceutical custom automation.

When the future management team was consulted on options for future ownership, there was overwhelming support for conversion to employee ownership and the decision was taken in early 2019 to convert to an employee-owned trust.

“A trade sale never really sat very well with us and that’s why in 2020 we turned the business into employee ownership,” added Dave, who is the named inventor on over 20 patents including Unilever’s pyramid teabag patent.

Since becoming employee-owned, 3P has received recognition after winning the 2021 Queen’s Award for Enterprise in the International Trade category, as well as being shortlisted in the Developing Business Resilience category in our EO Stories 2021 awards.

Having an employee council was a ‘non-decision’

After its transition, 3P brought in an external facilitator to talk to all the employees, which is how the employee council came to be.

Dave added: “Once you’ve made that decision to go employee-owned, the next decision is what do you want to do about the voice of the staff.

“The next natural thing for us, because I think we’ve been very open and transparent as a business for the 15 years we’ve been in existence, was to form an employee council, so it was kind of a non-decision for us to decide to do that.

“The difficult bit is, once you’ve made that decision, how do you make that happen, what are the terms of reference, what is the voting structure?

“Of course, you don’t know how to do any of this because you have never done it before and so we went out to external consultants, some folks who had been in John Lewis who came in and helped us and talked to staff away from the management team, so we actually engaged the staff in how to form the employee council.”

Employee council much more than a ‘tea and toilets’ committee

Jake Canner, a mechanical engineer who has been with 3P Innovation for almost seven years, is one of the eight employee council members.

Jake helped develop and roll out 3P’s Flexible Working Scheme, and is now working on a Career Progression Framework for employees.

After the election process to decide who would sit on the council, Jake says they then had formal training sessions to help them “nail down our remit” which gave the council a “greater sense of confidence” in what it was doing.

It also carried out an employee survey to measure engagement among the workforce of 80 – which was the “initial seed for filling our agenda” for the council’s hour-long monthly meetings.

“The idea of having a council formalises for us the two-way nature of our communication,” he said.

“Knowing there is a separate body whose job it is to look after certain things, to have the employee voice fed into that sort of level that will then be acted on, that’s the bit that attracted me.

“It feels like it is a really good opportunity for non-management people in the business to have a direct impact on the way things are done.

“One of the bits we got out of the training initially was that it’s not just a ‘tea and toilets council’, you have to concern yourself with wider matters, although there are some elements of that on there as well, like staff socials and the Christmas do, but it’s not just a party-planning committee.

“We are also trying to concern ourselves with things like helping the management team with changes to our flexible working policy, and employee engagement with environmental and diversity policies.”

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