An Ownership Advantage

I attended a party last week.

The gathering was in recognition of  The Minnesota Chapter of the ESOP Association.  The chapter is one of 22 chapters nationally, in the association which represents the 15,000 employee-owned companies across the country.    Minnesota has been a particularly strong chapter in the network and over its 25 years has been a strong contributor to the employee ownership movement.

Parties are normally fun and friendly occasions, I suppose, but this event contained a special air of zealotry.  The 75-80 folks who attended are among the most enthusiastic supporters of the shared capitalism idea, and they are never bashful about displaying such passion.  These were the people who have either led the chapter or been especially active in its work; they are champions of the cause and the effects of employee-ownership.  I had not seen many of these people for nearly ten years, since I retired from the employee-owned Foldcraft Co. in 2005, so the gathering had the feel of a grand reunion.

All of that context provided more than enough reason for a stellar evening, and indeed, the laughter and the hugs were genuine all through our time together.  But there was something else in the air.  There was a tangible feeling that this group of ownership advocates exuded an intensity of knowledge, some sort of awareness that other organizations don’t necessarily experience among their members.   That perception, merely felt by some but outwardly acknowledged by others, recognized the immense power of their shared sense of ownership .

Let me be clear on one major point: not every member of every employee-owned entity demonstrates a deeply-felt sense of commitment, empowerment and liberation.  But those who are able to envision their own development within an ownership mindset have often defied the odds in creating opportunities and experiences for themselves and their enterprises.

In fact, organizationally it’s true whether there is an actual ESOP component in place or not.  Entities that are managed under the terms of transparency, broad participation, engagement and a sense of shared outcomes perform better, feel better, last longer and ultimately have a more positive impact upon the societies in which they serve.   That requires the right people, the ones who share in a vision and who possess the energy to want to go there.  In the words of author Jim Collins in his book, Good to Great:

But I know this much: if we get the right people on the bus, the right people in the right seats, and the wrong people off the bus, then we’ll figure out how to take it someplace great.”

On Thursday evening, the ballroom was filled with the right people.  They have been and continue to be consistent champions of encouragement and commitment for everyday workers to access equity ownership.  They know that such an opportunity is actually a component of our holistic health.

It’s a universal need.  We want to claim a deep and rich ownership of our lives, and the places where we work constitute a major portion of our time.  We long to be integral parts of our labors rather than simply renting out our time and skills.  We need to know what is happening in our vocational lives, what is impacting us, what we can do about it, how we can do better.  Where we have come together in our work organizations, we sense that it could be possible to truly belong to an endeavor bigger than ourselves, in some cases maybe even more important than ourselves.

Some of the best-managed companies around the world have recognized this truth.  The most stable and productive governments have operated under principles of democratization, which are still the envy of people in non-democratic societies.   Employee-owned enterprises often “get it,” as reflected in annual workplace survey data.  And in addition to data, I suspect that we recognize intuitively that fully collaborative efforts will almost always outperform individual ones; “none of us is as smart as all of us.”

It’s a truth that Winds of Peace is working very hard to teach this reality to rural cooperatives in Nicaragua, as well.  It may run counter to the model the government uses.  It may fly in the face of the big company executives there who have copied the traditional corporate models from the U.S.  It even challenges the cultural and historical patterns that shape societal behaviors.  But it’s a lesson worth teaching, and one definitely worth learning.

It’s an advantage that we celebrated last week.  It doesn’t represent the easiest manner in which to organize and operate.  But it’s certainly the best….

 

 

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