October – national ESOP month – is a great opportunity to build enthusiasm for your plan’s benefits. You can educate employees about how they affect company performance, drive ESOP stock value and create your firm’s ownership culture. If you want to get more out of your investment in employee ownership in October, here’s a few things to consider right now.
1) What are your ownership goals?
What do you want your ESOP to accomplish? Is it an additional retirement benefit, a tool for building an ownership culture or both? Along with that, what does employee ownership mean at your company? Does it change anything? If it does, what? Take a minute to step back and define what employee ownership means before jumping into anything for October. That way, whatever you decide to do will reinforce your goals. Remember the African proverb: a wise man does not jump into the water with two feet.
2) What the current state of your ESOP?
Employees’ expectations of ownership, understanding of the plan’s benefits and buy-in to your ownership culture can vary widely. ESOPs are complex and often confusing. Do you know your employees’ level of ESOP knowledge? Do people share a common understanding of what it means to be an ESOP owner? If you aren’t sure, consider a survey or focus groups as part of your ESOP month activities. That will help you determine where to start and if you should send different messages based on an employee’s age, tenure and ESOP participation.
3) Do you have an ESOP communication strategy?
Some firms communicate on an ad hoc basis, which, of course, leads to ad hoc results. Others invest energy defining clear goals and a concrete strategy to reach those objectives. You can use ESOP month to create an ownership-development process that defines who communications what, when, where and how. For example, what role will the ESOP Administrative Committee play in the process? Will it act as an internal communicator or do you want another group to take on that role? How will you integrate your ESOPConnection site into the process? Are you sharing business-related information as part of the effort? If so, what do you want to share and, more importantly, what don’t you want to share.
4) Ownership as job one
To make your ESOP “more than a benefit plan”, October can’t be the only time you talk about it. Distribution of your annual participant statements is another great time to discuss your ESOP, but twice a year won’t get you the desired results either. The reason we remember advertising slogans, jingles, songs or even, alas, the Kardashians is because we hear about them all the time (too often). While you have no interest in “Keeping Up with the Kardashians”, if you’re interested in making the most of your ESOP investment you’ll need to discuss the plan on a regular basis. Doing that will reinforce its importance to your business and your employee owners.