Seven takeaways from Day One of the EOA Annual Conference 2021

More than 500 delegates were on hand as Day One of the EOA Annual Conference 2021 offered them the opportunity to learn more about ‘unlocking the potential’ of employee ownership.

The virtual three-day event put on sessions on exploring succession, ‘Good Employee Ownership’, and delivering ‘Better Business’. The EOA is providing seven hours of learning to choose from across these three topics, as well as the chance to network on virtual round tables.

EOA Chief Executive Deb Oxley OBE launched the conference with a keynote speech, which you can read by clicking here >>

Here are seven takeaways from day one of the event on Tuesday 16th November:

1. Go Ape wants to be like John Lewis

Delegates heard about why founders of the treetop adventure company, Tristram and Rebecca Mayhew, opted to become employee-owned last month.

They said that much like John Lewis, where consumers “feel the difference because they care”, the pair want the family-feel to their business to carry on and “be like John Lewis and go on for another 40 years”.

However, Nick Hall, managing director of Go Ape, warned of the dangers of “information overload” to employees when transitioning to employee ownership and the need to keep messaging simple and consistent.

2. ‘Internal communication is more important than ever’

The topic of internal communication was one many delegates were keen to explore in terms of promoting the benefits of employee ownership to get buy-in across a business.

One of the delegates remarked that, after transitioning, “the reality is that not a lot changes straight away, so it’s about how you generate that excitement”, and how multiple communication streams in a hybrid world of work are needed to keep reiterating the EO message.

Derek Oliver, Managing Director of Caledonia Social Care, said it is “thinking more creatively about how to communicate with employees” to build and preserve its employee ownership culture, which has included hosting employee ownership workshops, promoting the role of the company employee forum, and posting monthly podcasts. He believes its varied approach has led to a “more engaged and happier workforce”.

3. ‘It’s not crude to talk money when it is about something as brilliant as employee ownership’

LUC, an award-winning environmental consultancy, has more than 200 skilled professionals. One of which, Marketing Coordinator Richard Peake, provided a great employee perspective on how transitioning to employee ownership was “a formalisation of a culture that always existed” at LUC.

He said: “As an employee, it feels very empowering to be included and asked my opinion. I very much appreciate the profit share that we get. It definitely helps me to get more of an understanding on how my individual input to the day-to-day happenings at LUC affect its bottom line.

“I can see how my energy going into my work at LUC, and alongside all the energy of my excellent colleagues, can make it thrive when it appears on my payslip as a profit share. And I don’t think it is crude to talk money when it is about something as brilliant as employee ownership.”

4. Recruitment challenges under profit distribution model

In the session, ‘Financial Freedom: What to do with the profit now the debt has been paid’, Emma Thomas, HR Manager at employee-owned Aber Instruments in Aberystwyth, Wales, revealed the challenges of explaining a profit distribution model when it comes to recruiting talent. Aber’s profit share scheme sees 25% of profits distributed to employees, where there is no bonus or commission on sales.

She said: “Potential employees struggle to appreciate the size and importance of the profit distributions and we find it quite difficult to get people to understand the difference profit share makes to your overall package. We can’t say their wages will be this much more due to profit share, but it is a significant gain on top of your salary, but enabling people to understand that is hard. For new starters, until they have actually lived it, to them it sounds too good to be true.”

5. Managing well-being high on the agenda

During an insight on how to adapt reward strategies post-Covid, Karen Mosley, Managing Director of HLM Architects, detailed her company’s SmartBlend six-month pilot. She said that, in addition to its pilot, HLM took the opportunity to look at its lifestyle benefits package.

When it came to emotional benefits, she said: “We want to provide a psychologically safe environment. There is no doubt the past 18 months has taken its toll and managing well-being will remain high on the agenda. We’re increasing the number of mental health first aiders along with each employee having six face-to-face counselling sessions a year.”

6. Accreditations ‘help confirm we are on the right track’

The EOA Conference is hearing from four firms listed in the Sunday Times Best Company to Work For, including UMi – which, in May 2021, was awarded the maximum three-star accreditation for the second time, which is reserved only for those employers considered to be ‘world class’.

Nicki Clark, Chief Executive Officer of UMi, said employee ownership “enhances our culture of togetherness” and allows the company to “take greater risks in driving forward innovation”.

UMi sees putting itself forward for accreditations as important, it “doesn’t see it as an indulgence”, but believes they “help confirm we are on the right track” and being employee-owned “helps our employees feel more ownership of these awards – UMi’s successes are ultimately their successes”.

7. Red flags for companies considering employee ownership

In his presentation asking ‘Is employee ownership right for my business?’, Robert Postlethwaite, one of the UK’s leading employee ownership experts and founder of Postlethwaite, the EOA Annual Conference’s headline sponsor, listed the following red flags for companies who might consider employee ownership, but who may not find the model fits their ambitions:

  • Current owners are only interested in tax benefits
  • No plans to develop a strong ownership culture
  • Not taking leadership succession seriously
  • Owners want to retain control
  • Purchase price not fundable
  • Majority shareholders not planning to give smaller shareholders opportunity to sell

This is just a snapshot of the sessions and commentary on Day One of the virtual EOA Annual Conference 2021, the sessions from which are available on demand for 60 days after the event. To find out more or to register, click here >>

Read the Day Two conference round-up here >>