Vermont-based Carris Reels is an innovator when it comes to pairing employee ownership with significant employee participation in decision-making. Their employee-management committee brings together shop-floor workers and senior management to deliberate over major issues--an uncommon employee involvement technique, even in the most participatory firms. Carris Reels has been recognized by the Boston Globe, the ESOP Association, and the National Center for Employee Ownership as a pioneer in the field of employee ownership.
Yet since putting in place an ESOP in 1994, the company has faced significant challenges--challenges shared by many ESOP companies, including:
- heightened expectations, and some confusion, about the changes that employee stock ownership might bring;
- desire to reconcile participation with the bottom line; and
- a perceived need for clarity and efficiency in decision-making processes.
Since early 2001, the Carris Corporation has used the Frontiers and Boundaries curriculum to help address these challenges. The employee-management committee worked with Ownership Associates to customize the Zone Charts. A subcommittee completed charts to show the company's past, present, and several possible versions of the future.
To begin moving toward the participation system they wanted, one plant has used Frontiers and Boundaries advanced tools to document and improve their decision-making processes in dozens of specific decision areas, and other plants will follow. In addition, corporate headquarters has used Frontiers and Boundaries Decision Reports to convey information on corporate decisions to local sites.
Before introducing the new system to the whole plant, the pilot site conducted training sessions for just the supervisors to ensure their comfort with it. "That got it off to a good start," says Dale Clary, the plant manager. "And now supervisors are actually more comfortable that they have an instrument they can use to make sure they are doing things right."
At the same time, the plant management has been pleased to observe that ordinary employees have a very strong perception of their role in the decision making process as "alerters." Every employee has been trained to know that they "have the right and the responsibility to alert someone that they believe a decision needs to be considered." "The alerter role provides a basic and comfortable means of participation for everyone," says Clary.
"Everyone appreciates feeling involved and included," he adds. "And now we have a way to deal systematically with people's questions and concerns. It's made a huge difference."
"Frontiers and Boundaries has helped our employees to understand how and why decisions are made, and who is responsible for them. The Decision Reports serve as an important communication tool. With Frontiers and Boundaries we have put the rights and responsibilities of ownership into action."
--Karin McGrath, Carris Community of Companies