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2012 Innovations in Employee Ownership Award

On Thursday, April 26, the National Center for Employee Ownership (NCEO) announced the winners of the 2012 Innovations in Employee Ownership Award, which is sponsored by TEOCO. The award recognizes the innovative practices that result from having an engaged workforce of employee-owners, as well as ideas that tie stock to improved company culture or performance.

The 2012 Innovations Award recipients include Environmental Science Associates (ESA), n-Link Corporation, Torch Technologies, Inc., and Vigilent. Drawn from the largest pool of candidates in the history of the award, the 2012 award winners were recognized for innovations in employee engagement, corporate giving, and wellness.

Environmental Science Associates, Innovation in Employee Engagement

ESA is an environmental science and planning firm that specializes in all aspects of project planning, environmental analysis and assessment, and regulatory compliance. Founded in 1969, the company now has more than 340 employee-owners and 14 offices. The company became 100% employee owned in 1994. ESA received the Innovation Award for its policy of conducting a company-wide employee survey and using the results to build the company's 5-year strategic plan.

Lloyd Skinner, Northwest Regional Director and ESA ESOP Trustee, accepted the award. He explained, "The challenge was how best to integrate the overall firm vision into our every day. We recognized the need to ensure widespread ownership of the vision, values and strategies. It had to be a living process and document- one that everyone could embrace." To accomplish that, the company conducted a firm-wide survey, used the feedback to develop the company's strategic plan, posted the results as posters and a 20-page summary report, and continued to engage employees through meetings and other continued communication.

n-Link Corporation, Innovation in Employee Engagement

n-Link Corporation is an information technology and professional engineering company that provides services to the U.S. government on civilian and Department of Defense Contracts. Founded in 1995 by Sandra Green, n-Link now has over 125 employee-owners and projects in 35 states as well as internationally in Puerto Rico, Korea, Germany, Belgium, and Italy. The company became 100% employee owned in 2009.

n-Link received the Innovation Award for engaging its employee owners in the annual employee survey that is used to develop the company's goals and objectives for the year. The innovative program uses survey feedback to develop company goals and strategies to achieve those goals. Employees are then given management by objectives (MBOs) that are measured on a quarterly basis and incentive bonuses are awarded. MBO's are tied to meeting the strategies that align to accomplishment of the company's goals and objectives.

Accepting the award for n-Link were Dayna Ebersole, President; Mark Sammons, Recruiter and Ownership Thinking Coach; and Kayt Riverman, Core Values Manager.

The company created an animated film that described their innovation and commitment to their ownership culture: "The key to n-Link's success is our company culture symbolized by our logo, an upside-down organizational chart. Our employee owners think, lead, support, and act like owners to innovate and increase cost saving for our customers."

Torch Technologies, Inc., Innovation in Corporate Giving

Torch provides a broad range of aerospace and engineering services including planning, execution, performance analysis, design and reporting. Founded in 2002 in Huntsville, Alabama, Torch became 100% employee owned in 2011 and now has 275 employee owners. The company has received numerous awards for business performance, workplace environment, and ethical business practices.

Torch received the Innovation Award for the employee-created, employee-run, 501(c)(3) charitable giving foundation called "Torch Helps" that has 100% financial efficiency. The award was accepted by Clay Hagan, a Senior Director at Torch. Mr. Hagan was also one of the employees who developed the idea for Torch Helps.

Before Torch Helps was founded, the company raised money for ad hoc charity events, with waning success. William Roark, the company's CEO, challenged employee-owners to find a solution. Two employee-owners independently presented management with solutions, and were given the task of combining their ideas into a proposal and budget. The result was Torch Helps. In its first six months, Torch Helps was able to donate ten times more than previous 3 years combined. In each subsequent year, the organization set new records for giving.

Vigilent, Innovation in Wellness

Vigilent is a privately held firm specializing in intelligent energy management systems for data centers, telcos, and large, commercial buildings. Since its start in 2004, the company has pioneered the application of advanced, artificial intelligence technology to the real-time demands of energy usage, delivering reductions in costs and increased reliability.

Vigilent received the Innovation Award for its wellness program that rewards participating employees with stock options. "We are honored that NCEO recognizes the benefits of our unique wellness incentive program," said Mark Housley, Vigilent CEO. "Our technology is built on the knowledge that a proactive approach delivers the best results, and we want to address our employee culture in the same way. We've already seen direct results from our stock-linked wellness initiative, and hope our success inspires other companies to embark on similar programs."

The Vigilent wellness program was developed through a partnership with SlimKinetic, a provider of worksite wellness programs. Vigilent is one of the first companies in America to proactively link employee health improvement with stock awards. The program is voluntary and open to all employees. Ninety-two percent of Vigilent employees participate.