The initial thought for many ESOP companies is to cram as much information into a single employee meeting as possible. After all, an ESOP meeting is a substantial commitment of time and resources by the organization, so why not use the time wisely, right? But information overload can be a challenge for employee owners. Because even if the message is a simple one that is delivered perfectly so that all employee owners can understand it, the retention of all of the information you just provided can be lost immediately after the meeting as employee owners go back to their daily responsibilities; soon forgetting the message.
If you really want to deliver a consistent ESOP message that will be retained over time, you will need to repeat your ESOP message many times. Following are some great ways to facilitate productive ESOP communication with your employee owners:
Initial ESOP Rollout Meeting(s)
The initial ESOP rollout meetings serve as the starting point of ESOP knowledge for the employee owners and building the foundation of your ESOP message. A simple, clear, and concise ESOP message is most effective and one that can be repeated during your annual meetings.
Annual ESOP Meetings
Most ESOP companies do a respectable job of conducting an annual employee meeting, distributing or reviewing the participant statements, and celebrating the ESOP. The centerpieces of the annual ESOP meeting are commonly the updated stock price, participant statements, and employee benefit level. An annual meeting is also an effective way to continue to refresh the employee owners on how the ESOP works in a clear and concise message.
State of the Company Meetings
State of the company meetings are focused on the health of the company and generally review the results from the prior year and/or take a forward look at where the company is headed. A review of the company’s financial results and linkage to the stock price by the CEO and upper management is an essential part of the meeting. While these meetings are often combined with the annual ESOP meetings for time and cost considerations, splitting the meetings is more effective, as it provides another opportunity to link the company’s results to the ESOP stock price and yet another ESOP touch. Having a separate ESOP meeting also allows the company meeting to be focused primarily on the business' financial results rather than trying to cover too much information in a single meeting; which again results in a retention roadblock to effective communication with employee owners.
Total Compensation Statements
After the ESOP and/or company meetings, you will likely be entering a time of year where employee owners tend to tune out ESOP information and wait until next year for updates. Total compensation statements are personalized for each employee owner and an effective tool to illustrate the total investment that a company makes in its employee owners. The statement shows the total value of the employee owner’s compensation and benefits. Providing these statements creates yet an-other ESOP touch point, and an opportunity to showcase the plan as one of the centerpieces of your benefits package. It will also put the ESOP in context as a critical benefit of your entire compensation package.
Employee Ownership Month
Each October, The ESOP Association and the employee ownership community celebrate Employee Ownership Month (EOM). While EOM provides an opportunity for the public and government officials to learn more about ESOPs, a primary use of EOM is to promote the ESOP internally. Weekly events and celebrations are commonplace, and provide multiple opportunities to keep the ESOP fresh in the minds of your employee owners.
An annual ESOP meeting, state of the company meetings, total compensation statements, and Employee Ownership Month can be spread out to provide multiple touches throughout the year. There are limitless other opportunities to communicate the ESOP to your employee owners, including the following:
- ESOP informational materials or brochures
Examples include a review of the plan’s eligibility, contribution, and vesting rules and how a leveraged ESOP works.
- ESOP education sessions
These could be conducted by management or by the ESOP communications committee.
Games and quizzes help reinforce the information provided from ESOP educational materials or sessions and can also serve as a standalone learning opportunity. Prizes are helpful to encourage participation.
- National and local ESOP Association conferences
In addition to providing another ESOP touch point to attendees, these events offer other benefits, including ESOP education, networking, idea generation, and employee owner camaraderie.
- Community or social events
Raising money for the Employee Ownership Foundation is just one of many examples.
- Feed them and they will come
A common theme to include as part of an ESOP celebration or meeting is free food. You cannot go wrong to reward your employee owners with a free meal and a chance to gather the team together and socialize.
- Keeping the focus on the ESOP
While these events may also have other objectives, or just be for fun, remember to always keep the ESOP as a focal point of the event.
Remember, effective ESOP communications aren’t just about the content of your message. The consistency and frequency of the message are just as important. Review your current communications strategy and see if you can add one or more touch points to present and celebrate your ESOP!A version of this article was originally written by Aaron Juckett for The ESOP Report.