Building an Employee-Driven Business

Columbus Chamber
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By Greg Tkacz, PE, LEED AP BD+C, Vice President/Senior Mechanical Engineer at Fishbeck

The Employee Ownership Foundation recently found employees who own a share of their company have a different, more positive attitude about their job, their responsibilities and their company as a whole. This tells us that employees work better when they feel like they have a stake in a company and are involved in its decisions.

Feeling like their voices matter is something employees in employee-owned companies feel every day. They own stock in the company, get to serve on governing committees and/or vote on company decisions, all of which promote employee satisfaction. But companies don’t have to be employee-owned to reap these benefits. By simply adopting similar principles, all companies can take advantage of this trend.

Everyone gets a seat at the table

In an employee-owned company, staff are often given more responsibility beyond typical roles and obligations. Employees can then be involved in business decisions, including conversations as significant as promotions to software purchases.

Inviting employees behind closed doors for these discussions, or crowdsourcing their preferences, gives them a seat at the table – whether literal or figurative. This level of involvement can reinforce an extra sense of value in employees and, as a result, boost employee retention. Additionally, these touch points create a “spread the wealth” scenario when progress is made. Employee successes become management success, and vice versa.

Leaders who tune into and leverage employees’ feedback in company decisions will notice a significant difference in their workforce morale. Just as employee discontent can be contagious, employee satisfaction can spread like wildfire.

Embrace all roles in the organization

How would your employees describe your organizational structure? When it comes to company growth, your employees can be your secret weapons if they’re kept in the loop on key decisions. In many companies, it’s common for top management to develop business objectives and then convey a diluted version to their staff. Yet, employees will be more invested in working toward business goals – and can make better, more informed decisions along the way – if they have the full picture.

The structure of a company has a heavy impact on engagement. For employers, a strong structure can create a highly engaged environment that spurs innovation and productivity. For employees, there are not only financial rewards, but also a share in the company that gives a sense of ownership, as well as a voice when it comes to big picture decisions.

A flat foundation for success

Company culture can make or break the success of your organization. At some companies, power can often be concentrated at the top because that’s where most ownership is held. While that may work for some, it can also lead to employees refraining from taking on a proactive leadership role within their teams. To combat this, consider elements of a flatter culture. This ensures that your company culture remains intact, and even strengthens, as the interests of owners, management and employees align.

A flatter company culture is something that not every organization will be able to transition into overnight. In that case, incorporating small committees to handle day-to-day management can be a more practical first step.

While going as far as an employee-owned business may not be right for your company, every organization can embrace the power of employee leadership on some level. Success looks different for each organization but the trick is striking the right balance that’s inclusive to employees and uplifts the company. When setting out to find this balance, asking employees what they like and what they’d like to see more of at work is an effective first step. In doing so, you’ll see happier employees, higher productivity and higher retention – all by letting employees know that their voices matter and that company decisions are made for the greater good of everyone.

Greg Tkacz, PE, LEED AP BD+C is a Vice President/Senior Mechanical Engineer at Fishbeck.