September 1, 2022

Reflections on Culture: the National Employee-Owner Summit

Executive Director

Ohio Employee Ownership Center

Research Associate & Special Projects

Ohio Employee Ownership Center

At the National Employee-Owner Summit, we spent time with an amazing and diverse group of employee-owners from around the country. Here are three things we learned.

Getting back together in person was powerful: Over the last few years, we all faced challenges in just getting together. Perhaps no area was more affected by this than communication and culture-building. Zoom is a great tool, but getting 40 people together in a room—sharing ideas, asking questions, making corny jokes (wait, that was Chris…)—was a welcome change from “business as usual.” At an intimate two-day event like the Summit, we get a chance to get to know one another at a deeper level and explore issues in greater detail.

Sharing challenges, not just successes, is valuable: Let’s face it—many of us attend ESOP events to hear other people’s success stories. While we talk about it less often, discussing challenges has a great deal of benefit, but it also requires a setting in which individuals are comfortable to share and—dare we say it—be a bit vulnerable. Such settings are understandably hard to create during one-off interactions.

But, over the course of a two-day training program, the number of interactions multiplies, the level of trust increases, and people’s conversations go beyond the easy-to-talk-about benefits of being employee-owned and move to the challenges. In having those conversations with folks from other companies—during exercises, while sharing a meal, amid breaks, and after hours—we find out that our individual challenges are not that unusual. Being able to share frustrations is cathartic, and doing so with someone outside your company provides the opportunity to get a new perspective on your issues. Most importantly, with the time to dig deep, we were able to develop some solutions too.

Diversity is one of our superpowers: Our group this year was from leadership, the shop floor, and everywhere in between. They represented companies from every major industry group and every region of the country. Some were from mature ESOP companies, others from companies that weren’t employee-owned yet. We all had different backgrounds and different employee ownership origin stories. Through this diversity, we were able to successfully work together toward a common goal—improving employee ownership at our companies. Each participant had something to offer. You probably have similar ranges of diversity at your company too. Are you fully embracing this, and asking for contributions from everybody? We recommend that you do as a best practice.

The Summit represents two full days of intense learning on how ESOPs work, how to communicate them, and a lot of nuts-and-bolts issues. Even so, we always come back refreshed and secure in the knowledge that the companies represented are in good hands with their employee-owners. We will be running additional Summits as we head into 2023, so keep an eye out for future announcements!