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A culture of ownership isn’t an automatic outcome of establishing an employee stock ownership plan (ESOP). Even ESOPs that are 100% employee-owned still have to work hard to cultivate authentic employee trust and promote entrepreneurial thinking to maximize the benefits of employee ownership.

Organizational studies show employees who feel trusted — and who trust leaders to act with fairness and integrity — demonstrate better work performance. They also show that the individual trust effect trickles up to impact organizational performance.

In uncertain times (like the height of the COVID-19 pandemic), a trusted employer can be a source of stability and community, inspiring loyalty, and appreciation. A culture of shared ownership can have across-the-board improvements that can:

  • Bolster profitability
  • Improve product quality
  • Boost customer satisfaction
  • Aid recruiting and retention
  • Increase efficiency and sustainability

One of the most important choices a leader can make to establish an ownership culture is to model trust, accountability, and integrity. But those are intangibles, and how they’re expressed in a company culture…well, that needs to be unique to your organization.

Let these 7 ownership culture examples inspire your thinking as you establish and nurture a unique, authentic ownership culture at work.

1. Express Core Values Through Work Practices

For example, if innovation is a key value driving your business, provide opportunities for employees to innovate: technical groups, designated “free-range” thinking time, and freedom to learn from failure. 

If it’s integrity, it’s not enough to model honesty and fairness. Tolerating dishonesty, duplicity, or disrespect can erode trust. And if employees don’t feel psychologically safe to voice concerns, opinions, or suggestions for improvement, you could be leaving value untapped.

Revisit your company’s core values, translate them into concrete, day-to-day activities and ways of working, and make sure leaders and employees alike walk the walk every day.

2. Personalize Career Paths

Career pathing is a process of creating employee growth opportunities that also suit company needs well into the future. When employees can see long-term career potential that aligns with their passions and meets their need for professional growth, their future career development serves as a motivation and a reward.

Individualized career development can help you cultivate your own in-house experts, and a “grow your own” philosophy empowers managers to hire from a broad range of backgrounds and experiences. That supports a deeper and broader base of knowledge and a more comprehensive perspective on just about any subject may arise on the job. This can be an exceptionally powerful tool for recruiting and retention, as well as for building your future leadership team.

3. Communicate Openly, Honestly, and Directly

A culture of transparency and candor starts with leadership, but ideally it makes every employee-owner a company insider. Without a participatory management culture, a participant’s ESOP account balance can feel to the recipient like just another qualified retirement benefit. But coupled with open-book management practices, it becomes a concrete expression of their “share” of company success.

Consider opening up the books enough to help all employees see their work in the context of the whole. How? You can share key performance indicators and important projections at monthly all-hands meetings, for example. Help every employee understand important business concepts, see how their individual tasks tie into profits, and appreciate the contributions of other departments.

The flip side of transparency is professional candor. Ask for employee feedback through multiple channels: surveys, evaluations, open office hours, department meetings, one-to-ones, etc. It’s important to keep a pulse on morale and employee perceptions, and it’s an equally good source of insight from all corners of the organization.

4. Intentionally Immerse & Include New Hires

Act early to welcome new hires by scheduling one-on-one lunches with colleagues and supervisors, as well as key contacts in other departments with whom they’ll be collaborating. Try to make sure every new employee spends time with top-level management for their best chance to learn about company values and vision. Make introductions personal, model a warm welcome, and highlight the skills and attributes the employee was hired for whenever possible, to articulate their relevance on the team.

5. Champion Diversity, Equity & Inclusion

Demonstrating value for knowledge and experience beyond your own requires respect, humility, and curiosity. This applies to perspectives across spectrums of cultural experience and practice; differences in health conditions, impairments, or abilities; and other aspects of an individual’s identity.

Modeling value for knowledge, experience, and perspectives other than your own establishes the standard for teams. Help them meet expectations with training and clearly articulated best practices for a respectful, equitable, inclusive workplace. Hold managers accountable for their role in advancing equity and inclusion.

Make sure all employees have access to tools and/or any assistive technologies required to perform their jobs. Recognize that many cultural and religious observances aren’t included in the typical U.S. company calendar. Create policies to support employees’ religious and spiritual needs.

6. Show Care for Employees as Whole People

As a baseline, every employee deserves on-the-job safety, access to the right tools, and an appropriate environment for the demands of their job. But that’s limiting care for employees to the confines of work. Employers who demonstrate caring have a chance to differentiate among peer organizations by offering:

  • Inviting, comfortable, productive work environments
  • Hybrid flexibility (where possible) to help workers meet family needs, take care of their own health requirements, or get proactive rest to prevent burnout
  • Well-rounded benefits supporting educational goals, financial and mental well-being, and physical fitness
  • Mentoring and coaching for professional growth and executive skills development (such as organization and time management)
  • Recognition of important milestones in both work and life
  • Social opportunities to get to know one another as people

Clubs, outings, volunteer service, and even a simple department potluck all offer opportunities for coworkers to get to know each other as people.

7. Establish Intentional Communication Milestones

A proactive approach to your ownership and culture communications can help tie employee-targeted messaging to your business growth strategy. But you also need to think about what employee-owners need to learn, and are most receptive to understanding, throughout their tenure with the company. 

An intentionally designed plan helps new employees conceptualize the retirement benefit’s potential value. It continues to strengthen their understanding and underscore the value as they become fully vested, and as they become eligible for diversification distributions. As retirement approaches, communications can help employee-owners anticipate the choices they may have related to distributions.

Your communications plan has tremendous potential to support an ownership mindset and encourage employee engagement.

Put Your Ownership Values Into Practice

Our own experiences and the data prove that ESOP companies see tangible results—significant increases in share value and higher employee engagement scores—with expert help cultivating a culture of ownership. Learn more when you download our free guide. Just click below to get your copy today.

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