Observations on Employee Ownership
Act First, Train Later
May 2, 2011Companies trying to create an ownership culture often start by setting up some kind of training program designed to educate employees about what it means to be an owner. The financial opportunity of the ownership plan is discussed; the CEO or other leader talks about how if people work harder and smarter, the stock value will go up; maybe even someone is brought in to provide some initial training in team building. Companies that take it even more seriously may do something more elaborate, such as an off-site meeting or even a retreat replete with team-building exercises designed to show people the value of working together and trusting one another.
An acquaintance of mine worked for years for the Air Force in organizational management. He led a research project into off-site team building programs for senior officers. They came back from their outings (often out in the wilderness) enthused about the virtues of mutual trust and working together as equals. But their jobs did not have structures in place to use these skills. There were no existing work teams, and, even if they set them up, there were no procedures to establish what authority the teams should have. After a few weeks, things settled back to where they were before.
I think a far better approach is to start acting first. Set up some work teams and give them some goals and authority to make decisions to meet them. Or, better yet, let them set their own goals. Some of the teams will flounder; some will succeed. That's fine. Over time, you'll get an idea of what works. Once people are acting in the teams, and probably finding some barriers, then it's time to bring in the training on team dynamics. Now people will be primed to learn and, better, there will be a structure in place to use what they have learned.
Think of how you learn software. Do you start with a training course? A few people do, and it works for them. But most people start using the software, have some successes and some failures, and then start asking a knowledgeable person for help. They may then even consider going to a training course on how to use the software better. Doing the same thing with employee involvement will make your training programs a lot more effective and a lot less expensive.