What Is Ownership Culture?

Just about every ESOP company wants to have employees who think and act like the employee-owners. Compelling research and decades of experience show that employee ownership is in fact a powerful tool to improve corporate performance – but only when companies have “ownership cultures” in which employees think and act like owners. That is a lot more than being nice to customers, cutting down on waste, coming to work on time, and even working hard on the job.

An effective ownership culture, the research shows, is one that generates lots of ideas from a well informed and highly involved workforce. Companies that have these high-involvement, idea-generating cultures, generate an incremental 6% to 11% added growth per year over what their prior performance relative to their industries would have predicted.

Creating an ownership culture involves at least these six elements:

  • Provide a financially meaningful ownership stake, enough to be an important part of employees’ financial security.
  • Provide ownership education that teaches people how the company makes money and their role in making that happen.
  • Share performance data about how the company is doing overall and how each work group contributes to that.
  • Train people in business literacy so they understand the numbers the company shares.
  • Often (but not always) share profits through incentive plans, profit sharing, or other tools.
  • Build employee involvement not just by allowing employees to contribute ideas and information but by making that part of their everyday work through teams, feedback opportunities, devolution of authority, and other structures.

Creating high engagement cultures is hard work. But it is work that pays off. We know of very few companies that backed away from these systems once they started them, although they are often changed. It’s common to start with one system, then find as people get used to that, their skills and confidence rise to a level where a different system is needed.

High engagement cultures have been repeatedly shown to be the most effective intervention a company can create to improve performance. But go to an NCEO conference and witness the enthusiasm and energy coming from managers and employees of these companies and you’ll learn something else—they are also the most fun way to run a company.



Oliver Winery's Sarah Anderson talks culture initiatives

How the NCEO Can Help

The Ownership Culture Survey

Our comprehensive employee survey gives you the tools to most effectively measure your employee ownership culture. Survey results include comparison data from over 26,000 respondents at more than 120 companies, with over 150 survey items to choose from. Company's receive summary report with specific recommendations based on your results and a personalized consultation with NCEO staff.

Communications Committee Crash Course

Whether you are just getting started or trying to get back on track, this training program will offer communications committees from companies of all shapes and sizes a way to learn, engage, and network with others in the employee ownership community.

Four separate training sessions will cover topics such as learning to develop an effective communications strategy, discuss common challenges and mistakes, create alignment with company leadership, and improve employee engagement strategies for the long term.

Employee Survey Networking Program

In 2021 and 2022, the NCEO will launch a brand-new program for ESOP companies to administer Ownership Culture Surveys to employee-owners while collaborating and networking with fellow employee-owned companies in the process. The NCEO's Ownership Culture Survey Networking program is designed exclusively for employee-owned businesses and measure how well employees understand their ESOP and ways the company can more effectively capture the benefits and competitive advantages of employee-ownership. Companies will have the chance to engage with one another through the administration process and network with each other while assessing their feedback and results. Together, companies will collaborate to build strategies and action plans that help improve communication, employee education, and employee engagement initiatives.

Administration of the Ownership Culture Survey will help gauge employee attitudes on topics such as:

  • Do employees understand your ESOP?
  • How much do employees feel like owners of your business? What would make them feel more like owners?
  • Are employees offered adequate opportunities to learn about the business?
  • Are managers receptive and responsive to employee feedback and input?

Answering Questions, Speaking, and Consulting

If you are an NCEO member, we can answer your questions on employee ownership plans and ownership culture. If you aren't a member, you can call us to see whether we can help you. Additionally, while we are not a consulting organization and do not set up or administer plans, we can provide speakers for employee ownership-related events as well as consulting services to help your company improve its ESOP communications and Ownership Culture. You can email your inquiries to [email protected] or call us at 510-208-1300.

Ownership Culture Publications

The NCEO is leading source on employee ownership, and we have a series of publications that can help your company and committees with ESOP communications, ESOP committee guidance, and the fundamentals for developing an effective ownership culture. Find all of our publications on ownership culture and ESOP communications on the publications page, but here is what we recommend most: