Swerving by Nora Bateson

DECEMBER 19, 2018
The work of the coming decades is not the work of manufacturing, of software development, or of retail seduction, it is the work of caring. Caring for each other and the biosphere. In that care there is the hope of finding new ways of making sense of our own vitality. The ‘my’ in my health is not mine; rather it is a consequence of my microbiome, my family, my community, and the biosphere being cared for. The work ahead is not clear or clean. It requires intense integrity, patience in ambiguity, fierce dedication, raw vulnerability, bleeding humility, and the poetry of explorers.

There are sufferings now. Because there is suffering there is the possibility of mutual learning. Non feeling is a non option.

But it is different than before. As it becomes clear that there is a critical need for systems change, fissures are forming in the idea of fitting in.

One suffering is the suffering of being incompatible with the going game, where the grooves and pathways of life others presume normal are impossible, uncrackable, and untenable. The isolation of knowing there is a frequency that others can hear, and not finding it. It is like the instructions are in another language, written in invisible ink. The realm that others occupy, comparing successes, jobs, credibility and status, is mostly abstract, out of reach, and to fit into it requires extreme inner acrobatics.

Another suffering is that of fitting in. This is the suffering of finding oneself so synchronized into the contextual pattern structures that it is impossible to perceive or shift or change the habituated systems of day-to day. This is the suffering of successful compatibility in the dominant socio-cultural assumptions such that every move seems to feed the monster of current institutional insanity. This stuckness is waterproof to knowing the deadly consequences of not-changing both to humanity and countless other organisms. Like a Kafka story, the visceral experience is of recognizing that the logic of the surrounding systems has consumed play and rebellion. You will lose your job, your status, and your credibility if you swerve.

One suffering is the suffering of loving someone who suffering.

This is a terrible time to be normal, (whatever that is) when the mandate for ecological survival is contingent on breaking from the sense making that is entrained.

But to orbit outside the flows of the current systems of modern life is to be excruciatingly isolated.

It does not serve to facilitate numbness to this pain. It hurts because it hurts. The tears are cultural, conceptual, and ecological.

The double bind of this era is that continuance of our species requires discontinuance of current means of survival. Business as usual is a swift endgame. Yet the rent must be paid, and breakfast must be possible. To live through next week is to take part in systems that are destructive to the future.

To get unbroken a breakthrough is needed.

There is need.
Those who are in step and rhythm with the way things are, despite future incompatibility with life.
Those who read the signals and follow the signposts in the map of today.
Those who have fitted infinite capacity for contextual response into one frame of limited contexts.
Those who are hearing another tonality.
Those who make sense in another way
Those who do not fit.

What does it mean to fit into a rapidly changing world?

Any small window of another sensorial experience is more precious than gold now. It is time to listen carefully. It is time to pay attention in wide ways. Let logic unravel into warm complexity.

The fodder for this mutual learning is connections connecting in unexpected ways. Discovering flavors of thought.
Mapping textures of knowing.

Together we are traveling in tenderness through wordless gestures. Offering one another unframed contact. Un-labeling each other is the greatest rigor and the greatest gift.
Allowing multitudes of selves to mingle and form new ecologies of communication.
Abandoning the flatness of analysis that prides itself on non-emotional rationality.
If the interaction is not funny, angry, curious, confused, indignant, and at least a little bit destructive… it is not worth ten minutes now.

In a changing world what is healthy or not healthy, what is it to know yourself in a culture that is unweaving itself? Who are we, now? And who am I in my complexity in relation specifically to you in your complexity?

I am resisting the antiseptic distance, and diving into relationships of mutual learning. Relationships in which there is an acknowledgement that it is a violence to reduce ourselves and each other to definitions, titles and labels. I am not gone, or fragmented, I am real and confused and unscripted. As such I am no source of tricks or easy methodologies. I am not interested in technique. It obscures the unsearched for complexity. Rather I am a sea anemone, all tentacles sensing into our combined vitalities and learnings exploring our mutual dignity. Noticing paradoxes and contradictions, tones and strangenesses. There—in the warm data of our interactions is where entirely unanticipated possibilities are to be found.



