In September 2022, we became the first employee benefits company to be owned entirely by its employees.
It came off the back of the founder’s retirement and provided him with an exit from the business while allowing the remaining employees to evolve the company into what we believed it had the potential to become.
Here are some of the elements that have provided the steepest learning curves for us as an organisation.
It is crucial to thoroughly understand the legal requirements and processes involved before initiating the transition to an EOT
1. The practicalities are all consuming
The process of becoming an Employee Ownership Trust (EOT) was far from straightforward or easy, especially considering our situation as a group of companies, including Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) regulated entities.
It is crucial to thoroughly understand the legal requirements and processes involved before initiating the transition to an EOT.
For us, given the multitude of shareholders, obtaining their agreement and approval meant drilling down into the nitty gritty adding an extra layer of complexity to the process.
Be prepared to dedicate significant time and resources to exploring and evaluating the various options.
2. Get employee buy-in
It might seem obvious that everyone will be onboard with a shift to an EOT; after all the potential benefits are huge.
Some employees will recognise the opportunities it presents but be prepared for some individuals to struggle with fully comprehending the implications of the change.
The sense of belonging across the employee base is tangible, but most surprising is the connection with our field team, which can be notoriously difficult to engage due to their perpetual remote working.
All of our field colleagues are as much a part of the culture and community as any office-based workers and they have really embodied the ethos of the EOT.
3. The culture change is REAL
The culture has undergone a noticeable transformation, primarily influenced by the new leadership team.
While the EOT played a crucial role in creating the conditions for change, it is still too early to determine the extent to which the EOT itself is driving the cultural shift.
As we enter our second year, we anticipate that colleagues will develop a deeper understanding of what it means to be part of an EOT, and the benefits will become more obvious and attainable.
Before, our Managing Director – and Founder – had clear ideas of what he wanted regarding the business’ direction.
Some employees will recognise the opportunities it presents but be prepared for some individuals to struggle with fully comprehending the implications of the change
Having the opportunity to shape a new strategy, forge a new purpose and mission and shape the company values has been hugely motivating.
Notable changes include rejuvenated management processes, a fresh approach to internal comms, actioning office improvements, and the introduction of social activities like company events to consolidate the sense of belonging and ownership.
I encourage everyone, regardless of their role, to bring ideas into the mix, suggest improvements and be vocal about helping push the business forwards.
This empowerment has certainly been a force for good although we are still bedding in.
4. Expectation versus reality
Don’t over promise the benefits: it’s hard work!
This means giving timely information to employees but being careful not to over egg the pudding and make promises or give out information where you are not certain.
People had varying expectations of how this was going to work and some have been disappointed, while others have been ecstatic.
Reminding them that you can’t change things overnight just because we are the bosses now is key.
It is a good idea to bring someone in from a company that has become an EOT to speak to your staff about what it is like in order to avoid false expectations and maximise buy-in.
Having the opportunity to shape a new strategy, forge a new purpose and mission and shape the company values has been hugely motivating
5. Keep communication flowing
This means acknowledging the importance of sharing more information with employees, promoting transparency and participation.
But also when communicating with the wider workforce, be cautious about overselling the benefits right from the start.
Instead, adopting a more reserved approach initially and gradually introducing the full range of benefits and opportunities as you navigate through the early months is advisable.
This allows for a smoother transition and helps everyone involved to adjust and embrace the EOT more effectively.
This is also important when recruiting new staff – be clear about what it means to be part of this business model and how this will shape their experience at work.
Be sure to remind the outside world, prospects and clients that this shift is what makes you unique and focused on creating the best outcomes for everyone.
Bring someone in from a company that has become an EOT to speak to your staff about what it is like in order to avoid false expectations and maximise buy-in
Engagement is everything
There will be plenty of bumps in the road but the pay-off is worth the time, effort and considerable legal and administrative hurdles.
The level of employee engagement since becoming an EOT is most certainly on an upward trajectory.
The culture we have worked hard to create post-EOT is one of the most cohesive, inclusive, and supportive I’ve ever had the privilege to be a part of.
It remains to be seen how our future will unfold, but we are embracing it with enthusiasm and renewed energy and purpose.
If you enjoyed this, read: How can employee benefits be fair for everyone in a global organisation?