Ralph Coverdale - Revisited

On the occasion of our 50 years anniversary our UK colleagues have opend the archives and republished some articles of our founder Ralph Coverdale. Surprisingly for us, his thought are still valid and very important untill today.

Ralph Coverdale - Thoughts and Articles

Employee Ownership

Employee ownership is not a new thing. It has been around for quite a while – in fact long enough for there to have been dozens of empirical research papers to be published over the last few decades. I won’t go into the detail of all the papers but suffice to say there are differing views on the pros and cons of employee ownership, although the research coming down in favour of the pros tends to outweigh the cons by some way.

Employee ownership is not a new thing. It has been around for quite a while – in fact long enough for there to have been dozens of empirical research papers to be published over the last few decades. I won’t go into the detail of all the papers but suffice to say there are differing views on the pros and cons of employee ownership, although the research coming down in favour of the pros tends to outweigh the cons by some way.

Results suggest that, far from being an unstable form, or a form used primarily for transitions, the ownership of a substantial part of a company by employees appears to be a relatively stable arrangement. Indeed, it may be an arrangement that stabilizes the company itself, by making it less likely that the firm will be acquired, taken private, or thrust into bankruptcy. It may also be associated with more stable employment levels. And it appears to achieve this without cost in terms of productivity or financial performance, and may, even, enhance performance.

One relevant and fairly recent piece of research by Cass Business School, sponsored by The John Lewis Partnership, looks at how employee-owned businesses performed before and during the recession. Based on an in-depth survey of senior executives and an analysis of the financial data of over 250 companies, the study finds that employee-owned firms:

  • create new jobs more quickly than conventionally structured businesses - they recruit more employees at a faster rate and reward employees with higher wages;
  • are nevertheless as profitable as conventional businesses;
  • are more resilient: their performance is more stable over business cycles, and they have outperformed the market during the downturn;
  • are also more robust: employee-owned businesses have a lower risk of business failure.

Earlier this year, Deb Oxley, Director of Membership for the Employee Ownership Association (EOA) outlined the value of employee ownership to the UK economy, which now outperforms the aerospace sector, contributing £30bn annually to UK GDP.

Sir Charlie Mayfield, Chairman of the John Lewis Partnership when delivering the Robert Oakeshott Lecture said that employee owned businesses are more likely to focus on returns to labour, as opposed to solely pursuing capital returns, thereby delivering what he said was ‘a fairer form of capitalism’.

This is one of the main reason that the Coverdale Organisation became an employee owned business – to give employees a real say in the running of the Company and, ultimately, control and so that those who work in the company can benefit from their hard work through sharing in any success. Lying behind this is an assumption that the motivation gained through ownership will result in enhanced growth and therefore enhanced benefit.
So for us at Coverdale, it’s not just an economic or business issue, it is a philosophical requirement. Cooperation to mutual benefit lies at the heart of everything we do with clients. Why would it not apply to how we run our business?

Lampel, Joseph, Bhalla, Ajay and Jha, Pushkar (2010) Model Growth: Do employee-owned businesses deliver sustainable performance? Project Report. Employee Ownership Association.

by Mike De Luca, CEO of Coverdale UK

The Development of Coverdale Training (Part 2 of 2)

Ralph Coverdale was a pioneering psychologist and philosopher, who died in 1975. ‘Coverdale’ is the name both of the system of training he developed, and of the organisation he founded – now a flourishing international consultancy. The courses concentrate on ways of working together, and methods of getting the job done; the only aspect of a manager’s job that is excluded is professional expertise – accountancy, engineering, sales, teaching, or whatever. Coverdale learning is not so much concerned with management policy, as with management behaviour – setting objectives, briefing subordinates, tackling a job that must be done. This may sound of secondary importance, but it can make the difference between a good manager and a bad one, or between potential fulfilled and a stunted career.

 

 

Ralph Coverdale was a pioneering psychologist and philosopher, who died in 1975. ‘Coverdale’ is the name both of the system of training he developed, and of the organisation he founded – now a flourishing international consultancy. The courses concentrate on ways of working together, and methods of getting the job done; the only aspect of a manager’s job that is excluded is professional expertise – accountancy, engineering, sales, teaching, or whatever. Coverdale learning is not so much concerned with management policy, as with management behaviour – setting objectives, briefing subordinates, tackling a job that must be done. This may sound of secondary importance, but it can make the difference between a good manager and a bad one, or between potential fulfilled and a stunted career.

Although the training was originally designed for managers, it is now used far more widely. Its method is to put groups of people into a situation that simulates working life, and encourage them to experiment and build up a repertoire of successful practices. From the start of Coverdale training (over 50 years ago) it became clear that successive training groups were re-discovering the same working methods, and these repeated ‘discoveries’ were codified by Ralph and his colleagues. Moreover methods that worked in training proved to be just as successful in real life; clients could transplant them back to the workplace, and do their job more effectively as a result. The training has now been undergone by men and women from over eighty countries.

If the training is valuable for individuals, it is even more powerful when a whole team is trained. A systematic project (as described in several case studies) can transform the behaviour of a whole organisation. Projects of this sort, and work with boards of directors, have led to Coverdale’s methods being applied to questions of systems and strategy. Here the huge advantage of training-based consultancy is that the consultant does not impose his own ideas on the client: rather he helps clients to apply principles learnt on the course to their own problems. The outcome is the client’s own, created with his own local knowledge (which is bound to be greater than that of an outsider); the client understands the reasons that underlie the solution, and is committed to making it work.

Coverdale training started in large companies (Esso, ICI, Unigate) but its use has spread far beyond them. Case studies describe its use with charities, with professional firms, inside a research department, and on a huge development project in the Third World. Recently its use has spread to the world of education, not only with officers and head teachers, but even with children themselves. Indeed the methods described here are universal: the same kinds of skill are needed by a managing director handling his board, a foreman handling his shift, or a teacher handling an awkward child (or vice versa!); and the most striking evidence for this is that they can all be trained in the same fundamental way.

Ralph Coverdale was trained as a Jesuit, and in his work he was expressing strong moral convictions, which he bequeathed to the organisation he founded. One conviction was the duty to help people fulfil their potential; another was the value of co-operation – people who set out to help each other will often find a far more valuable solution than if they act as rivals or impose their will on the other side. However, the choice of whether to co-operate, compete or dominate is theirs: a trainer’s job is not to impose values, but to enable clients to do what they want, in the light of well-thought –out and consistent aims.

by Mike De Luca, CEO of Coverdale UK