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‘Appreciative inquiry’ accelerates what’s working

by Lindsey Godwin

Aug. 28, 2018

Editor’s note: The following is a contributed piece by Lindsey Godwin, academic director at the David L. Cooperrider Center for Appreciative Inquiry at the Robert P. Stiller School of Business at Champlain College.

I knew a large manufacturing company that was experiencing low morale. Since I was friendly with the CEO, he shared with me his action plan.

First, he assigned one of his trusted managers to help solve the problem. The very first question both my friend and his manager asked was, “What are all the reasons why people have low morale here?”

This instinctive question seems reasonable enough, after all, we need to get to the root of the issue and uncover all the things we need to change, right? Actually, no.

The question led to this company conducting surveys and focus groups in which employees were asked to reflect on and document all the reasons they do not like working there.

I acknowledge that this is a script followed by many, if not most, organizations. But it’s the wrong script.

Consider the ripple effects of simply asking: “What are the causes of low morale?” We think that question invited respondents to impartially look back at their experiences, but they did much more than that. Low morale actually continued and even increased in this company because that simple question concentrated everyone’s attention on all the bad times and all the reasons they did not like the organization. So low morale actually increased, or appreciated, throughout the organization.

Unfortunately, one more low-morale survey, even with all the good intentions, will not tell us how to create a sercharged, highly engaged workforce. Learning what not to do is not the same as discovering what creates and accelerates success. And isn’t that what we really want to appreciate — or escalate — in our organizations: our root causes of success?

If we want to create a highly engaged work system, wouldn’t we would be better off doing 100 interviews of “high point moments” in people’s careers? Isn’t it smarter to ask about times when employees were most committed and alive in their work, as well as when and why they were going way beyond their job descriptions?

Imagine what we would uncover and reinforce at the same time.

This is exactly what appreciative inquiry invites organizations to do. In a world where change has become all about diagnosing organizational ills and following up with carefully designed interventions, appreciative inquiry offers an alternative to seeing organizational life as a ‘problem-to-be-solved.’ Appreciative inquiry invites organizations to uncover what is working, to leverage their strengths and focus on creating the successes they want to see in the future. Appreciative inquiry reminds us that change begins with the very first questions we ask. Our questions can focus us on discovering what is broken, or they can focus us on what is working and how we can leverage it.

Our questions are fateful.

Peter Drucker, one of the most prolific management scholars of our times, once said, “the true task of leadership is to create an alignment of strengths that makes a system’s weaknesses irrelevant.” Leaders around the world are seeing the value in appreciative inquiry as they begin to ask questions that help align strengths within their organizations. Instead of asking more questions about what is not working, they are asking about which assets they have to leverage, what they want the future to look like, and how they can move forward together. For example:

  • Fairmont Minerals, one of the largest sand mining and manufacturing organizations in the U.S., used appreciative inquiry to identify opportunities to design rapid prototypes that helped move the company forward, becoming recognized as a top corporate citizen by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
  • Walmart used it to help develop their sustainability index to use with their suppliers.
  • The U.S. dairy industry has employed appreciative inquiry to transform their sustainability efforts, resulting in the launching of nearly $300 million in projects that were singled out by the Secretary of Agriculture as models for other industries.
  • Massachusetts enlisted it to help the state develop its long-term energy-efficiency goals.

If leaders want to create organizations that are much more than merely just “not broken,” but rather are thriving, they need to shift their approach to change. Change is not about simply identifying and eliminating the bad — it is about discovering and dreaming about the possible.

If you are the leader of an organization, I urge you to ask your people from day one what they want more of, not what they want to reduce.

Whatever you do, don’t wait until there is a problem to think about change. Do it now, and start today by asking appreciative questions of those around you and see what grows.


