There was an interesting discussion at the recent Employee Ownership Champions event on how to ensure accountability and transparency in the company’s leadership. Several attendees found it quite a challenge to question actions or decisions by senior managers – after all, you only know what you are told so may not have the full story, and it takes a lot of bravery to challenge the boss!
Two key issues came out from the conversations. Firstly, the importance of having the right leadership in place. We had examined some case studies where new leaders came into the business with disastrous consequences. The story of Roadchef is a sobering reminder of what can happen when powerful executives go “rogue”. Employee ownership requires leadership that is open to scrutiny, and communicates with honesty and transparency. Command and control doesn’t work in employee owned organisations!
The second issue was how can employees – particularly those employees who hold positions such as employee trustee or director – be confident that they are being given the correct information and if they have a sense that something is not quite right – what can they do about it? The inclusion of independent trustees and non executive directors was viewed as valuable. These are neutral individuals who don’t have any personal interest in the company and should be able to provide advice. Essentially, the independents can voice concerns without fear of retribution.
Importantly, employee directors and trustees need to know what their roles and responsibilities are, and executive directors and company trustees have to respect these roles. I think we all agreed that two half days isn’t sufficient to fully brief everyone on what they have to know.