What ‘Iconoclast’ Means
I recently gave a talk at the Oxford Business Book Festival. I was on a panel, with three others, called the ‘Iconoclast Panel’. After having looked up the word ‘iconoclast’ in the dictionary, I realised that we were the people expected to bring radical ideas.
I arrived early in order to check out the rest of the speeches. There were some real heavyweight speakers on show: internationally famous psychologists; executive coaches; business consultants. There was an professor of business from Oxford University. Needless to say, I was feeling rather out of my depth.
There were some truly fascinating talks during the day. One issue, that of ‘Purpose’ ran through all the talks, and fresh approaches to marketing, branding, governance and even ownership were all covered. The role of business in society and to the environment, and the fact that business leaders are amongst the very least trusted sectors of society (surely a subject for a blog in itself!).
Martin Parker of Bristol University went first from our panel, and gave his talk on why we should close down the business schools. The themes that we had been hearing about all through the day – in particular the importance of Purpose to a business – would never feature in a business finance degree, ran his argument.
The other talks from our panel were equally as pithy, challenging those who run business to make ‘beautiful’ decisions, and questioning whether the young generation are really rebelling or just turning into their elders.
Why Are So Many Brilliant Business Books Being Written?
Then came my turn. My talk was about my book, The Eternal Business, and employee ownership. Reflecting on the brilliant speeches I’d heard during the day, I changed my opening comments at the last moment.
When I took the lectern I praised the quality of the speakers and the fascinating ideas that I had been hearing. But then I asked why these books were still having to be produced.
People have been writing brilliant books about innovative business ideas for decades and decades, and how much has actually changed? For example, Daniel Pink’s book Drive came out in 2007 and was based on research some of which was decades older. And yet managers continue to implement financial targets and bonus schemes.
Businesses continue to destroy the environment; employees continue to be dissatisfied at work; the gap between CEOs and employee pay gets wider and wider; board directors continue to be rewarded with eye watering bonuses even in the event of failure; we continue to measure money – GDP – as the barometer of success.
Where is the ‘purpose’ in business? Where is the employee voice? Why has so little actually changed, despite all the brilliant thinking?
Who Is Going To Change?
The answer, I suggested, is because despite all the rhetoric, all the fantastic ideas, one thing has fundamentally not changed. The motivation of business remains shareholder value. Big businesses continue to be owned by people who are disconnected from the business, and for whom Purpose is less important than profit; small businesses are too often run by people who want to make their pile and get out.
The Employee Ownership Trust changes all that. It provides a way for owners to get out at a market value. Crucially, it then provides the opportunity for employees, yes, to share in the commercial success of the business, but, more importantly, to have a voice in the running of the business. To work in a place that gives them meaning. To bring Purpose into the workplace.
A company that is owned by an EOT is not going to be sold. The trustees would have no reason to sell the shares, as long is the business is in good shape. Naturally, the employees therefore have a vested interest in ensuring that the business is in good shape.
Now that the focus is moved away from shareholder value onto long-term sustainable profit, the focus of the business is ensuring that the employees have a voice, that there is a strong purpose to the business; a flag in the ground around which everyone can gather.
At last, the ideas that were so prevalent during the Oxford business book Festival finally have the means with which they can come into reality.
How exciting to wonder what the business books in twenty years time would be about if the current business books were actually to be put into practice.
For more information about EOTs you might choose to read Chris’s book The Eternal Business. Alternatively, owners who want to investigate more deeply might contact Chris on [email protected] or to sign up for the Eternal Business Programme.