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The Problem with Simplicity by Miguel Clark Mallet (@Mar_de_Palabras), Columnist

I stand at the sink, hold the shaver against my lathered cheek, and move my hand downward. A trio of blades glide across my face leaving a path of smooth skin in their wake. I swish the razor in a bathroom sink full of water, shaking the dead whiskers off in the blades, then repeat. Rinse. Repeat.

What could be simpler?

Running mid-morning errands, I sometimes hear Engines of Our Ingenuity, a weekday program that airs on a local NPR station. It describes itself as a “series about the machines that make our civilization run, and the people whose ingenuity created them.”

An episode a few months ago focused on simplicity. Referencing the old Shaker hymn, “Simple Gifts,” the show pointed to 14th-century philosopher William of Occam’s principle, known as Occam’s razor, that “Multiplicity ought not to be posited without necessity.” As an example, the episode traced the development of the safety razor:

For years, designers fought with the problem of loading, mounting, and unloading a blade in a holder. If you’re old enough, you’ll remember Shick’s “Push, pull, click, click” advertisement for its mechanism. Keeping the action workable, and the blade solidly in place, was a big problem. Then some bright person applied Occam’s razor to the razor-mounting problem. That designer realized you could simply mold the blade right into the plastic packaging. Now who buys replaceable razor blades? Instead, the blades are set, very solidly and with great precision, right into a cheap throwaway piece of plastic. We’ve designed blade-holding mechanisms out of existence.

It’s a commonplace that we live in complicated — not to mention chaotic — times. I know I’ve aspired to a considered simpler life for decades: in lifestyle, in discourse, in relationships intimate and communal and cultural and international, and maybe most of all in solutions to the problems and differences we face. Why can’t we be nicer to one another? Why can’t be more respectful of each other? Why can’t we just get along? It seems that it should be simple, even if not always easy.

But skepticism has always hovered around the edge of my aspiration.

Part of it has to do with how simplicity has become another commodity. The magazine about how to live simply arrives each month, thick on slick, glossy paper and packed with ads for expensive products I can purchase to simplify my life. Programs on television tout the simplicity of small but highly complex — and often expensive — houses. On other programs, I can follow the exploits of people moving to other countries to live simpler lives — so long as they can also have granite countertops, an open floor plan, large appliances, and easy access to high end restaurants and entertaining night life.

Another part of me gets stuck on details like that “cheap, throwaway piece of plastic” referenced in the Engines of Our Ingenuity episode. I’m old enough to remember the old razor mounts, though not old enough to have had to use them, and I don’t doubt that shaving for me is much easier than it was for my father and grandfathers — and my mother and grandmothers. No doubt the plastic cartridge makes my shaving life more convenient. But does that convenience translate into simpler living on the larger scale?

On the industrial level, cartridges spawned the need for new machines, production processes, designs, and materials, including more molded plastic parts. It multiplied the material that had to be discarded, material that generally ends up in landfills. The plastic cartridge or disposable shaver takes the work of mounting the blade out of my hands. But that convenience comes with a cost.

I realize now that often I use the word “simple” when I mean “efficient” (individually) or “convenient.” I think now that our culture encourages us to buy into that same equation more broadly. One magazine even touts “simplicity” as “life made easier.” Individually, it’s “simpler” (more convenient) for me to buy books, shoes, clothes, and even food online. I don’t have to go out or even get dressed. But the Internet of Things has cultural and economic implications that radiate outward.

I can remember, along with the old shaving mount commercials, another advertising campaign of my childhood. In those days, it wasn’t uncommon to see trash along the side of the roadway, much of it hurled out of car windows by people too much in a hurry and too unconcerned to wait until they reached a trash can in a rest stop or town.

Simply throwing trash out the window made so much individual sense. You didn’t have to look at it; you didn’t have to smell it for miles as it decayed; you didn’t have to hunt for a place to discard it. You just tossed it. Out of sight, out of mind.

The littering ad campaign made the case that life isn’t simple, that individual actions we take to increase our convenience can collectively have disastrous consequences for humans, other species, and the planet as a whole.

