News and Comment

Top tips for transitioning to employee ownership from Inspire EO 2015

Friday 13 February 2015

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I’m Harjap Roopray, part of OPM Group’s ICT team. I’m also an elected Trustee on the Group’s Employee Shared Ownership Trust (ESOT), which means I act as a critical friend to the board of directors, keeping them updated on staff views on a range of issues.

Earlier this month I attended Inspire EO, an event organised by the Employee Ownership Association and renowned employee-owned business, John Lewis, to see how other organisations implement employee ownership and to find out if OPM Group could learn something to improve our model.

I found that there is a spectrum of employee ownership models. For instance OPM Group is 100% employee owned through a trust. Other companies are part employee, part privately owned. The message from the event was that Employee Ownership (EO) should reflect the business objectives of an organisation, not the other way round. 100% ownership isn’t better or worse, if that’s what suits your business.

EO should not be confused with not-for-profit. A company could be private or EO and reinvest all its profit. Equally, an EO company could give a dividend or bonus to staff.  Companies could even do a mix of both.

There were questions about how existing organisations could go EO and if start-ups should be employee-owned from the get go or transfer over in time. Speakers suggested that start-ups should bite the bullet and go EO from the start because of the additional buy-in and job satisfaction from and for employees. This is definitely one of the benefits we notice at OPM Group.

When developing their employee-ownership models, existing EO organisations didn’t have to have all the answers at the beginning of their journey. And as there is no set template for employee ownership, they found that an internal consultative process was essential to finding the right, bespoke fit for their organisations.

Stats suggest that a business will probably last for a generation beyond its founders and employee EO can be seen as a way to help a company last longer than that. EO won’t save you from the usual challenges of the market but it will make the company stronger and better shaped to meet those challenges.