Playing Games to Communicate an ESOP at Morton Buildings
One of the most popular sessions at the recent NCEO virtual conference was by Sandy Kostouros, corporate communications manager of Morton Buildings, a 100% ESOP company with more than 1,800 employees in 43 states.
Morton Buildings started off as a fence builder, eventually expanding into pole barns and then into a variety of commercial and residential construction. The nature of its work means that most employees are building on job sites out of over 110 construction centers located all over the country. Smaller percentages are out selling buildings, working in its manufactured building facilities, or supporting the company from the corporate headquarters in Morton, Illinois. Differing access to technology and varying levels of knowledge of the ESOP make communications a challenge. But Kostouros said Morton was determined “to make sure everyone had the opportunity to learn and be involved.”
For the last three years, Morton has used a company-wide game played during Employee Ownership Month in October as a way to communicate ownership. She said there were six touchstones to the games. They should be:
- Creative, fun, and engaging
- Incorporate competitive elements and prizes employees actually want
- Empower “champions” to help lead the cause and encourage participation and buy-in
- Encourage deskless employees to adopt company technology to engage with each other
- Set a communication plan to adequately inform employees throughout the event
- Drive employee behavior toward the culture you are striving for
The games, if successful, would elevate ESOP awareness, deepen the understanding of the benefits of the ESOP, spark enthusiasm, and inspire and motivate employees to act like they own it. (In fact, Morton uses the phrase “own it” in most of the things they do.)
In 2018 they played “ESOPOLY,” creating their own board. In 2020, it was the “Masked ESOP.” As a take on the popular television show, 25 employees made often elaborate masks, then one per day for the entire Employee Ownership Month would make a video with an ESOP fun fact while wearing the mask. The game was to guess who the person was, along with ESOP trivia questions and employee engagement challenges. They posted clues to make it blatantly obvious to help people make their guesses. It was a great way to learn about ESOPs and about other people at the company.
In 2019 the game was ESOP bingo, called “Mortingo” using the company name. The first step was to create bingo cards, print them, and get them out to everyone along with their own marker. There were 15 different layouts, with the numbers arrayed so that it was unlikely anyone could win in less than three weeks. The standard bingo rules applied. They created Mortingo T-shirts saying “Employee Ownership Month,” had a launch event video with people wearing the shirts and explaining the rules, and local employees helping run the show at each location. This team of ESOP ambassadors grew to 110 people.
The Hammer Times (their internal employee intranet) and Yammer apps allowed people to access the game on any device. One ball was drawn every day with an ESOP challenge (one of several questions as described below). If the challenge was won, the employees could dab their cards until they won. Winners got a prize, a special drink bottle. Ten $50 gift cards and other prizes were available in a raffle.
Challenges were divided into five columns:
- Owner spirit (recognizing people demonstrating ownership pride)
- Wisdom and legacy (reflecting on how Morton got to where it is or telling an inspiring story from a current or former employee)
- Now or never (do what you have been planning to do, such as taking a training course)
- ESOP facts
- Recognizing others for contributions to the ESOP other than ownership pride
Employees built a human hamster wheel for a pumpkin parade in town and then used that as a bingo wheel with white beach balls with numbers. A number was drawn every day. At the end of the week they posted a recap so people could see every single letter posted.
A teaser was sent out to get people to guess the game, and posters were sent to all locations. Post cards were sent to homes to share rules and get families interested. Social media posts were created. After a celebration of the winners, they did a survey, showing 508 employees from 98 locations completed the game, with twice that number of employees participating. Over 1,000 people posted something, including 3,033 #owner posts on Yammer. An encouraging 76% of employees found playing Mortingo helped them understand more about being an employee-owner, and 84% said playing Mortingo helped them interact with each other.
In the end, it was a great, fun event. Sandy has just one big word of warning: be careful about sending special M&Ms in the mail as a promotion—they melt!
About the Morton Buildings’ ESOP
Under the leadership of then-President Henry Getz, the concept of an employee stock ownership plan was first introduced to Morton Buildings employees in 1991. For the next 26 years, 15%–20% of its shares were owned by the MBI ESOP for the benefit of its employee-owners. Then, after decades of service to the company, Henry made his final lasting contribution to the company by approving a transaction that made the employees its owners. As a result, the MBI ESOP became 100% employee owned on May 8, 2017.