It is a well worn turn of phrase to say that the world we live in has changed in the past eight months.  It has become somewhat of a cliché to say so, but as with most clichés , there is truth in the statement.  

What is certainly true is that businesses across the globe have had to adapt and find new ways of working.  Business owners have had to trust that their staff will continue to be productive whilst sat in their bedrooms, kitchens and home offices (for those lucky enough to have one!!).  It seems that many business owners have been surprised about how well the new ways of working have gone.  For those in the employee ownership world, allowing staff greater freedom and involving them more is obvious.  They would argue that such involvement is not just a short-term fix for the Pandemic but a long term advantage.   The questions is, are they right?

In a joint report by the think-tank Ownership at Work and Grant Thornton they have examined how employee ownership has impacted upon businesses and whether it has been positive or negative.  The report highlights  the outcomes as universally positive.  It has to be accepted that the report focuses on a small cohort of businesses but the message coming from all of them is the same.  Employee ownership has brought greater engagement, more positivity and, rather importantly, better financial performance.

It is also clear from the report that employee ownership is not just about structure.  It has sometimes been the case in the past that employee ownership/involvement structures and schemes have been sold to business owners and they have had little positive effect.  The report makes it clear that culture is perhaps the most important determiner of whether employee ownership will be successful or not.  Therefore, the switch must be from the top down.  There is little point in pursuing the push to employee ownership if the entire culture of the business does not engage and change.

 In uncertain times employee ownership may also prove a useful tool for those looking to exit their business.  Trade sales to those that may be competitors or with whom you have no relationship carry a large element of risk.  An exit involving your employees may be seen by some as a way of mitigating that risk.  Such exits still face their challenges but they can also be a way of preserving a legacy and keeping alive the thing that a business owner has spent may years building and as such should be considered.

Employee ownership is not a panacea for the ills of the Pandemic, lack of productivity and the difficulties in exiting a business but it is increasingly becoming a bigger part of the solution.  The Ownership at Work/Grant Thornton report is useful reading to find out why and may perhaps change your mind about the value of the proposition going forward.