Every company wants to best engage their employees. When it comes to engagement, employee-owned companies have a secret weapon: building an ownership culture. If done correctly, an ownership culture unleashes people’s full potential by creating an environment where everyone can think and act like an owner. Companies see increased growth and profitability while employees experience a better day-to-day environment and wealth building through ownership.
Our experience working with 575 employee-owned companies for over five years is that the number one best practice for building an ownership culture is cultivating a dedicated group of internal champions who are passionate about employee ownership. These champions are typically organized and empowered by the organization through the creation of an Employee Ownership Committee. This article outlines Certified EO’s perspective on creating and running a successful Employee Ownership Committee including:
What is a committee? It’s group of at least three people focused on a specific and shared goal. The key in the beginning is to start small. It’s better to have fewer people with higher average engagement. One way to find your initial members is to reach out to your workforce to let them know that you are starting an Employee Ownership Committee and provide easy ways for them to apply. It’s also fine to hand select people who you feel are passionate about employee ownership.
Generally it’s nice to have your committee broadly represent the company. It’s better to have people from different levels within the company, and if your workforce is distributed across multiple locations, you might consider having a committee member from each location. But you have to start somewhere. Our recommendation is to focus on finding at least three people who truly understand employee ownership, and then build from there over time.
In our experience, successful committees have leadership buy-in but are led by employee-owners. Once your committee is established, you’ll want to create a committee charter and by-laws to align on goals and expectations. Typically, this involves aligning on a mission statement, deciding on term limits, clarifying responsibilities of committee members, and defining leadership roles such as chair and vice chair. The consensus among our Members is that it’s best for the chair to come from the rank and file of the company, but it’s okay for the inaugural chair to be a member of management or leadership to ensure the committee gets off to a strong start.
Your committee members should feel confident answering questions about your employee ownership. Your first few meetings as a committee might need to be spent entirely on educating the committee members, but this will be a worthwhile investment because the more knowledgeable your committee, the more successful they will be at building your ownership culture.
Providing your committee with a budget will multiply their impact. Even though the committee should be run mostly by employee-owners, working with leadership will be key to ensure alignment and resource availability. Many Employee Ownership Committees have an executive sponsor who can advocate for the committee’s budget each year.
Your committee should be visible and accessible. Be sure to introduce the committee so employees know who to reach out to for questions. The committee announcement is also a good time to let your employee--owners know that they can expect more regular communication about employee-ownership. This is also a great time to remind your employees that, as owners, everyone at your company has a stake in the outcome. This way the committee announcement reinforces a key message about employee ownership.
To make the committee accessible, we recommend creating a committee-specific email that employees can email with questions that anyone from the committee can answer. Many of our Members have seen great results from setting up office hours, where one or multiple committee members are available at a regular time (in-person or virtually) so that employee-owners can drop-in with questions. Even if nobody comes by, it’s nice for people to feel supported.
Starting a committee is just the beginning of building a strong ownership culture. Maintaining a successful committee over time can be challenging. It’s important to keep things fresh. Rotate themes, responsibilities and committee roles so that your committee members stay interested and engaged. Consider adding new members annually, but always be sure to prioritize passion.
Creating an annual communication plan is another way to keep your committee on track. Align on a theme for the year, decide on the right number of touchpoints, and identify who is responsible for each. A common pitfall is for the Employee Ownership Committee to become the party planning committee. An annual event is a great idea, but make sure your committee is focused on building your ownership culture throughout the year.
The goals of your committee should change over time with your company and your employee-owners. In the beginning, your committee might be focused on building a strong foundation of EO basics. But over time the needs might evolve as understanding grows. At Certified Employee-Owned, we help guide our Members through this evolution while providing them the tools and playbook they need to share their ownership story. You can learn more about our work here.