DJS Research – Our EO Story: How our engagement activity is delivering opportunities

DJS Research is a full-service market research agency. It was set-up as a sole trader by Danny Sims working from his spare room in 2001. The company has organically grown every year (including many years of double-digit growth). It now has a turnover over £7million (up from £6.3m pre-pandemic and pre-EO) with 100-plus partners, based throughout the UK from Scotland through to Kent.

The company has achieved everything on its own (no external funding) and continues to stand out as something different in our industry. The Market Research Society ranked us 11th in the UK, for the fastest growing individual agencies and said we’re ‘One to Watch’.

On our 20th birthday, in July 2021 the company moved from family owned to majority employee-owned, ensuring the legacy and independence of DJS Research for years to come.

Setting strong employee ownership foundations

Prior to making the transition to becoming an employee-owned company, the senior team immersed themselves into the world of employee ownership spending substantial time (years!) learning and educating themselves about the employee ownership structure and principles.

EOA resources were invaluable as well as the number of meetings we set-up with existing members, including John Lewis. This valuable research and learning process has set the foundations for all of our engagement activities.

Communications pack sent to all staff prior to becoming employee owned

Visual, open, honesty, transparency, detailed, Q&A are all words that you would associate with this document. It has helped partners and new staff understand what employee ownership is and is a key part of our embedding process.

This is supported by our latest MyDJS 2022 employee survey, where 71% of our partners say that they have a good understanding of what employee ownership means. Which we feel is a good starting point considering we’re still within our first year since transition.

In addition, both the EOA and Social Business Wales openly share our communications document as an example of good practice with their members.

Co-created strategic planning

Central to employee ownership is employee voice. We wanted to start our journey with a blank piece of paper. Through face-to-face sessions and a survey, we encouraged all staff to provide feedback on our vision, strengths and weaknesses to inform our strategic planning for the next couple of years.

Partners provided feedback and they were full of great ideas which are now part of our open co-created action plan. Many of the ideas have already been implemented, including launching a new junior researcher programme and substantially increasing our support resource. Both of these are now helping us to deliver our projects more efficiently.

EO Voice

We didn’t want the voice of the employee to be a one-off though. We need it to be central to our thinking and decision making. So, we created EO Voice. Every team within the company has an EO Voice representative which meets quarterly to discuss ideas, suggestions and improvements for the company. These are fed back to either the DJS Research Board or our Trust Board.

Open, honest and frequent communication updates

Likewise, communications always go back to the EO Voice representatives and subsequently the whole company. We feel it is important that our updates are transparent about Board decisions and our financials. As standard, we do this by sending regular monthly updates and company inform sessions.

We do believe that we are creating an effective two-way engagement process where partners feel comfortable sharing their ideas and that they are listened to and actioned where possible. This is apparent from the fact that the vast majority (81%) of our partners in our MyDJS 2022 survey said that they are encouraged to share ideas for doing things better. The same amount also said that we have an open and honest culture.

External communications and engagement

As well as working hard internally we have also developed a number of external initiatives which are helping us to stand out. One of which is our EO web page and video which is working wonders for us. Even to the extent that we have been commissioned to create another EO video for a company soon to be transitioning to employee ownership themselves.

Our EO status and living by EO principles is definitely helping us to move forwards.

Since transitioning, we have recruited 30 new staff and pretty much all of them have said that they have been influenced by our EO status. In addition, encouragingly after being with us, they are also saying ‘We are what we say on the tin’. Likewise, our clients have been impressed as well, with one saying, ‘What you are doing is an inspiration for us all’.

Giving back

We also feel it is very important to engage with the wider employee ownership community. We’ve not forgotten how we were helped by the EOA community and as such, we’ve been involved in a number of activities to help spread the positive word about employee ownership.

We spoke at the last EOA Conference, had lots of meetings with other companies considering employee ownership themselves (watch this space!), recommended the EOA and other suppliers, shared our documents and thinking with the EOA and Social Business Wales, attended events, training etc… Not only does this help others but being an active part of the community, continues to inspire our own thinking.

An impressive start to our voyage!

As we come up to our first year since transitioning the company, we feel that we’ve made a great start in terms of our communications and engagement shown by the fact that:

All of the above scores are significantly higher than our 2019 employee survey and also the industry average benchmark for other companies.

So, in summary, employee ownership feels very special to us and is having a real impact! We do of course recognise though that we can go further and there is a long way to go on the voyage!

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