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A year in: 10 ways being an EOT has changed life at Salad

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Our MD, Bella shares her thoughts on how becoming employee owned has impacted ways of working, our culture and how we’re working together as a team, more than ever, to shape our future.

A year in: 10 ways being an EOT has changed life at Salad

A year ago Salad transitioned to employee ownership.

It’s been a huge year of discovery and learning. We’ve joined an exclusive set of like-minded businesses who’ve seen the opportunity and benefits of employee ownership and made the leap.

But what has it actually meant? Well, pull up a chair…

Why an Employee Ownership Trust (EOT)?

The simple answer is twofold.

Firstly from Salad‘s perspective I felt it was the best way to protect our culture in the long term.

Secondly, from a personal point of view, I saw it as the best way to have a gradual, open and honest succession plan.

“Employee ownership is one of the fastest-growing business succession solutions in the UK, where there are now more than 800 employee-owned businesses – with more than 300 of those having transitioned since 2020” 

Employee Ownership Association

The way we run the business has fundamentally changed

Structurally we now have three entities to the business: the Trust Board, the Salad Board and the Employee Council. Each of these have distinct roles and responsibilities and it certainly means that I no longer have the final say on decisions. This may pose a problem for a more autocratic leader but I’ve always believed in a democratic approach so the foundations were already in place.

There is a lot of unity

As a consciously small senior team, you could argue that we may have had this anyway.

But it feels more meaningful. As an EOT there is a legal requirement to share more but we’re not doing it just to tick a box. We want to be the best version of an EOT that we can, and there is a strong desire to develop an even more open, collaborative and consultative leadership style.

We’ve redefined our proposition

Arguably something every EOT needs to do after the transition is to ensure that the employee voice has been heard and in many cases, this will mean an adjustment to strategy.

We’ve looked at who we are and why we exist, and updated our branded touchpoints to reflect this new messaging. Whilst brilliantly led by our Strategy & Creative Director, Harry, this work was co-created by everyone in the team which has meant alignment and buy-in in a whole new way.

I’ve learnt that the status of ownership didn’t matter to me

Whilst I am unlikely to be Salad’s MD forever, my passion for the business and my role hasn’t dimmed. In fact I might be loving my job more than ever.

Why?

Firstly this is a big learning curve, for me and the business, and it’s exciting to be on this journey. I didn’t know how I was going to feel on the other side, in fact even writing that I may not be MD forever seemed impossible a year ago. Now I am excited (yes, also nervous) to work on my succession, but I can also see a future where I am always part of Salad in one capacity or another.

Everyone is an owner*

This sounds great, and often it is, but the reality is that it sometimes means taking difficult decisions. Everyone has stepped up though, it feels like the load is shared and there is a whole new level of proactivity and accountability. As a leader, this is the stuff of dreams. 

This new level of business understanding also directly impacts our clients, everyone has a deeper understanding of the challenges our clients face running their own businesses.

*Actually, technically speaking, no individual is an owner as Salad is now owned by a trust of which employees become a beneficiary after one year of employment.

We’ve got our shit together

We’ve revisited our goals and written a new business plan.

We now have Vision days every quarter and the advantage of our size is that these can be attended by everyone. This means we’re debating and crafting the important stuff together and the result is a new entrepreneurial vibe and drive for success. It’s exciting to be doing this as a team.

Our culture is stronger than ever

We have just returned from a team jolly to Copenhagen. After a brilliant trip to Madrid in 2017 which went viral it was great to get on a plane again as a team and soak up the delights of such an iconic global destination. And whilst last time it could have been seen as a ‘gift’ bestowed by the owners, this was a very different decision: this time it was ‘our’ money we were spending.

We’ve been fortunate to share our success in the first year of being an EOT

While we feel strongly it’s not all down to money, being able to share the spoils when we have them is an obvious benefit to the team. Having the ability to award up to £3,600 tax free every year to each beneficiary (and more which is taxed) fills me with the most immense pride. 

Ownership is not leadership

Valuable advice given by the EOA. Beyond the rules of governance, there is no road map for developing the right culture of an EOT. Each business needs to tread their own path and while we work hard to be open, democratic and to ensure the team feel like employee owners, it doesn’t negate the need for strong leadership.

We’re only one year in and there’s still more learning and developing to do

The real test will be when the chips are down and we’ve not faced this as an employee owned business yet. It will come, that’s the nature of running a business, but my hope is that our shared experience and strong sense of team will carry us through the hard times.