So much of the simplicity I’ve yearned for amounts to submerging complex problems, questions, and consequences so that I don’t have to see them, so that someone else deals with them. When I conflate “simple” with “convenient,” I can easily fetishize simplicity and forget that the simple lifestyle our ancestors lived — and that billions still live — often involved labor.

My household appliances cut the drudgery of washing dishes and laundry, and for people with disabilities, some technologies are necessities that make life infinitely richer and more productive. But I shouldn’t forget the impact my conveniences have on other people, close and distant, whether those conveniences are economic, material, social, or political.

And this tendency to grab for quick and simple fixes can also infect the way I look at social and political problems. Whenever I hear, “Why do you always have to make everything about (misogyny, racism, ableism, poverty, social justice, etc.)?” I can so often translate it into, “Why are you trying to make visible the complexity I don’t want to deal with, the mess I don’t want to clean up?”

I need to remind myself that I occupy a place in endless circles of interlocking systems: Social systems, ecosystems, political systems, global, and cosmic systems.

I’m beginning to understand that the simplicity I seek isn’t lurking in a catalog, store shelf, neighborhood, or website. It’s a state of mind I want. It’s a freedom from the clutter of complexity. And that, too, is an illusion.

Intellectually, I want the convenience of certainty about how the world works. I want the ease of stable categories that I can use to sort people and experiences and actions into bins of good versus bad, right versus wrong. But the bins aren’t airtight.

I don’t mean that I never make those distinctions; I mean that those categories don’t stay clean or that solutions to problems don’t come without costs, and they often spawn new difficulties. Uncertainty is fundamental to existence.

When I’m honest with myself, I know that even my individual, internal motives are rarely simple. They combine emotion, calculation, desire, morality, love, animus, social perception, rationality, spirituality, ego, and even self-deception.

For the better part of 20 years, I taught writing to first-year college students, and most of them wanted to know the one format, the one sequence or process, the one formula or trick that would simplify all their writing tasks. My own approach evolved over those years, but eventually distilled down to this: Court complexity. Understand that what works in one situation won’t necessarily work in others, that what appeals to one reader will infuriate another. Of course, many of my students found this frustrating, especially initially.

Courting complexity doesn’t mean paralysis. But it does entail an awareness that within my “perfectly simple” attitudes and actions lie the seeds of unanticipated and unintended consequences. Courting complexity means figuring out how to live with that.

People, societies, and life aren’t simple. I can pretend otherwise, but eventually that “throwaway piece of plastic” will rear its head.

Though it isn’t easy, when I accept complexity, the world becomes a surprisingly richer and more exciting place.

https://onbeing.org/blog/miguel-clark-mallet-the-problem-with-simplicity/  June 7, 2o18



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The Power of Continuity by Jim Ritchie-Dunham

Does it make a difference if you care about what you do?  If you are really passionate and committed to what you give energy, or if it is just something that you do, because there is nothing better to do?  I observe that it makes a huge difference.  When I am connected to the power of that passion and commitment, I experience far greater energy.

Does it matter how much you are connected to that passion and commitment?  From not connected at all, to only connected briefly at times, to connected frequently, to connected much of the time.  I experience that how much I carry the commitment and passion with me influences how much energy I give to that commitment.  When it is high, I am a continuous ambassador for the passion.  Like with my family.

In our fieldwork right now at the Institute for Strategic Clarity, we are developing measures of this continuity power–the power of being connected to the deeper shared purpose, the love of the future for which I give my will.  In understanding the geometries of agreements fields, we are exploring how to assess continuity power as one of the key geometries.  “Continuity power” relates to (1) the gap between the desired and actual states of the deeper shared purpose, (2) the utility one has for closing the gap, and (3) the time that one is connected to that deeper shared purpose, of closing the gap.

Using the analogy of power, which is the amount of work done in a unit of time, and where work is the force applied over a distance, we see that the distance is the gap, the force applied is the utility to close the gap, and the time is the time dedicated to closing the gap.  Power = Work / time = (Force * distance) / time, or Continuity Power = Utility * gap / time.  Graphing out this function in the three dimensions shows an interesting geometry, where not all ranges of each of the three variables is possible.  We will be mapping this geometry and sharing the mapping of what we find in the world of human agreements fields over the next months.

