Reshaping Business Norms: Reflections on the Twelfth Annual Robert Oakeshott Lecture

This year, the annual Robert Oakeshott Lecture was sponsored by Brabners — a leading professional advisor and advocate of employee ownership and the good work agenda. The lecture was given by Matthew Taylor, who explored the relationship between employee ownership as a model of good practice and the right balance of key motivators in business.

In our previous article, we discussed the relationship between employee ownership (EO) and responsible business and its subsequent positive impact on UK productivity.

After considering Matthew’s lecture, we reflect on some of the key takeaways below.

During his lecture, Matthew explored three key human motivators and the relationship of those motivators in business. The lecture left us considering how employee-owned businesses (EOBs) can help to solve the imbalance of those coordinates in what could be considered a deficit culture.

The lecture encouraged the audience to consider the coordination theory and that hierarchical, sociologistic, and individualism factors are all key human motivators which play a vital role in business. The main active coordinates are based on authority, values and belonging, as well as wants and individual aspirations. If organisations can fully engage in those motivators and align them effectively, they are more likely to achieve success.

The difficulty for businesses in getting this right is that it requires vigilance and a constant need to evaluate and adapt to changes in circumstances, including economic factors or generational shifts. However — as Matthew discussed during his lecture — change is difficult and full engagement in these active coordinates is unusual.

We’ve already seen evidence that employee ownership increases productivity and employee engagement, but the lecture prompted further discussion around the balance of those key principles that Matthew explored.

While we always recommend in any EOB that the trustee board remains balanced — usually made up of a founder or director of the trading board, with one or more employee representatives and an independent trustee director — there is still a need for any business to adopt policies that combine the power of authority while feeling legitimate and fair, but still satisfying the need for self-expression and creativity.

We recognise that EOBs challenge the traditional ways of doing business and following Matthew’s lecture, there was a consensus in the room that all businesses should continuously revisit policy, reassess key motivators and be open to change.

The EO sector is delivering better business with an increase in social responsibility, good governance and employee engagement. All these factors contribute to doing better business, but as we learned there is a continuous effort for organisations to improve employment practices.