Employee-ownership is making a comeback. Why? Because ESOP companies enjoy faster growth and greater long-term financial stability when they foster a working environment where every employee is a stakeholder in the company’s success. But this environment of employee engagement and empowerment doesn’t automatically appear when a company becomes an ESOP. It must be thoughtfully and purposefully defined and nurtured through direct, authentic communication that consistently reflects the company’s core values.
Essentially, when ESOPs are done well, the company’s core values function like an internal brand. Just like you want your customers to associate certain feelings or experiences with your product, you want your personnel to associate certain feelings and behaviors with their roles as employee-owners. You define what it means to be an employee-owner of your company (branding), and you model that behavior through communication and action (engagement).
One of the most important messages ESOPs must communicate in order to be successful is the message that every employee has a direct impact on his own personal success as well as on the success of the company as a whole. Every employee plays a part. When the business wins, the employee wins, and when the employee wins, the business wins. This is a completely different mindset from a traditional employer-employee relationship. In that dynamic, there is little to no direct impact on an employee when a single job is poorly done or when a customer recommends the company to a friend. Whether positive or negative, the employee does not perceive a consequence for his performance on the job. ESOPs, on the other hand, are built upon these consequences, and they actively communicate relevant financial data and measures of success in a way that clearly links individual employee actions with satisfied customers and positive financial results.
Teaching employees the relationship between actions and results and modeling the attitudes and behaviors that create this dynamic are critical strategies for ESOPs, but how do they actually make it happen? Some best practices we’ve identified in our work with ESOPs include:
- Define your core values and live by them. In order for any company to successfully communicate who and what it is, it first has to know itself.
- Customize your content and messages for various levels of personnel from supervisors and managers to production-level employees and support staff.
- Give your company’s leadership the tools to exemplify and encourage your core values.
- Emphasize each employee-owners individual power to impact the company’s success.
- Show your employee-owners how their success affects the company’s success using an open book policy.
- Engage your employee-owners with opportunities for both personal and professional growth.
- Understand your employee-owners’ challenges and pain points and empower them to meet their challenges through education, communication, and problem-solving.
- Be timely and consistent. Demonstrate the values you want to promote.
Examples of how these practices may be applied using both internal and external communications include:
- Supervisor and employee emails that define core values, encourage conversations, and invite feedback that is shared across the company
- “Shout Outs” that use social media to recognize those who embody the company’s core values and to praise them for a job well done
- Goal setting, guidelines, examples, and incentives that promote individual and team problem-solving
- Reporting progress and results of individual, team, and company-wide goals
- Encouraging, promoting, and celebrating employee-owner involvement in the communities they serve
- Adapting and sharing positive internal news, customer reviews, successes, and achievements with external audiences whenever appropriate through social media, PR, or other relevant outlets
No matter what strategy or tactic you use to create an ownership culture, every communication should be guided by your company’s core values. Consistent messaging and modeling are key in creating the engagement and empowerment that lead to ownership behavior. Don’t just talk the talk. Lead your employee-owners in walking the walk.