Today, Friday 30 June, is Employee Ownership Day and Prospects is celebrating six years of being owned by the people who work here. We became employee owned in 2011 and were one of the first companies in our sector to follow this model. But Prospects, which was formed in 1996, is used to being a trailblazer having moved out of the public sector when local authority control of careers guidance services ended at the end of the last millennium.
Lots of good things are said about employee ownership, the sector contributes £30 billion to GDP, productivity for EO companies is currently 4.5% YOY, there are increased operating profits and better employee engagement – all excellent reasons to celebrate employee ownership. But for me the main reason I chose to lead an employee owned organisation was the freedom it gave me to take the company forward.
All organisations are responsible to their shareholders, but when your shareholders are city portfolio holders the main motivation is the annual dividend. Friedman argued in Capitalism and Freedom a company’s only concern is to increase profits for itself and for its shareholders. But for an employee owned company the shareholder concerns are greater than a financial dividend.
Prospects is owned by current and past employees, people who really understand the company because they know it from the inside. They understand our priorities, help shape our values and influence how well we perform every day through their commitment and engagement to our common goal. Even if we could offer them huge dividends, that wouldn’t change their motivations for wanting the company to do well. Prospects work in a challenging but rewarding industry supporting children, young people and adults to improve their lives, whether that is through better employment opportunities, support within a family, to break the cycle of reoffending or to gain better outcomes for young people and students. I don’t believe any of my colleagues comes to work at Prospects just for the money, they come because they want to make a difference.
For me as a leader I can only succeed if I can take my employees with me, but knowing they share my vision to support and help more vulnerable people across the UK and internationally, means together we are truly stronger. We are not pulling in different directions and I trust my leadership team to innovate enabling their divisions to be responsive and agile.
This shared vision is our lifeblood and is why I chose to lead an employee owned company. Unlike many leaders I am not forced to drive a staff of 1,400 towards a faceless shareholder’s goal, I am with them as we charge towards our shared future.
To find out more about employee ownership contact the Employee Ownership Association or contact Prospects to hear more about the range of services and products we can provide in the Employment & Skills, Care & Support and Education & Learning sectors.
Nick Bell joined Prospects in October 2014, he was previously Chief Executive at Staffordshire County Council.