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Reality Check - What it Takes to Implement a Successful ESOP Communication Plan

By Kelly Solberg

I've always been a planner. To me, planning revolves around how best to use your available resources to accomplish what needs to be done. Let's say you're planning a home renovation project. You want it to look great in the end, so you think about all the resources involved: time, money, people, and effort on your part. Since most of us have limited resources, you take time to consider how best to utilize those resources. Will you do it yourself, in whole or in part? If so do you have the skills and knowledge to do it right? Or will you hire professionals such as a designer and contractor; which may impact your budget, but it also impacts other factors like time to completion (expert efficiency), the finished outcome (professional quality), and the amount of effort you personally have to spend on the project.

We hear a lot of companies in a similar situation when it comes to communication plans for their Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP). They know they need one, but they may not stop to think about all the factors that influence the communication plan's implementation. In short, they fail to plan for the plan. Just as you wouldn't tear down a wall in your house without a project plan, you can't cobble together an ESOP communication plan on the fly.

A comprehensive plan is built upon a strategy that delivers timely and effective communication about the ESOP, typically runs 12 to 18 months, and uses a combination of mediums that resonate with the audiences (print/electronic/mobile/in-person, etc.). Companies often implement a plan with a goal such as increasing excitement, appreciation, and understanding of the ESOP; or fostering a culture of employee ownership (or all of the above).

Here are some guidelines to think about before you actually start crafting a communication plan.

  • Determine the objective/goal: Think about the end result. What is it you're trying to accomplish? This might be something handed down from management, or at least requires management input to ensure your goal aligns with the company's vision.
  • Involve responsible parties: Which departments and people will be responsible for creating the plan? Are they the same people who'll be responsible for executing the items in the plan? Sometimes companies have an ESOP communication committee that creates the plan, but they may need to work with other departments, such as IT and human resources, to make sure the items in the plan can be done.
  • Scope out your communication strategy: Chances are, your workforce is a diverse crew, so identify your audiences. Communication is most successful when it's targeted and relevant. It also needs to be engaging and repeated more than once. Which means your strategy should include a variety of delivery methods. Certain content may be better delivered electronically rather than printed, or using videos and social media, depending on your demographics.
  • Execution: Who will actually create and push out the communication? Determine if you have the appropriate parties to develop it all in-house, or if you'll use vendors and other subject matter experts.

For any or all of the steps above, it may be wise to engage those with the expertise in communication strategy development to help create the plan with your input, and to provide project management and guidance. You may also need vendors depending on elements of your plan — for example, video production, photographers, web developers, and ESOP specialists.

A successful ESOP communication plan starts by taking time to plan for the plan. Carefully considering the resources required to develop and implement the plan will help ensure you're delivering timely, effective, and meaningful communication to your employees.

You can start by talking to one of our communication consultants, who have expertise in ESOPs and communication strategy. Send us an email.

Connect with Kelly Solberg, a consultant on the ESOP Communication and Education team, twitter.com/kcsolberg or www.linkedin.com/in/kellysolberg

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