On the 24th June 2012, the EOA (Employeed Ownership Association) held its first EOA Day; a day where EO companies celebrate their status, spread awareness and share success stories from small independents like us, to huge retailers like John Lewis. With a different theme each year, this year’s focus is #GrowEO, where the EOA hopes to take awareness to the next level and have shared their ambitions for the next 10 years.

This is a week of huge significance for us too. One year ago, our MD Christina Clarke announced that C21 had become employee-owned. She had placed 100% of the company’s shares into an Employee Ownership Trust. (EOT). This bold move not only acted as a succession plan for the business, but was an attempt to provide safety and security for all of C21’s employees. But what did it all mean?

As with many newly-formed EOTs, the first year comprised of fact-finding, emails to our independent Board member, Stephen Hadlow, reading forums on the EO Hub and working out what communication strategy would be right for us. Anyone who has been through this process will point out that employee engagement isn’t one size fits all. You must work with the personalities and team structures you have, in addition to the values of the organisation.

As the employee representative on our Board, I was tasked with getting to grips with the changes, if any, to the way we work, and how we communicate the transition to employees. I reviewed the EOA website looking for more information, in addition to searching social media posts for insights and experiences from other companies. We initially thought we would be bombarded with questions and, whilst there was an initial flurry, we found that we needed to be really proactive in our comms about the benefits for us as individuals, and for future business growth. In our experience, the silence didn’t mean that everyone had absolute clarity. Rather, no one wanted to be the first person to put their hand up.

Putting our best foot forward, we created a Q+A section on our intranet. As part of the launch of this page, we pulled together some FAQs and posted them as a starter for ten. We found this to be a quick, useful tool where people could post any queries anonymously. More importantly, it was built in a way that could grow with us as we started to establish our operational board.

At the heart of every EOT is a strong leader who maintains oversight and operational control of the business. With such focus on efficiencies, shared vision and values, it is important that silos are avoided, and a purpose and direction are outlined from day one. We found that employees were keen to be involved but still needed more clarity in what their role is within an EOT.

We kept coming back to the same questions: How do you define the role employees play as part of an EOT? With operational decisions being made by departmental directors, to what extent can employees shape the future growth of C21? And why does being part of an EOT make us different from any other agency?

Our epiphany moment came when we launched our new corporate identity and positioning. This was a coming together of talent across the agency and an affirmation of our vision for ourselves and our clients; create change for good. As part of this positioning, we interrogated our social media channels, internal processes, and our creative and client service delivery – are we who we say we are? Being an engaged employee of an EOT means staying true to each of our five values and ensuring that the changes we make are done with purpose and direction.

During our first anniversary celebrations, we looked back at our journey as an EOT and outlined some of the operational changes we are making as we grow into our second year. We understand that building a successful EOT culture is more than these things in isolation. It is a sense of belonging, clear direction, and valuing everybody’s contribution equally. When you invest time in your employees, they invest in their own development and their work.

So, when asked what makes and EOT business different? It’s simple. It’s how we walk the walk and talk the talk. It is our vision to make C21 the best it can be and help to make the world a better place. We champion everyone’s skillsets and empower our people to make changes that make a positive impact. Each decision being made is done with clarity and sound reasoning to positively inspire everyone.

One of the other major benefits of being an EOT is the Profit Bonus which gets shared equally between all employees, within a qualifying period. Whilst some companies dangle this financial carrot as the major incentive for high performance, we did so with caution. It was hard to say a year ago that we would be in a fortunate position to give this to employees at the end of the financial year. But we are grateful for the growth we have seen and proud of how the team have adapted to the structural changes put in place as part of our Trust agreement.

Just before our first birthday, the Profit Bonus was shared amongst our employees. It signalled a positive end to our first year as an EOT and a great way for employees to reap the benefits of their hard work. Working for an employee-owned business makes a material difference to people’s lives and we have encouraged employees to share this on our social media channels.

Our first year as an EOT has been a brilliant experience for us all but we still have a lot to learn. We’re still adapting, growing and making changes on a regular basis to ensure that we are delivering on our vision and acting in accordance with our values. We can’t wait to see what our second year will bring and how we will #GrowEO.