Finding my feet through employee ownership

As part of EO Day, UMi Content Editor and one of the Directors of UMi’s Employee Ownership Trust (EOT), Richard Dawson, shares how employee ownership has helped him find his voice in business.   

Millennials have been described as the generation of workers that want it all – good pay, lots of benefits, work-life balance, an employer that cares about their wellbeing, and a role that aligns with their values.

And in today’s labour market, who can blame any jobseeker for thinking a little more deeply about value alignment and company culture before taking a job?

When it comes down to it though, I think all early career workers really want is to be heard.

To be able to influence decision making and have a meaningful say in how a business is run is all too often an unrealistic goal for somebody who is taking their first steps on the career ladder.

This might be because there is no forum for them to share their opinions and ideas or because where there is opportunity to contribute, it tends to be those with the loudest voices that hold sway.

Of course, it’s not just the employee that loses out in this scenario. We know, for example, that diversity of thinking is absolutely critical in terms of business growth, innovation and adaptation and that companies which don’t listen to their employees can quickly become antiquated and stuck in their ways.

One sure fire way to avoid this inertia and give employees an ability to affect the direction of a business is through employee ownership.

At least, this is what I have found since I started working for UMi in May 2021.

Prior to joining, I’d been told that the company had a great culture and provided lots of opportunities for training and development. But it wasn’t until a few months in that I began to connect the dots and realise that this was in no small part down to the fact UMi is employee owned.

In the year or so since, there have been numerous occasions where I’ve experienced first-hand what makes working for an employee-owned business so different.

One of the things that has been most striking is the degree of transparency and openness when it comes to reporting on business performance and profitability.

Too often when you’re working for a company, its financial position is shrouded in secrecy with key pieces of information carefully guarded by a small number of people.

I have never liked this approach because I think it’s important as employees that we have some indication of whether our work is having a positive or negative impact on the bottom line.

At UMi, all employees get at least a bimonthly update from the chief executive where she goes right through all the numbers, highlighting how the business has performed against its targets and what the business development pipeline is looking like.

It’s always an instructive session where I come away with a much clearer picture of where I fit into the wider business aims and objectives.

Something else I’ve observed is the increased willingness to invest in the business and its people.

Over the past 12 months, UMi has diverted some serious resources into developing new products and services that will make the business more diverse and productive over the long-term. 

And while every business I’ve been involved with has taken its fair share of risks, I’ve never worked somewhere that is so committed to achieving a greater sense of longevity and sustainability.

On the people side, almost all of the senior management team I get to work with at UMi started out just like me and worked their way up, which is not only reassuring from a professional development perspective but also reinforces the idea that being an employee-owned business really is about being accountable to your employees.

Which brings me quite nicely on to UMi’s Employee Ownership Trust (EOT) – the company which holds the shares on behalf of all employees and which represents their interests.

I was delighted to be appointed to the EOT board of directors back in March and since then have gained a whole new level of insight into how the company is run.

Importantly, I have been able to have a say in some of the really big decisions that are being taken about UMi’s future, which, as someone who has never sat on a board or been a director before, has been a fantastic and exciting learning experience.

I never imagined when I joined UMi back in 2021 that I would find myself sat around the board room table having conversations with the people who run the business day-to-day on an equal footing.

But such is the nature of working for an employee-owned business where everyone has an equal stake in its success.