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Mini-cast 245: EO Culture Doesn't Need to Be “Fun”


The EsOp Podcast Mini-cast: Employee Ownership Culture Doesn't Need to Be "Fun"

Bret Keisling shares an excerpt from the Owner to Owner podcast. How do you build company culture when your team is made up primarily of scientists and introverts? This question was posed at a gathering of employee owners from throughout New Hampshire as a first step towards organizing a state center there. Loren Rodgers, executive director of The National Center for Employee Ownership (NCEO) provided a great answer, pointing out culture doesn't have to be fun and games. It can include events similar to shark tank or idea innovation processes.


Jesse Tyler organized a day-long event for employee owners to come together to share ideas, successes, and challenges. Jesse also led a great panel discussion which will be shared on the Owner to Owner podcast and also on The EsOp Podcast.


 

Mini-cast 245 Transcript

[00:00:00] Bret Keisling: Welcome to the EsOp Mini-cast. Thank you so much for listening. My name is Bret Keisling and, as it says on my business cards, I'm a passionate advocate for employee ownership. My friend, Jesse Tyler, who is the host of the Owner to Owner podcast which I produce for the EO Podcast Network, put together and hosted an amazing program last week, November 16th, 2023. Employee owners from a variety of companies throughout New Hampshire gathered at Hypertherm for a day-long program that was promoted as a first step in building a local and statewide employee-owned community of companies, modeled after the state centers.


[00:00:43] Included in the day-long event was an hour-long panel discussion comprised primarily of employee owners. We were fortunate enough to record that discussion and it dropped us Episode 55 of the Owner to Owner podcast, and we're going to replay it as Episode 261 on The EsOp Podcast.


[00:01:01] I attended virtually and one exchange just blew my mind. So, I wanted to share it here on the Mini-cast.


[00:01:06] First you'll hear from John Mokas, who is the CFO of Normandeau Associates, who spoke about challenges in building a culture when your workforce is primarily scientists and, in John's words, introverts. Our friend Loren Rodgers, the executive director of the NCEO, appeared virtually as well and his answer knocked my socks off.


[00:01:28] So, we'll start with John Mokas, and then you'll hear from Loren Rodgers.

 

[00:01:31] John Mokas: I'm John Mokas. I'm CFO of Normandeau Associates. We're an environmental consulting firm in Bedford, New Hampshire. We've been a company since - for 53 years. We've been an ESOP for 23 years. We've been a hundred percent owned for 14 years. I've only been there 11 years. I also wear the treasurer's hat, the assistant secretary's hat, and internal trustee hat, an active participant of the board hat, and janitor hat. [Laughter.] The last one may not be true! The janitor does report to us, so I guess I do indirectly wear that hat.


[00:02:04] We do environmental consulting, 170 employees, goes up to about 250 in the summer, as we run three labs. The labs run testing of whatever we find in the water during those periods. 11 offices, 8 states.


[00:02:17] Culturally, that's where our issue is. Our people are introverts. They're scientists. They like to do their work. They don't want anything else to do except know that there is a 401k plan and an ESOP plan, and they'll get something from it whenever their time comes.


[00:02:32] We call it the ESOP Communication Committee. I got there 11 years ago. It was functioning, but it wasn't functioning very well. But we're trying to actively make it better. The new leadership team of it is much better at it. There's participants from every one of our offices on that committee.


[00:02:47] We try to do everything. I mean, we even give them an ESOP orientation packet when they become members of the ESOP and it's pretty thick and it's pretty detailed and explains pretty much everything you need to know about. But, you know, they get that when they're 30 and it doesn't matter to them until they're 65 or beyond, so.


[00:03:05] But we do the annual, you know, the annual meeting. We do four cookouts a year. We do a Christmas party. Most of our stuff is in-house. Whatever we do at headquarters in Bedford, we give some money to the offices, the other 11 offices, to do as well.


[00:03:19] We try hard, but it's not easy. I think we're getting better at it. I think the committee we have is getting better at it. It's definitely got the support of upper management, but it's just the hard thing. We just find it a hard thing and I'm sure some of it has to do with the type of people that work for us.


[00:03:33] Loren Rodgers: Hey, I missed the name of the person who was just talking about all the engineers and not getting involved and having fun and, I think an ownership culture can be awesome if it involves contests that involve funny hats and pie eating and, you know, anything you want! That's great! But I’ve got to tell you, some of the really effective ownership cultures we've seen don't involve "fun" in any way at all.


[00:03:53] And I think maybe the way some engineering companies approach it is, don't think about "fun." Think about making new stuff for your business. I think about creating like a, something more like a Shark Tank process or an innovative idea generation process. And people may not ever crack a smile while you're doing that, but you could come up with a, you know we've seen people do this, come up with a whole new line of business or a whole new approach to doing something at your company, and that may be the kind of thing to get your engineers involved, you know, even if there are no jokes involved.

 

[00:04:25] Bret Keisling: Loren's point is a great reminder that one size doesn't fit all when it comes to employee ownership culture. So many of us, myself included, focus on the fun activities and the things that build camaraderie. But if your company's culture doesn't react to that, but you're still providing education and knowledge and, as Loren suggests, opportunities to grow your business with new products and services, you can still hit a grand slam home run. Even if it's relatively dry.


[00:04:54] I hope you'll check out the full presentation of this meeting. The episode is called Growing EO in New Hampshire and you can find it as Episode 55 at www.OwnerToOwnerPodcast.com and its Episode 261 at www.EsOpPodcast.com, which will drop Tuesday, November 28th.


[00:05:15] With that we'll wrap up this episode of the Mini-cast. Thank you so much for listening. This is Bret Keisling. Be well.

 

[00:05:23] Bitsy McCann: We'd love to hear from you! You can find us on Facebook at EO Podcast Network and on Twitter [X] @EsOpPodcast. This podcast has been produced by Bret Keisling for the EO Podcast Network. Original music composed by Max Keisling. Branding and marketing by BitsyPlus Design. And I'm Bitsy McCann.


Standard Disclaimer: The views expressed herein are my own and don't represent those of my own firms or the organizations to which I belong. Nothing in the podcast should be construed as guidance or advice of any kind in any field and the fact that I mentioned an organizational website or an advocate or a company on a podcast does not reflect an endorsement, but if you've heard your name or your group's name mentioned on this podcast, I'd love to have you come on and talk about it yourself.


A note on the transcript: This transcript was produced by Descript, an automated transcription service. While it has been reviewed by The EsOp Podcast, we cannot guarantee the accuracy of the transcription. Please refer to the original audio when citing sources.

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