September 23, 2022

Employee Ownership Month: Four Tips from the Pros

Executive Director

The NCEO's Innovative Communication Coalition met on Monday to talk about Employee Ownership Month. Although no summary can capture the richness of the conversation, I took home four new ideas about how to get the maximum impact from Employee Ownership Month.

1. Instead of talking about “retirement,” focus on “wealth building”
Many companies focus their education on explaining the nuts and bolts of the ESOP as a retirement plan. That’s both correct and important, but consider changing the emphasis from “retirement” to “wealth building” wherever possible. That subtle shift in language can have a big effect. It alters the way people think about the ESOP by moving the ESOP’s relevance from the misty, distant future to the present. Even if retirement may feel too distant to matter, building wealth is something everyone cares about today.

One participant said that she is creating a video series with three speakers—a retiree, someone approaching retirement, and a young employee—each person will address a different perspective on the ESOP. Including the young person is a chance to reframe the ESOP as a source of wealth building.

2. Account value can matter more than stock price
Many NCEO members hold guess-the-stock-price contests, and many others cover the basics about how valuation works. The NCEO recommends doing both, but you should consider another subtle shift in language. Changing the focus from stock price to account value emphasizes the wealth-building aspect of the ESOP, and since new shares are added to individual accounts each year, this can keep the focus on growth of value. Plus, it’s the size of each person’s account, not the value of each share, that measures the wealth they are building.

Focusing on the value of individual accounts has another advantage. One participant noted that people can better understand the ESOP if they know how much of the year-on-year change in value comes from additions to their account and how much comes from changes in stock price. Those two sources of growth can be easily portrayed on a total benefit statement, and you might even consider breaking down how much of the increase comes from new contributions versus how much comes for reallocating the shares of people who left the company before they were fully vested.

3. What’s a six-letter word for something every ESOP company does?
“Trivia!” Employee Ownership Month wouldn’t be complete without it, and if you’re reading this, you may already have a list of trivia questions your company uses. (Want to share any especially good ones? I’d love to hear from you!)

The members of the Innovative Communication Coalition noted that generating good questions is not the end of the story: what happens before and after is more important. One company that participates in the Innovative Communication Coalition includes an ESOP message, sometimes as short as one sentence, in each of its weekly staff huddles. Those ESOP messages set people up with the answers to the trivia questions.

The trivia questions themselves, if designed well, can give people an easy next step to learn more. Include links to company educational resources in case your trivia question makes someone want to learn more.

4. Invite guests
Employee Ownership Month is a natural time to invite journalists or community leaders to visit your company. That’s a great way to build awareness about employee ownership and maybe the size of our community, but as the NCEO’s Corey Rosen pointed out, inviting guests is not just about outreach: “inviting guests is also ‘in-reach,’ because it sends a clear message to all of your company’s employee-owners.” Press coverage or visits by VIPs makes people proud of their company, and so does the simple act of being a host. People rarely feel more ownership over a company than when they are talking about it to a visitor.

Want to talk more about Employee Ownership Month with the NCEO and your peers? NCEO members are warmly invited to join us on October 11 (9:30am Pacific) for Ready, Set, Game, which is an EO-themed game show with tips for effective communication.

And if you are an NCEO member working on Employee Ownership Month, the NCEO can help!