Guest Blog Authors: Dave Fitz-Gerald, VP, CFO & Treasurer, Carris Reels, Inc., Proctor, VT and Linshuang Lu, Consultant, Praxis Consulting Group, Inc., Philadelphia, PA.
On Friday, July 22, 2011, the New England Chapter of The ESOP Association held its first ever ESOP conference conducted entirely in Spanish. The program provided basic ESOP education, financial literacy training, and community building exercises. ESOP companies often have unique and compelling cultures so participants were encouraged to think about improving the culture at the companies where they work.
According to conference participants, the day was a smashing success. Participants expressed interest in seeing more ESOP information in Spanish and future conferences held in Spanish. The biggest challenge in conducting this Spanish conference was getting enough attendees, but as a result of the feedback, we believe there is demand for more conference programming in Spanish.
Twenty-eight attendees came from various companies and backgrounds — many were regular employee owners who only spoke a little English, while others were bilingual trainers interested in gaining ideas for how to improve communication in their own companies. A few non-Spanish speaking Human Resources Directors participated in the day along with other bilingual and/or Spanish speakers in order to gain better ideas of how to educate other employees. Member companies in attendance included: Country Curtains, Stockbridge, MA; Lewis Tree, West Henrietta, NY; PC Construction (formerly Pizzagalli), South Burlington, VT; Barclay Water Management, Watertown , MA; EDH Inc, Groton, CT; Kapco, Brea, CA; and Carris Reels, Proctor, VT.
Attendees appreciated the chance to meet Spanish speakers from other ESOP Companies. Many participants also mentioned they didn’t know anything about ESOPs beforehand, but after the conference, they felt like they had a much better grasp.
With the growing number of Spanish speaking people at ESOP companies, we must effectively connect with these folks in order to fully realize the potential of employee ownership. Communication and active discussion about how we work together will contribute towards developing the performance of our diverse companies.
Overview of the Day
David Fitz-Gerald of Carris Reels, Proctor, VT, and New England Chapter President, Linshuang Lu of Praxis Consulting Group, Philadelphia, PA and MariaElena Del Valle of Mepresenta Consulting Services, (LOCATION) developed the conference program and materials, which were then translated by Alberto Aguilar of Carris Reels. MariaElena and Linshuang used their professional facilitation and training skills to get participants actively involved. With her decades of experience working with adult learners, MariaElena led a day full of fun and playfulness, integrating movement, art, music and imagination into a program that also contained a lot of technical details.
To begin the day, each participant introduced themselves and answered the question, “What do you like about employee ownership?” Many participants talked about how they appreciated the financial benefits of the ESOP, the ESOP’s likely impact on their retirement and their delight at seeing their annual account statements. A few participants used the expression “muy jugoso” to talk about their reaction to their ESOP statements, which roughly translates to “very juicy.” Many participants also talked about their general experience of working at their companies — how it felt like a family, their pride in their work, and their enjoyment of working with other employee-owners.
Then, Lourdes Venegas from Country Curtains presented the session on Shared Ownership, talking about what it means to be an employee owner at Country Curtains, including the implications for rights and responsibilities, decision-making and information sharing.
Carris Reels then presented their video of “What’s an ESOP.” Carris Reels hired Mills James to customize their AACE award winning video from a couple of years ago to fit Carris Reels’ story, and translated it into Spanish. Following the video, Lourdes continued on with a Powerpoint presentation that covered the basics of ESOP history and ESOP account rules, for instance participation, allocation, vesting, distribution, and diversification.
We then spent significant time discussing how to sustain and strengthen multi-lingual ESOPs. Rather than follow a lecture, we created a set of interactive exercises and discussions that allowed Spanish speakers to build on their positive experiences personally and in their companies. First, participants shared meaningful experiences of their involvement in communities. Participants shared examples from their families, their workplaces, their churches and athletic teams — many involved experiences of helping others. This established the groundwork for thinking about the work environment as a community, where people work together to accomplish something, whether it be creating a product or helping a client.
Participants then built balloon sculptures in teams representing what a high performing culture looked like at their companies. Their sculptures reflected diversity, unity, bridging, direction, performance.
Afterwards, attendees reflected on their experience of working in the teams — how leadership emerged, how people respected one another, and how they addressed any challenges that may have arisen. These experiences were connected to the workplace environment and attendees shared how they led by examples at their companies or how they responded to people with negative attitudes.
Finally, employee owners had a chance to share what they thought they themselves could do and their companies could do to improve their cultures in a multi-lingual context and ESOP education. Many ideas centered around improving communication: sharing information with all coworkers, regular ESOP information bulletins, providing graphs/drawings to make information easier to understand, providing interactive audiovisual communication materials, training bilingual speakers to provide training. Some suggested more inter-company events, such as additional Spanish ESOP conferences and a national ESOP Spanish internet website with resources for ESOP companies. One group mentioned the need to educate other non-Spanish speakers at their companies who may also have difficulty understanding English.
As the final session, Manuel Bernal of Carris Reels presented a brief introduction to financial statements, emphasizing that financial statements can be simplified and encouraging employees to think about ways to improve company profitability.
To conclude, pictures taken during the day were shown along with music. Many of the pictures focused on the balloon exercise. Perhaps it looks like just too much fun, especially when co-workers were left short-staffed on one of the hottest days of the summer. At the end of the day, some attendees mentioned that these workshops are hard work! Not the same kind of exhausting necessarily as the regular work day but the conference participants were definitely pushed to think “outside the box!” Participants also shared one “take-away” with the group at the end of the day, as a way of reminding themselves of what they might do differently as they return to work. Our hope is that this conference clarified and affirmed the value of the ESOP for the attendees and gave them ideas on how to bring that learning back to their companies.
My group so enjoyed the conference and I think it should be done again… I say it should definitely be held again in other areas, possibly even on the national level at the annual … conferences.
It was very helpful…. These 4 [employees] came ‘up’ special because they are going to be trained as presenters of our new slide presentation on our ESOP. [The Spanish] conference was a step in the process to get them trained.
I attended along with my co-worker the ESOP Spanish conference this past Friday. I really enjoyed the conference and thought all the presenters did a wonderful job. Thank you so much. Thank you again for the warm welcome we received and the great presentation.
I had a quick meeting on Monday with the participants and the feedback was all positive. It was an excellent way to introduce the concept of the ESOP to them and they did have some questions about our plan. I am planning on doing the ownership orientation with our new English speaking employees next week. I hope we can keep some of the enthusiasm going with ongoing regular training.
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