Seven takeaways from Day Three of the EOA Annual Conference 2021

The third and final day of the EOA Annual Conference 2021 showcased employee ownership from a variety of different voices all at different points of their EO journey.

The Employee Ownership Association (EOA) leads the campaign for growing employee ownership in the UK – with government, the media and across the wider business community.

The purpose of the EOA is to unlock the potential of people, businesses and communities, which was reflected in the conference video content, written case studies and support materials that were created to deliver the event. This will provide new evidence to help us in our task of growing the size and impact of the sector.

Here are seven takeaways from day three of the event on Thursday 18th November:

1. ‘Winning awards doesn’t make a team happy, but a happy team helps you win awards’

Ffyona Dawber, Global CEO of Synergy Vision, provided an insight into how it achieved Investors in People Platinum accreditation and was named the UK’s 3rd Best Small Workplace by Great Place to Work. The medical communications agency, which was set up in 2007 and has offices in London, Dublin and Sydney, believes a “happier workforce is more effective and more productive” and as such implemented a four-day working week in 2019 to “improve staff happiness”.

She said: “Winning awards doesn’t make a team happy, but a happy team helps you win awards. People spend most of their waking hours at work and we want them to enjoy it. I believe by creating a flexible, inclusive workplace people are able to thrive.”

2. Virtual event helps create ‘truly global conference’

Chief Executive Deb Oxley OBE remarked in her keynote speech on the opening day of the conference that she “wished we were able to meet in person”, adding that “whilst meeting face to face is, of course, more personal, one of the benefits of this year’s virtual experience is that you’ll be able to re-watch the content for a further 60 days after the conference ends”.

Another benefit of the virtual conference was that it opened up the event to a global audience, with Deb remarking: “We have been delighted to welcome delegates from the US, South Africa and Japan this week. It makes this a truly global conference, especially as our membership is a global membership as we have a lot of international firms, like Scott Bader.”

Read about efforts to create an employee ownership movement in Japan here >>

3. Staff ‘go that extra mile’ during volatile periods as they feel an ownership

Talking of Scott Bader, the global manufacturer of adhesives, resins, gelcoats and functional polymers was featured in the plenary session on day three to mark its 100th anniversary. It has also been 70 years since the business became employee-owned, while it has hosted Princess Anne this year and celebrated winning the True EO Champion award in the EO Stories competition. However, these celebrations have come during a “volatile period” during the pandemic.

Kevin Matthews, CEO of Scott Bader, said: “People recognise that we are in pretty unprecedented times, but the company has continued to perform really well. I think part of the way in which we have been able to deliver that continued improvement through this volatile period is down to our people. Our people feel really committed to the organisation because they feel an ownership of it and so when times are tough they will step in, go the extra mile, which makes a real difference when times are uncertain.”

4. Having a dry run ‘brought great benefits’ to new trustees

On the theme of the pandemic, this allowed a business that has only recently transitioned to employee ownership to “have an initial dry run”. Purcell, which has a reputation in architectural conservation, became employee-owned in May 2021 having delayed the transition by a year.

Alasdair Jones, Associate and member of the board of trustees, explained: “The extra year became known to us as the bonus year and, on reflection, has been of great benefit to us as trustees. It has allowed us to have an initial dry run as trustees, establishing our meeting structures and reporting, identifying additional training needs and establishing the nature of the relationship between the company board and the Trust. While it was disappointing to have to delay the transition, it undoubtedly brought great benefits which served to strengthen the Trust and the company.”

5. Considerations over the timescale until a profit share is realised

Since Architects TateHindle became employee-owned in 2016, company profits have been used to pay off the original shareholders. This process was completed earlier this year as part of a five-year plan and employees are now benefiting financially in the form of a profit share – helping them feel an even greater stake in the business. Founding Director Andrew Tate said: “The staff were happy with that five-year period, but I don’t think it would have worked so well had it been any longer.”

Market research company DJS Research, meanwhile, transitioned to employee ownership in July 2021 and told the conference it had looked at selling 100% of the business to an employee ownership trust, but in the end opted for 65%. Danny Sims, chairman and founder, said: “We looked at the profitability of the business if we were to sell 100% and we predicted it was going to take 10 years to pay us back. For us, we felt that is going to be a long time for the staff until they have access to the full profits. So we looked at 65% and it was going to look more like five to six years.”

6. Leading in an employee ownership organisation is different

Leading employee ownership expert Philippa Meaden, of conference sponsors J Gadd Associates, provided an insight into the impact a leader’s behaviour has on the culture of an employee-owned business.

She said: “Leading in any business is a skill, however I would say leading in an employee ownership organisation is different. It comes down to two elements – values and accountability. In my experience, employee-owned businesses that thrive have leaders who are more than aware of the impact they have on the business and at the same time understand their own vulnerabilities and surround themselves with great support.”

7. Employment engagement important to create an innovation mindset

Loadhog, an employee-owned manufacturer of returnable transit packaging solutions, provided a fascinating account of the “internal pressures” they face in constantly coming up with new ideas.

Leigh Jowett, Ideas and Innovation Director, said: “The top level KPI we work towards as a business is that 25% of turnover has got to come from products that are less than five years old. Developing and launching new products is difficult, so keeping everyone in step with that is important and is drilled into employees from day one. Therefore, employment engagement is very important.”

This is just a snapshot of the sessions and commentary on day three 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 >>

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Day one round-up

Day two round-up