Our Journey Of Employee-Ownership

Our Journey Of Employee-Ownership


by Alexa Stewart

For those new to the concept, employee-owned businesses are totally or significantly owned by their employees. Economic contribution of employee ownership in the UK is significant and growing – the White Rose Centre for Employee Ownership survey reported there were 470 employee-owned businesses in the UK in June last year.

This week marks Cirkle’s 3-year anniversary of becoming an employee-owned company and I find myself looking back on the day it was announced – in some ways it feels like a lifetime ago, and in others, it seems like only yesterday! So here is my honest account of how being an EOT over the past three years has impacted the agency, and me personally.

When the employee-owned re-structure news was launched, there was real excitement within the air, but perhaps also underpinned with some uncertainty, as is inevitable with the news of any significant change. 

Despite the clear and transparent discussion, I was left with so many questions.

What was this going to mean for me?

How is this going to change things?

What can I expect?

Why do I feel a little unsettled?!

These questions didn’t feel appropriate or significant enough to raise at the end of a formal Q&A session with the CEO, but none the less, questions that lingered in my mind for a few months following the announcement. However, as days, weeks and months followed, the dramatic overnight change that I anticipated never appeared, people didn’t immediately start behaving differently – it felt very much ‘business as usual’ at the time. However, looking back at where we were, and where we are today, there has clearly been a series of gradual changes developing across the business, which has been wholeheartedly embraced by every one of our fabulous partners.

What was this going to mean for me?

Well for a start, there weren’t any over-night surprises, the changes were far more subtle and totally welcomed by everyone within the agency. Having a greater contribution to decision making processes, being regularly asked for input into agency plans and proposals, communication became even more fluid and transparent. The creation of monthly employee forums has been a welcome addition to teams across the agency, a chance for individuals to get together with their peer groups and discuss a range of topics, what’s working, what’s not working, and working together to create better outcomes for the agency. From how we plan resource, to our team structure model, it’s great to have everyone around the table involved in that conversation – a move away from a more traditional top-down model.

How is this going to change things, what can I expect?

The truth is that our new model has only changed things for the better. It’s helped the agency to evolve and progress in a way which has the backing of the whole agency team. We have always prided ourselves on our inclusive culture, but the step towards employee ownership has only accelerated that.  We have been able to implement new programmes, such as our ‘Gamechangers’ workshops, which puts key business challenges into the hands of our employees to review. From attracting diverse talent into the PR industry, developing partnerships with our local communities, to supporting the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals – the whole team has been involved and is invested in getting this right.

Why do I feel a little unsettled?!

Any period of change can be unsettling, but the reality of the situation was – we had nothing to fear. It’s been a natural evolution and one which has made us tighter and stronger as an agency. It’s been a journey of constant learning and discovery, and fun!  We have tried new things, lots of them, some haven’t worked, and yet others have flown and the team have taken real pride in being such an integral part of it.

What next?

For those considering a similar move, what could it really mean for you? For us, it’s been a mindset transition – this business is our future and we have the unique opportunity to be involved in shaping the business. The team has the opportunity to contribute to decisions in a way that leaves us feeling incredibly proud and empowered. It’s helped in our efforts to cement a culture of inclusion too – the ownership is equal across every team member, no matter how long they have worked at the agency or their role within it – it’s genuinely left everyone feeling equally invested in the success of the business. The process has galvanised our teams, giving everyone the feeling that we are working towards a shared purpose and vision.  My advice, don’t be afraid – lean in and embrace it!