The Rooflight Company – Our EO Story: Closing the business each quarter to bring alignment

The Rooflight Company (TRC) is a design-led manufacturer and supplier of high-quality heritage, modern and bespoke rooflights, based in Shipton-under-Wychwood, Oxfordshire. We are continually evolving our product range and breaking new ground.

Founded in 1993 by architect Peter King RIBA, we have been employee-owned since 2019 and our future is now being built by our 66 strong co-owner team.

Our challenge

A year after becoming EO, the pandemic was gaining traction. We had no idea what was about to hit and, more importantly, what the impact on our culture would be.

Like most businesses, we bought laptops and sent our office-based co-owners home, while our operations co-owners kept working on a much quieter ship with a rapidly diminishing supply chain of product. When the UK stopped producing glass, we had no option but to furlough a third of our co-owners across the whole business.

Over the following months, our furloughed co-owners started returning but the environment had changed. Our office-based co-owners remained in spare rooms and kitchens at home, while on site we separated co-owners into bubbles so they physically had no contact.

We ensured everyone on site wore masks, keeping them safe but removing the social cues we took for granted. This was our daily reality for almost two years.

It was an arduous time, but our co-owners showed up for each other by keeping our business moving and supporting each other. We realised we had enough of a foundation from our values-led culture to get through this together – something we are forever grateful for.

If you’d asked us to write the rules on how not to build a culture and deliver good engagement, this was it – or so we thought. But we’d forfeited our more traditional culture focus to look after our co-owners as individuals with loved ones and communities who they, in turn, wanted to keep safe. Because this was their priority, this became our priority too because, at TRC, we act responsibly.

Our opportunity

Fast forward to March 2022, our offices had reopened and we’d burst our bubbles, cautiously mixing but noticing the strains of the past two years.

We had co-owners recruited during the pandemic who hadn’t met each other. We had co-owners who hadn’t been on parts of our sites or seen each other in person for two years. We were hybrid working. Alongside this, we’d all experienced personal highs and lows that have changed our behaviours and motivations.

We decided this was the perfect time to strengthen our engagement by launching a new focus on our values-led culture.

At TRC, we have four values (Integrity, Care, Unity, Empowered), each defined by three statements. These were put together seven-plus years ago, in a different world. Half the employees we had then have now left, while many new co-owners have since joined. We’re now employee-owned and have a shared experience of a global pandemic, as well as seeing many social issues unfold across the world.

We knew that if we wanted to focus on our culture – in a way that delivered good engagement – we needed to know if our values statements were still relevant to us today.

What we did

We closed the business and for the first time in two years brought all our co-owners together off-site. We engaged an expert facilitator and spent the day talking, learning and capturing the unwritten ground rules of our culture – positive and negative.

We also framed the unwritten ground rules we aspire to. To our pleasant surprise, these aligned with our values statements, showing they have stood the test of time.

We captured our current status via a stock take, which showed our co-owners being open, candid and mature. We’re not going to lie: we have work to do but we are all aligned in understanding and committing to this. This is important because, at TRC, everyone matters.

The impact of our approach

  1. Our day together was such a success that our Leadership Team has committed to closing the business every quarter to bring everyone together – with a focus on our culture.
  2. The output of our stock take has given us all a focus for our direction of travel and what we need to work at.
  3. We’ve created further cultural roles to complement our Voice Group and Co-owner Trustees – collectively known as ‘The Culture Club’(!). The Culture Club has been empowered to facilitate our off-site days to bring the most value to the whole business.
  4. We recently held our second day together, coinciding with our financial year end. Our Leadership Team presented the strategy for the year (and years) ahead, while our Voice Group and Co-owner Trustees played a critical role by facilitating group discussions and gathering feedback and questions. They used these to facilitate a live Q&A session in the room, where we were all able to contribute and discuss our thoughts and feelings together.

Our next steps

We’re committed to using the foundation we’ve built to continue delivering good engagement. We’re creating an environment where our co-owners feel safe to talk openly about what they’re excited or worried about, and what they don’t understand because, at TRC, we use our voice responsibly.

A smooth sea never made a skilled sailor, and we’re proud to have a company full of ‘sailors’ gaining in skill and new experience through every disruption we face – whether it’s rising to the challenges of an inconsistent supply chain, providing a kitchen full of groceries to support our co-owners with the cost-of-living crisis, standing up and speaking for the first time at our off-site days or rearranging the Christmas Party in May!

The increase in our co-owners’ agility, resilience and maturity in dealing with these challenges is noticeable because, at TRC, what we do and how we do it matters.

The benefits for us of being EO

Through this project, we’re seeing first-hand how being EO enables us to prioritise our values-led culture – something our founders stated in our Guiding Principles. It gives us a focus while allowing us to be innovative and ambitious, with a shared responsibility for that culture.

Our EO framework provides rigour, meaning that our Trustees act as our critical friends by challenging, guiding and holding us to account in the best interest of our business and co-owners.

“As we were living through the pandemic, we thought we were creating barriers to our culture, but these challenging times have made our culture stronger,” concludes Co-owner Development Manager Sarah Trueman. “They’ve focused our minds on what we’ve been missing and what we want.”

Working in a more flexible world means we have to prioritise time and space to be together, as co-owners. If we don’t, we won’t build good relationships, good engagement or trust. This is important because it’s not just about us – it’s about our customers, our communities, our families, the environment and the next generation: at TRC, we’re building our futures.

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