Organisations rarely stay still – they are living things which constantly shift, change and adapt to their environment. Our organisation, Knowledge Change Action (KCA), is going through a period of significant change as it moves to becoming an employee-owned company. For us it’s more than just a legal change in ownership; it’s an opportunity for the organisation to live its values as a socially progressive business.
Moving to an Employee Owned Trust model ensures that a small, family-owned business rooted in Gloucestershire can stay in the community in which it was founded. Rather than selling to a larger business that might restructure jobs away from the community, it enables the team to continue to live in a place they love and actively contribute to the local economy. Of course it also means the original owners don’t have to dodge awkward questions about the decisions the new owners have made, when they bump into each other down the pub on a Saturday night! That helps too!
Aside from the business case about providing long term employment and preserving the workplace culture, the employee ownership offers something more fundamental that is rooted in social justice and addressing inequalities. It would be fair to say that many of the KCA team would have never imagined that one day they would have the opportunity to be a ‘co-owner’ of a successful organisation; yet that is exactly what is happening in the transfer to an Employee Owned Trust. Although the ownership is through shares held by the Trust, rather than an individual directly, employees benefit through the redistribution of profits when the organisation performs well. This financial benefit isn’t a key motivator for everyone, but it does show how everyone’s wellbeing can be raised through an appropriate model that intentionally redistributes wealth.
Beyond this, we recognize that inequalities are not just about money, but also about power, purpose and influence. So, whilst we are passionate about providing services that meet our commissioners’ needs and improve people’s lives, our trust’s founding document ensures that the decisions that KCA takes should always benefit the whole staff group and not a subset of them or some distant shareholders who sit outside the company’s work and ethos. This in itself re-organises the classical model of business, but we’re keen to explore how we take this redistribution further by looking afresh at our whole approach to decision-making and management.
We are at a point where many socially driven organisations are re-orientating their strategies towards growing community power or putting ‘service users’ (an uncomfortable title) at the heart of decision making. In these efforts to encourage inclusion, many practitioners do an incredible job to ensure they do ‘with’ rather than ‘to’ people, not imposing an agenda on them but truly being in service. However, even when frontline work is person-centred and community driven, if there a strong sense of hierarchy at play within the organisation, there sits an uncomfortable question about the extent to which power and control can be fully redistributed and whether inequalities are unintentionally being reinforced through the existing structures in place. Our hope is that through changing the ownership of KCA, the team feels that there is shared control of our collective destiny, that their voice and experience is vital in the organisation’s future success, and that we can continue to ‘walk the walk’ by working together not through an organisational structure of command-and-control, but simply as a group of people who respect and value each other’s experience, ideas and wisdom.
In the weeks and months ahead, we intend to share our experiences of becoming an Employee Owned Trust, so you can learn with us, as we make our mistakes and celebrate successes together.
Thanks for your support.