HLM Architects – Our EO Story: Making sure ‘Everything is Connected’

Transitioning to an Employee Ownership Trust at the end of 2021 was the next exciting stage for the growth and development of HLM Architects.

For a number of years, our shareholders had been considering what an ownership succession plan might look like. With a people-centred culture already at our core, it seemed the natural next step to move towards an even more inclusive structure which would give employees a sense of ownership, a say in our direction and to reward everyone for the part they would play in our future success.

For us, becoming an Employee Ownership Trust ensures the future of the business is protected, there is a clear succession plan in place, and our employees have a sense of ownership and purpose.  We now have 220-enquiring minds helping drive our business forward.

We knew from the outset that for this to be a success we needed to keep everyone in the business engaged in the process and so we implemented a clear communications plan aimed at informing, updating and engaging everybody at every stage of our journey.

Landing the messaging

Our transition happened during the pandemic in December 2020. The circumstances delayed our plans initially, but we were committed to driving this forward, particularly to recognise the support and commitment of everyone during that time.

We wanted to be clear from the outset that our vision was to give everyone a say in our longer-term direction so that our values and core purpose would be protected for generations to come; to recognise that loyalty was valued; and that we wanted everyone to individually benefit in the rewards of our collective success.

Change, even when positive, brings uncertainty, so having carefully planned messaging and ongoing communication was key. Our Employee Ownership Booklet was issued after a companywide virtual presentation and announcement setting down the obvious questions that we thought might arise.

This included a quick overview of what an EOT was, why the change now, the role of the Trust and corporate structuring, the profit-sharing bonus scheme with a number of key takeaways to settle any concerns about day to day operations, and to highlight the benefits of this new structure.

We were keen to make sure everyone understood there was to be no immediate change to the leadership team or direction of our business, and that there would be enhanced opportunities for individuals to have their voices heard through the introduction of Voice Hubs, to supplement the established methods of communication which were in already in place.

Little and often

Following the initial announcement, we scheduled in everyone’s diaries follow-up weekly practice wide ‘Let’s Talk About Sessions’ which covered topics that we’d outlined in the initial announcement presentation.

  1. Initial Thoughts;
  2. Annual bonus scheme;
  3. How the Trust and Trustee works;
  4. How we can make a difference as individuals;
  5. How the voice hubs will work.

Each one was supplemented by an FAQ fact sheet and an open access Employee Ownership Teams Channel was set up to share and gather further insights and ideas.

We have continued to share the progress we are making as an EOT and have recently held our virtual annual practice update which will be followed later in June by visits by our Chair, MD and Head of Design aimed to seek feedback and answer any further questions.

Our bi-weekly Roundup Newsletters contain a call out for EOT questions via an anonymous survey and we do our best to answer those questions in future comms or practice updates. Our Chair and MD hold a tea and chat with all new starters to share our strategic and EOT objectives reinforcing the messaging delivered in our induction programmes.

Voice Hubs: Impact and Opportunities

Strategic direction

In our inaugural year as an Employee Owned Trust, we felt it was really important to set out what we stood for and what we were striving to achieve and so we crafted the outline of a strategic plan containing six clear and connected strategic objectives.

The working draft of this plan and objectives were shared with employees at a virtual strategic away day with the Board inviting everyone to get involved and play a part in helping to shape our future.

Much of the detail on how we are to achieve these objectives is yet to be determined and this is where we have called for everyone to contribute with ideas, from the everyday pragmatic to the ‘blue sky’ innovations that will deliver our objectives and make us successful.

Voice Hub communities have been created around these objectives and everyone has subscribed as a member to at least one. Each community is currently exploring ways to bring these to life and will be sharing their thoughts at an annual EOT FEST where the whole group will be coming together to celebrate our achievements in September.


In addition, in December 2021 we called for EOT Voice Hub Nominations. This was supported by a booklet outlining the role and responsibilities of the Voice Hub and its nominated champions.

The nomination process enabled individuals to either select themselves or their peers. We have 18 appointed members, representing 220 people spanning across our regions, our disciplines and our roles to make sure all voices are heard.

The first meeting of this Culture Community Hub will be held with our two Trust Board Employee Representatives to discuss aims, vision, term of office and reporting mechanisms, with elected champions announced on EO Day. We’ve developed a series of training sessions for those new members which we will be running through our Academy.

Everything is Connected

Our mantra at HLM is that ‘Everything is Connected’.

With our more inclusive structure, strategic objective Voice Hubs and our Culture Community Hubs, not only is everything connected, everyone is now connected as beneficial owners and empowered to make a difference to our business and the communities in which we work.

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