‘Why you need to keep that momentum after transitioning to employee ownership and ensure it doesn’t just feel like business as usual’ | HLM Architects

HLM Architects has revealed one of the main lessons it learnt in the first year of being employee-owned was how important it is to “keep that momentum in the early months” after transitioning.

The EOA member, which was listed as third best architectural practice in the UK and in the top 100 best companies to work for in the Sunday Times 2021, transitioned 100% of its shares to an employee ownership trust (EOT) in December 2020.

The Architects’ Journal AJ100 Employer of the Year 2020 and 2021, which has a workforce of 190 spread across studios in London, Sheffield, Glasgow, Belfast and Cardiff, has an ambition to “create better places for people”.

After becoming employee-owned, HLM said: “Our people-centric practice has a special culture fostering our heritage and focusing on our future. So, it was a natural progression to transfer ownership for the benefit of the people who are committed to our success – our staff.”

Managing Director Karen Mosley, pictured, who gave a presentation at the EOA Annual Conference 2021 titled ‘How should reward strategies be adapted post-Covid?’, joined the company as an apprentice at 17 more than 33 years ago.

She acknowledged that going EO was “right for the next generation”, allowing the team at HLM Architects to take the business forward, but says it is important employees don’t feel it’s “business as usual” once the transition is complete.

HLM paid out EOT bonuses in February and November 2021, ensuring that everyone felt like they were “on the journey”.

Karen explained: “It was really important to the Board that within the EOT financial modelling everyone was rewarded as soon as possible for the value they were creating.  We intentionally structured it that way.”

She added: “Reflecting back on our first year, it was important to keep momentum in those early months, and to keep talking about what it meant to be an employee-owned trust and encouraging people to think, ‘how can I make a difference?’, as an individual.

“There’s an intense amount of work in the run up to the transition. It’s important that once this is achieved, the foot doesn’t come off the gas. You don’t want your team getting excited about a new chapter and then becoming indifferent because they can’t see any change or benefits and it feels like ‘business as usual’.

“Keeping that momentum, involvement and excitement generates the feeling of being and acting like an owner which drives more innovative thinking. It takes a while for everyone to understand what it really means, so it’s important to keep talking through it, sharing information, showing how individual and collective actions with a common purpose can have a positive impact. It takes a while for that connection to become clear.

“To help everyone’s understanding of how the model works, we’ve done ‘Let’s Talk About…’ sessions; talking about the EOT and what it means, the profit bonus scheme, the trust board, employee voice hubs, and about how a 1% incremental change by everyone can have a significant positive impact on outcomes.

“When transitioning to an EOT, you’ve got to be prepared to be open and transparent, ensuring that context is always given to any information shared so everyone understands the part they play in the company’s success.”

Spreading the love for employee ownership

As well as helping the EOA at our Annual Conference, Karen is promoting and championing the benefits of employee ownership on a local level in South Yorkshire.

She is the current President of the Sheffield Chamber of Commerce, and has offered her advice and insight as part of training delivered to business advisers in the South Yorkshire Mayoral Combined Authority region, as part of the Ownership Hub pilots.

In June last year, the South Yorkshire region was the first to partner with the Ownership Hub, the partnership between the EOA and Co-operatives UK which aims to grow employee and worker ownership with a number of pilots to evidence the impact of more people having a stake and a say in the business in which they work.

Karen says HLM found out about employee ownership ‘almost by chance’ and ‘by word of mouth’, but she told the EOA Podcast she wants to shout about employee ownership “from the highest hilltop”.

The team at HLM

“Employee ownership provides more opportunities for more people,” she said. “It unlocks the potential for people to feel a real part of something, that they can make a real difference, that their voices will be heard.

“Everybody wants to feel a sense of belonging and the ownership model enables that. Financially, also, it’s beneficial to individuals, as they can be rewarded for the part they play in the success of the business.

“Moving forward, no-one knows what lies ahead. The only thing that’s certain is change. The most important thing a business can do is view its surroundings through the widest lens, through the eyes of its staff, and encourage innovative thinking. That will enable it to remain resilient, to flex and change and stay fit for the future.”

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