October 1, 2020

Ownership Culture Insights: Committees Contribute to Culture

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The direct involvement of employee-owners in the process of communication and education has proven powerful for ESOP companies working to improve their ownership cultures. While this involvement looks different for many employee-owned businesses, it most commonly comes in the form of an employee-driven communications committee.

In my experience with ESOP companies, the most inspiring cultures that create a very real and meaningful sense of ownership are those that take the initiative to bring together a cross-section of workers in different roles and departments to educate and engage both their leadership and their colleagues. In fact, one company that has spent years gathering feedback using the NCEO’s Ownership Culture Survey entrusts its committee with the process of doing so and reporting this employee feedback to the company’s leadership and board of directors every spring. Their annual strategic planning meeting treats their company’s survey results as a sort of cultural balance sheet, which they use to inform their decision-making and ensure that their employee-owners’ voices are heard and acted upon.

There is plenty that can be learned from ESOP companies that have gone through the process of setting up a committee from scratch, and one of the great examples is Web Industries. As my good friend and longtime employee-owner at Web Industries, Bruce Bumpus, told me, a lot of what makes a culture great is just a matter of getting started, getting people involved, and learning from our mistakes along the way. Creating a sustainable committee and culture is always a work in progress. At a Web facility in Boston, around 41% of employees that the NCEO surveyed in 2013 said they felt like owners of the company, while 26% did not feel like owners at all. Many employees wanted more opportunities for learning about the ESOP and getting involved in making improvements that would affect their day-to-day work. 

Over the next two years, the Web committee worked to create different forms of learning, both in-person and by setting up large-screen TVs around their work areas that shared updates about the business or information about their ESOP. The team also focused their efforts on being more responsive to employee input while getting them involved in improvement efforts. When the NCEO surveyed Web's Boston-area employees again, the percentage of employees that felt like actual owners of their business went from 41% to 72%. 

There is no “finish line” when it comes to an ever-evolving and growing company bringing in new people to elevate its team and efforts, and committee members often rotate in and out of their committees as the years pass, but companies like Web Industries have committed to their own employee-owners’ education and engagement and have played a big role in sharing what they have learned over the years with the rest of the community.

This year, I will bring that kind of learning to your computer screens with employee-owners from different companies and industries for the NCEO’s first-ever virtual Communications Committee Crash Course to train and network with one another on lessons learned and what makes committees and their efforts most successful. Learning from other companies is often the best way to continue to transform your business, so if you are just getting started, looking to reboot your committee, or want to engage with other employee-owners working to create meaningful engagement at their companies, join us this fall for our exciting new program. The course will have six sessions, starting October 15 and wrapping up December 9. I hope to see you there!