The coronavirus has disrupted American society, business operations and everyone’s personal lives in unimagined ways. This is when you need to seize the day and utilize the power of employee ownership to strengthen your company culture to engage employees as owners — taking on new challenges with passion and a long-term perspective on business success. Here are five carpe diem keys.

1. Establish consistency in your communications
Regular communications, business updates and workplace coordination are even more critical now. In fact, because of COVID-19, you may be communicating more information about your business than you ever have before.

Adopt a similar approach with employee ownership. You don’t need to hold a daily, weekly or monthly staff meeting to discuss your ESOP. However, you want to say something about employee ownership at least once a quarter. Why? Because nature abhors a void: If people don’t hear about your ESOP, they may assume the worst, especially during this crisis. Be proactive and silence the rumor mill before it has a chance to even begin mumbling.

2. Utilize multiple channels
With many people working remotely, it’s a great time to develop multiple channels to communicate with employee owners. That means electronic, video, text, webinars and (gasp!) even regular old mail.

  •  Mailing pieces personalized to your plan’s specifics is a great way to reach spouses/significant others and educate them about the valuable benefits of employee ownership at your company.
  • Short video clips viewed on a computer or cell phone can successfully train employee owners on the benefits of your ESOP. Click here for a sample of a cost-effective visual approach to ESOP training. 
  • You can provide training through personalized online activities like our interactive Great Game of Ownership, ESOP Jeopardy or another fun, game-show-style format.

While you’re at it, this would be an ideal time to ask your ESOP Committee to take extra steps in making the ownership communications and training relevant, innovative and engaging.

3. Make the most of required communications
Your annual ESOP statement becomes an even more important communication tool during this challenging time. Utilize it to emphasize your ESOP’s benefits and provide training on plan operations, what “I” received last year and how “I” can influence company success and ESOP stock value.

People are keenly interested in their company’s stock-value story, especially given the wild fluctuations in the public markets. If you’ve decided to have an interim valuation, communicate the reasons why the business has taken that step, its impact on employee owners’ accounts and your ESOP’s diversification and distribution process.

Because people pay attention to their statements, engage employees by including additional company -specific ownership information when you distribute them. This could be materials relating how the plan is a long-term, wealth-building benefit; how employee ownership makes our company different; and COVID-19’s impact on the company, ESOP stock value and distribution process.

4. Create virtual interactions to anchor training and your ownership culture
With most companies unable to do much of anything in person, we are helping them to use virtual activities to stay connected and interact with employees.

  • Conduct annual meetings via a Zoom meeting or webinar. Pepper your virtual meetings and training with polling questions, word-building clouds, games and interactive activities to engage employee as owners.
  • If live web-meetings are not feasible, there are other virtual options. Many of our clients have asked us to create custom ownership training or “read the statement” videos that employees can watch on their computer or cell phone. Archive them on your website, so employees can watch and re-watch them any time they’d like.
  • For more engagement, use Survey Monkey or another online tool to test employee-owners’ knowledge after they have participated in a virtual training or watched a personalized ownership video. Remember to keep the video short (3-10 minutes), include a lot of visuals and focus on need-to-know information. Otherwise, people will tune it out.

5. Engage employees for success
With things changing so dramatically, this is a great time to engage your front-line leaders and ESOP Committee to solicit employee-owners’ ideas on how to improve and strengthen the business. As you engage employees, follow your core values and remind people of the power of employee ownership. After all, all of us are a lot more creative and smarter than any one of us.

During the process, be clear about the ESOP Committee’s role. At most of the companies we work with, the team gathers people’s ideas for how to improve the company, work more safely in this environment and generate additional sales and profits to grow ESOP stock value. They normally do not have the power to make final decisions, so you’ll want to avoid people perceiving the Committee having that authority.
The current crisis presents a serendipitous opportunity to communicate more frequently about your ESOP, train employees on critical ownership topics, and strengthen knowledge about your ESOP and ownership culture. Seize the moment to utilize the power of employee ownership. Carpe diem!