July 24, 2023

At the National Summit, Learning is Participation

Executive Director

Ohio Employee Ownership Center

“Tell me, and I forget; teach me, and I may remember; involve me, and I learn.”

This August 24 and 25 in the Chicago suburbs, the Ohio Employee Ownership Center will once again run the National Employee-Owner Summit, a two-day program for employee-owners that, as we like to say, is designed to make ESOP champions. We partner with the NCEO on this long-standing program, which brings together employee-owners from across the country to engage with one another and develop the skills and knowledge needed to make participation more effective in their respective companies. Recently, while watching a documentary on founding father Benjamin Franklin, I was struck by the quote that heads up this blog post (which, although evidently from an ancient Chinese philosopher, is often attributed to Franklin). It got me thinking (perhaps a dangerous thing!) about what we sometimes miss when communicating the ownership message—and what I am reminded of at every Summit.

There are a few questions in the world of employee ownership that can be considered universal: how do we build a strong ownership culture in our company, and how do we get everyone on board? Most companies start by creating a communication strategy that provides information—about the company, the ESOP, their retirement benefits—and often wonder why this doesn’t automatically flip the switch on their ownership culture. Make no mistake, it’s vitally important to provide employee-owners with information, but is that enough? 

Tell Me, and I Forget

All communication begins with someone telling somebody something: it is the first step! But let’s be real–we live in a time of information overload. Every day we are bombarded with bits and bytes of information that fight for our ever-decreasing attention spans. Just providing information means your message may be getting lost.

Teach Me, and I May Remember

This is a tough one for me, because we at the OEOC spend a lot of our time teaching employee-owners the stuff that (we believe) they need to know. But over the years I’ve found that what we think people need to know is not the same as what people want to know. Sometimes we absolutely need to teach people what we need them to know, but not taking the time to understand (and ask) and provide what they want to know will often work against building a positive culture.

Involve Me, and I Learn

Telling and teaching are often one-way forms of communication—I am telling you this information, so listen up! Not too many people like lectures, at least outside of a college classroom. Conversation, sharing, and most importantly listening are core elements of learning. Involving people in the very process of learning allows them to take ownership of what, and how, they learn.

At every Summit we do a little telling, and even a bit of teaching, but every year we look for ways to include higher levels of involvement and interaction in every single component of the two-day program. Just as Importantly, after every Summit we ask participants how we did our job and get their feedback—did you learn what you expected, or wanted, to learn? Is what you learned useful to you? Over 30 years of running the program, and asking these questions, has resulted in a lot of changes to the agenda.

Invariably we shave off more one-way communication and education, and create more conversation, dialogue, and sharing of ideas and knowledge. Just as invariably, we find that everyone in the room has some valuable knowledge to share—and learns just as much from each other as they do from us. And they come back to the job ready to share what they’ve learned and experienced with others at their company. 

The National Employee-Owner Summit will be held August 24–25 in Downers Grove, Illinois.