“Business recovery from COVID-19 lies in implementing the practice of Open Book
Management” Suranga Herath, CEO, English Tea Shop
Over the course of the last few months, most businesses have been forced to adapt their strategy against the backdrop of the pandemic. For many companies, business growth and development slowed and certain key goals and innovations fell to the wayside in order to prioritise ‘survival’. For my business – a speciality tea company – we place great emphasis on exporting across the globe and bringing people together to enjoy a cup of tea as part of a wider community. Neither of those things have been possible amidst the pandemic. Whilst this was initially difficult for us, we are now steadily transforming our business to function in the new world order and our business model of Creating Shared Value is instrumental in making this happen. This has not only brought us closer with our suppliers and customers during this challenging time, but also through the practice of Open Book Management (OBM) we have been able to navigate this time united and focussed. OBM fosters a unique culture of employee and stakeholder transparency, empowerment, and satisfaction; in turn leading to incredible results, loyalty and increased productivity across the board. So as we start adjusting to the new normal, I wanted to share a couple of reflections that I believe has made a fundamental difference during this challenging time. My firm belief is that whilst the road to recovery will be a long process for any business, it is through implementing initiatives like the Open Book Management that businesses from all sectors can put their best foot forward as we enter the new normal. Open Book Management - a definition Open-book management (OBM) is the business practice of creating transparency through sharing financial information with employees across the company. The power of its implementation lies beyond just the practical means, as the philosophy and theory carry profound ripple effect across the entire organisation and culture. Whilst for many leaders the idea of sharing financial information with employees beyond the senior management team seems alien, the benefits reaped are worth the effort. Open Book Management (OBM) is a system that incorporates this financial transparency alongside providing teaching, KPIs and bonus systems for employees, as well as Employee Share Ownership Program (ESOP) which gives staff a percentage of the company shares. The idea behind this is that when employees gain a better understanding of how the organisation is run, they become empowered by this knowledge and become more committed to the company and its results. This is not necessarily limited to employees, and is often extended to stakeholders; in fact, at English Tea Shop we have been equally transparent with our community of organic farmers, reaching out to them during Covid to be transparent around our cash flow and assure them in their role as suppliers. Road to Recovery Regardless of industry, size or previous growth, any business leader will admit that the recovery from prolonged socio and economic disruption like the COVID-19 pandemic is a long and challenging process. Businesses that choose to shake up their traditional business models and embrace a more
disruptive and progressive approach will experience a first mover advantage and put themselves in a good position for the long and hard battle ahead. In my view, initiatives like OBM and the Great Game of Business are the perfect starting point for any business that is looking to motivate its workforce through fostering a strong community and igniting entrepreneurial spirit. Our Story Since inception, my goal for English Tea Shop has always been to build a business of dedicated people with sustainability as our guiding force. Our model of Creating Shared Value is focused on creating win-win situations whilst finding opportunities for growth in sustainable development. All whilst looking after our Prajava (Sri Lankan word for community) Over the last couple of years we’ve grown substantially, whilst keeping a happy and motivated workforce. This has resulted in numerous awards wins. But perhaps the biggest measurable achievement to date is the 31% improvement of productivity across our factories in just under 12 months. This came about organically without any further investment towards new technology or systems during that period. From a business perspective, this meant we had increased capacity to do more, and reach a wider audience. It also helped us win a host of prestigious awards for Sustainability, such as the Queen’s Award, National Business Award, Gold awards at Sri Lanka’s National Productivity Awards and many others. Just this month, we were awarded the “The Great Game of Business All-Star” for our commitment to generating results through integrating Open Book Management within the Creating Shared Value business model. Even during the most difficult years, such as Brexit, we were able to keep our head high and remain profitable despite the numerous external challenges, and this was because everyone worked towards a commonly shared goal and had a high level of accountability in terms of their individual actions; no matter how little they believe them to affect the bigger picture. This is the magic of OBM. While for my business and many alike financials have been strong, the most profound impact of OBM lies on the level of understanding it fosters greater understanding of business. When everyone started thinking and acting like commercially-minded business people they understood challenges better, and they applied their knowledge and skills much better. Hence, we are confident of a long- term approach that will make us a uniquely sustainable business. Why now? From my perspective, there is nothing more powerful than a business driven by entrepreneurially minded employees, that understand how their role plays a part in the bigger picture and strategy of the business. This is exactly the type of mindset and culture that OBM fosters, and embedded across the entire organisation, and if our results are anything to go by the potential is endless. I urge other businesses to take stock of their current operations and means of growth, and look beyond the traditional strategies as it is through progressive approaches like OBM that the combination of business growth and employee satisfaction can be achieved. And with more uncertainty heading our way, now is the time to start.
Suranga Herath is CEO of English Tea Shop, the leading independent speciality and organic tea company.