This formulation also leads to some interesting initial insights, which we are now in the process of checking in the field.  Let’s work through the three elements: utility; gap; and time.  If the utility to close the gap is weak, maybe because of other priorities, then the work to close the gap will seem to be too great, which will lead to the need to reduce the gap.  The easiest way to reduce the gap is to lower the desired state towards the actual state.  This is a classic systems archetype, known as drifting goals.  If you do not see or connect to the deeper shared purpose, then the time connected decreases significantly, requiring much more continuity power to get the work done.  If the work to be done seems to be too much, this is probably a symptom of a low amount of time connected to the deeper shared purpose.  If it seems to be just too much work to be done to shift the system towards the desired state, then the easiest solution is to reduce either the force or the distance, the utility to change the system by closing the gap or changing the gap.

Conversely, as the time increases that you are connected to closing the gap between the desired and actual states of the deeper shared purpose, the continuity power required to get the work done decreases.  This suggests that it takes far more energy to move the system (to close the gap between the desired and actual states) when not connected to the deeper shared purpose.  It is much more efficient to move the system when connected more continuously to the deeper shared purpose.  It does seem to make a difference if you care about what you do, and how much of the time you are connected to that passion and commitment.  We will be field-testing these insights into the geometry of continuity power in the agreements fields over the next months, sharing here what we are finding

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Malcolm McIntosh: A Tribute 2017

 by Sandra Waddock, Boston College


Have fun and laugh. I had a ball. Sorry to go early. Laugh a lot, it oxygenizes the brain just as well as yoga.’ Malcolm McIntosh

Malcolm McIntosh’s words, quoted in an announcement of his passing on June 7, 2017, sent out by his family, epitomize how he lived his life. I first met Malcolm in the late 1990s when he was forwarding the then-new conversation about corporate citizenship through conferences and a center at the University of Warwick and later at Coventry. He came to academia non-traditionally, through careers in TV production and journalism with the BBC, with a PhD and lifelong interest in peace research that spread out to understanding corporate responsibility and citizenship and, more recently, political economy. In the early 2000s, he founded the Journal of Corporate Citizenship and served as its editor multiple times over the years, including several stints as part of team of guest editors, guiding it to be an outlet for big ideas that bridge from theory to practice, from empiricism to thought leadership. He was the founding director and Professor at Griffith University’s Asia Pacific Centre for Sustainable Enterprise in, Brisbane, Australia, where he served for five years. 

Malcolm was a wonderful thinker, a polymath who followed his own path towards making the world a better place. A global citizen of the first order, there was little that he didn’t know about—from music to philosophy to sustainability to how the world actually works. He was a true intellectual shaman, and a serial social entrepreneur, who was always thinking forward to the next big thing that could serve—or perhaps save—the world. He was a pioneer in the conversation about corporate citizenship, political economy, sustainability, and human rights, who pulled few punches in telling it like he saw it, yet always did so with the most amazing sense of human and personal insight. https://sites.google.com/a/bc.edu/sandra-waddock-homepage/blogs-and-web-postings/malcolm-mcintosh-a-tribute-2017

Malcolm fully embodied the three tasks of the intellectual shaman: healing, connecting, and sensemaking the service of a better world. As a healer, he was profoundly concerned about the state of the world, ecological, politically, and socially, and worked tirelessly to make a difference through his teaching, writing, and consulting. As a connector and global citizen, he bridged across boundaries of all sort, bringing people together in conversations and convenings that informed and enlightened. As a sensemaker and prolific author of more than 25 books and numerous articles, he engaged ideas and shared his insights as a public intellectual. And all of this work aimed at making the world a better place for all.

