Mini-cast 2: Empowering Employee Owners


On this week's #FiduciaryFlashback ESOP Mini-cast, we share quick tips and highlights from ESOP advocate Rob Zicaro on the importance of creating a strong employee-ownership culture.


To take a deeper dive into this topic, tune into "The ESOP Podcast Episode 22 – Rob Zicaro on Employee Ownership" which originally aired on February 20th, 2018.


Listen to this episode on Soundcloud. Or subscribe on Google Play or iTunes/Apple Podcasts.

The ESOP Podcast is licensed under a CC BY-NC-ND Creative Commons License.

Mini-cast 2 Transcript

Brian Keisling: 00:12 Welcome to The ESOP Mini-Cast, brought to you by Capital Trustees. A great way to wrap up the week.


Bret Keisling: 00:22 Hi, everybody. This is Brian Keisling with Capital Trustees. Welcome back to The ESOP Mini-cast. On today's #FiduciaryFlashback, we're going to go back to Episode 22 of The ESOP podcast where we interviewed Rob Zicaro. Rob worked for employee-owned Web Industries for 26 years. In that time, he became a massive advocate for employee ownership, even attending the 1993 Future of the American workplace conference where he was able to talk about employee ownership directly to President Bill Clinton. Since retiring. Rob, who is a musician, has released his own music and has also remained a staunch advocate for ESOP's and employee owners. In this first clip from episode 22 of the Podcast, rob discusses how during his time at web industries management whenever they needed to buy a new piece of equipment, would consult with the employee owners who knew that equipment best and who would have to use that equipment going forward. That way the employee owners could be involved in the process and make sure that management wasn't overlooking anything that might not necessarily be on their radar. Here's the clip.


Rob Zicaro: 01:32 Web, actually Web [Industries] had done a very good job with this. What we did during the years I was there is if there was interest or talk about buying, say, a new piece of equipment, a new machine, because we wanted to get into a, say, a new particular splitting technique or something, we would take our experience operators and send them with a management person and a salesperson out to the facility and see the machine and hopefully get some knowledge about the machine and get their advice on maybe some of the pitfalls they are seeing when that thing comes into the factory and it begins to operate. Something that maybe someone else wouldn't think of because they don't run machines every day. That worked out very well for us and it really, really empowered and motivated machine operators when they were put in that position because they felt so valued, they felt that they really mattered. That they could actually give input to a business decision and they were being listened to. You know, "No, you don't want to buy that one, maybe, because of these reasons." And a manager may say, "Well, you know, I never thought of that. We need to rethink this."


Brian Keisling: 02:44 You know, this idea that Rob talks about, about the importance of employee owners being listened to and validated by managers is such a huge part of his employee ownership advocacy. He really drives home the idea that in order for a company to be successful, the employee owners have to feel empowered and as though they are heard. And he comes back to this later on in the episode. In this next clip he talks about how to really make an employee owner feel listened to and what the implications of that are. Why it's more important for an employee owner to feel listened to and not ignored.


Rob Zicaro: 03:20 You can be explaining a lot of things and opening up and sharing things, but people still don't feel listened to. So it's common - I wouldn't flip out about it, but recognize that it could be a symptom of a leadership style or management style. Ask the person, you know, what is it you're not getting for information that you need. You say you're not listened to. What do you mean by that? And sometimes you'd be surprised. It doesn't really always mean they're not being listened to, but there's something else going on behind the words "I'm not listened to" that's bothering them. And it could be anything from, you know, I wasn't considered for that promotion to, I felt my pay raise was... who knows what it is. I'm just throwing examples out. But not being listened to, you have to dig in. But it's important because if people don't feel listened to, they shut down and the ideas don't come out. Now, one thing I did find from my experience was: If you ask people to improve something - in other words, you solicit ideas, you guys are owners, you people to own is we want to hear your ideas - and the ideas come out. You've got to do something with those ideas. Number one, they've got to be vetted, right? You've got to make sure it does this make sense? And if it doesn't get back to the person who came up with the idea and explain why. Now, they may not agree with the reason, but what they have to respect, I would think, is the fact that at least I was told why, and maybe next time my idea would be considered. Always, always do that. That's really important because once people feel, hey, you know, you're asking for all these ideas, I never hear anything what happened to them and then nothing gets done. That's demotivating and then people start closing down. That's the danger. That's the danger and that again comes down to a leadership style, but it's also a structural and process issue. You need to have a process in place to collect ideas, you know, and again, put, put in the effort to go through them, maybe get a cross-functional group together to sort through the ideas to understand what ones we're going to use and then report back to the population of the organization. Here's what we're gonna do and here's why and here's why we're not going to do these ideas, so that begins to get some maturity developing in the culture that not every idea can be used. We have limited resources. You know, you want to build a culture where people feel free and safe and there is a process in place to collect those ideas, because without that, those ideas just going to go out the window eventually. No one will remember them, no one will really assess them correctly and maybe you're throwing away an idea that could make the difference in a particular product line.


Bret Keisling: 06:08 And you run the risk of nobody thinking it matters anyway...


Rob Zicaro: 06:12 That's right.


Bret Keisling: 06:14 ... and so suggestions stop coming.


Rob Zicaro: 06:14 Exactly.


Brian Keisling: 06:17 One of the reasons why Rob Zicaro's is episode of the podcast is also one of our favorites, is that his views on the importance of a strong ESOP culture completely aligns with Capital Trustee's perspective. At Capital Trustees, we believe that in order for an ESOP company to truly reach its potential and become a great company, it has to have a culture where the employee owners feel empowered, where they feel like they are heard and participating in something that benefits them and all of their peers. That culture has to have employee owners feel like if they bring a good idea to the table, it will be listened to and considered by management and implemented where possible by creating a culture where employee owners feel like management cares about them and hears what they're saying, they become more motivated to contribute a hundred percent to this endeavor that they're participating in.


Brian Keisling: 07:08 We would like to thank Rob Zicaro for all of the outstanding work that he does for ESOP advocacy. It really is people like him who are bringing culture to the forefront of people's minds and helping make sure that ESOPs are the best that they can be. That's all we've got for you this Fiduciary Friday. I'd like to thank you for joining us once again on The ESOP Mini-cast. We'll be back next week on trustee Tuesday with our full ESOP podcast episode. Until then, I hope everyone has a wonderful weekend. I'm Brian Keisling with Capital Trustees. Goodbye.

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