Whether it’s running the country or running your business, how can the Ownership Effect help?

A few weeks back I had a look at the three main manifestos in the run up to the general election and what the results might mean for the Employee Ownership (EO) sector. So what did we get on the 9th June…? Well I’m not entirely sure…and I get the feeling it’s going to be a good few weeks if not months before we get a measure for what our next government is going to want to, and more importantly what they are able to, focus on.

So putting that aside for a moment, let’s instead have a quick think about what the government of the day might learn from the EO sector.

Last Friday I was giving evidence on how EO contributes to UK productivity at the first Inquiry Hearing of the Ownership Effect. It’s been shown that EO businesses outperform non-EO businesses in the current economic turmoil and that they are workplaces that are great to be in, have high levels of productivity and governance structures that operate to a high ethical and professional standard.

None of this should come as a surprise to anyone, like myself, working in the built environment sector. My day-to-day work is project based and what makes a great project, in terms of both quality and reward, is having a great team that collaborates and communicates well. A team where everyone understands each other’s worlds and can freely offers suggestions whilst being cognisant on their own area of expertise, are the teams that deliver great projects.

So expanding this out to the running of a company means an organisation where people are interested and understand what is going on outside of their day-to-day focus areas but recognise that they each have their own role to play in the success of the enterprise as a whole. Many people worry that being EO is a path to slowing down decision making and constricts what the organisation can do. In fact what you get is a situation where decision making can be devolved to a lower level as every person understands the wider impact of their day-to-day actions. Furthermore, you have a workforce that has its eyes open to the wider world around it and can spot opportunities as well as tackle issues before they cause problems.

Once this way of working is embedded within your culture, whether you’re EO or not, how can you possibly fail to be fitter, happier, more productive. There is a responsibility that comes with ownership…you look after your own home better than a holiday let… so with EO everyone is motivated for the business to do the best as it is their business. So whilst this might mean that everyone has a view on subjects such as levels of reinvestment…it means that everyone has a view on subjects such as levels of reinvestment – i.e. an engaged and motivated workforce.

Now trying to expand these ideas one or two levels further to national governance is quite a jump…and not at all the point of the Ownership Effect Inquiry…but let’s give it a quick go! What I hope we can agree on is that we want a country where everyone understands what is going on and why, can do their bit for the benefit of society as a whole and help identify things that can be done better. Just like an EO company you don’t want a referendum on every decision but the decision makers need to be trusted, held to account and open to explain why things are the way they are.

In thinking about this I’ve developed a little more sympathy for our elected representatives as they try to balance the interests of one area with that of another. I work within an Employee Benefit Trust that has five different brands doing different, but related, things and something like 80 people all sat in the same open space. We all have the same purpose yet even at this scale we see subcultures developing and at times an “us & them” narrative seeping into the conversation. So just imagine how hard it must be for those trying to improve the lives of all 65 million of us.

One of the interesting reflections on the evidence being given at the Ownership Effect Inquiry was the language being used. Whilst questions were being asked in terms of productivity, profitability and acquisitions, the answers were about culture, sustainability and collaboration. Those that seek out EO businesses and those that find themselves within an EO company tend to have a view of the world where the be all and end all isn’t what happens today or what the current performance metrics are but rather have a more holistic and long-term outlook.

So, in days to come in the run up to the Queens Speech and the beginning of the Brexit negotiations let’s hope our leaders are thinking about how they can engage the whole population as we all have a stake in the success of our country.

Postscript: I started this piece with a mention of the general election manifestos so it would be remiss of me not to mention that the Employ Ownership Association’s own manifesto launched earlier this month. It makes four promises:

  • to deliver better corporate behaviour
  • to build more profitable and resilient businesses
  • to do good whilst doing well
  • to deliver businesses that truly engage everyone

You can read more about it here.

Tim Hurstwyn, Associate Director at Expedition Engineering