Go Ape – Our EO Story: How our structures bring employee ownership to life
Go Ape, the treetop adventure company with a 1,000-strong workforce, became employee owned in October 2021, after being founder led for almost 20 years! A truly exciting time for an already passionate tribe who care for the business and can now play an active role in the future of the brand.
Employee Ownership feels like a Go Ape way of doing business and puts the people at the heart of everything we do.
When we transitioned to employee ownership in October 2021 we moved from a founder-led business and governance structure with one central board, who by in large made all of the business decisions, to a new governance whereby the voice of our co-owners was heard at all levels of the business.
Under EO our previous board now sit on the ‘Trustee Board’, along with an Independent Trustee Director who is also Chair of the Trust Board and Council. The Trust Board forms one part of the new governance structure.
A new Executive Board was appointed, made up of a small group of senior directors who were already working in the business and the MD. One director was nominated to oversee the transition to employee ownership, managing engagement, communication and setting up the council including the election process. He has maintained this role and is now the main point of contact with our independent non-exec for the Trust Board.
The final governance strand is made up of 15 newly appointed Tribe Councillors from a cross section of the business (excluding senior management). The council was appointed two months after moving to EO and, just four months later, two of the councillors were elected also to sit on the Trustee Board to represent the wider voice of the business at that level.
The Tribe Council represents all of our co-owners and it has a duty to represent them to the Trustee Board and also the Exec Board.
How it works
The Go Ape governing bodies meet on a regular basis. The Exec board has a formal Board meeting every month, but it meets with the senior management team and Heads of Teams weekly.
The Board meets with the Trustees and the Independent Director on a bi-weekly basis currently to update them on informal business matters. This used to be weekly but as we are evolving and forming in our new EO structure, we felt we could reduce the frequency of this catch-up.
The Tribe Council meets monthly and invites the Senior Team/Directors to join where there is an need to on the agenda. For example, a recent agenda item was the desire to re-look at instructor pay and uniform. In this instance, the Finance Director and Commercial Operations Manager were able to join the meeting to talk through impact on increasing costs to the wider business so that implications could be understood and help future communications with co-owners.
Another big topic that the Council has been getting behind is internal communications. Ironically it is something that we have tried to get right at Go Ape for years, but the engagement has never been that great.
Now we have an empowered team and the right structure in place to re-ignite our internal communications to help our co-owners do their job better, but also give them more opportunities to communicate across the business and share success.
Training is something that we have taken quite seriously as we move into a new world of EO and for many, new roles within the business. The Exec Board memnbers have each been on an external training course on ‘the Role of the Director’, ran by the Institute of Directors.
The Trustee Councillors have been on an EO Learn ‘Director and Trustee’ course. On top of this we have leant on Helen (our Independent Director) for support on best practice and, in particular, inducting the Council into their new roles and helping also to engage the business on the role of the Council.
Flow of information
Through the new governing structure, we have been able to get to the bottom of any concerns for our co-owners and the Council has worked with senior management to work through any issues that have come up, looking at potential solutions or engaging and upskilling if necessary so that the council can go back to co-owners with more informed feedback.
The flow of information is now multi-directional and major improvements have seen the flow of information working up the business, but moreover we are seeing departments and teams working together better than ever because we all have one common objective, which is to be the best that we can be for the benefit of our people.
Council members have been working together on ‘projects’ in smaller groups and also alongside business leaders to progress matters, which has been great for creating an impact and allowing that to be seen across the wider business.
In order to engage our wider business on the EO transition and governance, we have used a wide-ranging style of communications from ensuring there is always an agenda point on our monthly all-company Teams call, to specific EO comms, an inclusion in our co-owner inductions/training and we are working on an EO Guide, which will be an engagement tool for all co-owners old and new.
We continue to evolve our EO structures as we move further along the EO journey and are confident that we are on track to delivering a better governance structure to a more engaged set of co-owners.