Malcolm recognized early on the potential of the UN’s Global Compact and, later, the Principles for Responsible Management Education, as levers for positive change in the world, engaging with those initiatives in a variety of ways. He always ‘thought forward,’ systemically, and with a keen sense of the need to bring about change in the world for the better. He brought many of his ideas to fruition in two of his last books Thinking the Twenty-First Century, and The Good Society, which will be published posthumously by Greenleaf.

What I will most remember about him, I suspect, is his spirit, his sense of life, his philosophy that we should, as his website says, ‘Love life, love the plant.’ Most of all I will remember his sense of humor, his prototypical intelligent British wit, his ability to laugh at his own situation, including facing his illness over the last years of his life. He was not afraid to die and he approached that possibility with the same wit he approached everything else. He was not afraid to die because he lived fully and enjoyed every minute of it, including his long marriage to Lou and his wonderful daughters Cleo and Sophie, the work that he did, and his many, many friends around the world. I will miss his spirit, his energy, and his healing presence in our world and also know that the good work that he did will live on.

Sandra Waddock, Boston College, June 2017 


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Purpose After Polman: How the Poster Child for Purpose Paved the Way for Future Leadership



Last month, when news broke that Unilever would begin the search for Paul Polman’s successor, it sent shockwaves through the business world. As the poster child for Purpose in business, what would this mean for the future of businesses that aim to grow while prioritizing sustainability?

Over the years, Polman has been one of the most vocal, determined and passionate advocates for businesses embracing their responsibility to do more than simply make a profit. As he famously said at the launch of Unilever’s Sustainable Living Plan: “We cannot choose between [economic] growth and sustainability — we must have both.”

The data to prove his vision is compelling. Under Polman’s guidance, Unilever has thrived by staying true to its Purpose, realizing tremendous business benefits in the form of efficiencies, growth and employee engagement and retention. The company has attained effectiveness through eco-efficiency measures in its factories, resulting in avoided costs of over €700 million — its waste program alone contributed to cost avoidance of around €250 million. Its portfolio of Sustainable Living brands has grown 50 percent faster than the rest of the Unilever business — and delivered more than 60 percent of Unilever’s overall growth in 2016. And employees are liking what they see — 90 percent of employees are proud to work for Unilever and the company is the number-one most searched fast-moving consumer goods brand on LinkedIn.

But let’s get to the hard numbers: shareholder return. Since the launch of the Sustainable Living Plan, Unilever has seen a 290 percent total shareholder return. In fact, financial experts in 2017 are projecting the Unilever stock may actually outperform the FTSE 100, with EPS that is forecasted to rise at an average rate of 15 percent per annum over the next two years. This may explain why 70 percent of shareholders have held their shares more than seven years — and 60 percent of the company’s top 10 shareholders have held shares for five years or more.

Although Polman has certainly made a strong case for Purpose, he is not alone in the journey. As the CEO begins to think of life after Unilever, let’s take this time to examine — and celebrate — other leaders in the journey toward better business with greater impact:

  • Marc Benioff, CEO, Salesforce: Within a year of founding Salesforce in his rented San Francisco apartment, Benioff had established his “1-1-1 model” of integrated philanthropy. Now, the company with $10 billion in revenue and ranked as the World’s Most Innovative Company by Forbes has “given more than $168 million in grants2.3 million hours of community service, and provided product donations for more than 32,000 nonprofits and higher-education institutions.” Benioff has also used his corporate bully pulpit to advocate for issues such as equal pay and gender identity equality.
  • Rose Marcario, CEO, Patagonia: A business veteran with 25 years in corporate finance under her belt, Marcario is the force behind some of the outdoor retail brand’s boldest moves — including most recently suing the President of the United States and Patagonia’s wildly successful 100% for the Planet Black Friday effort. But Marcario isn’t afraid to go under the hood as well; in her role as CFO, she led a rigorous review of Patagonia’s supply chain.
  • Larry Merlo, CEO, CVS Health*: Just three years into his tenure as CEO, Merlo made a landmark decision — to eliminate tobacco sales in all CVS Health stores — at a potential loss of $2 billion in revenue. The company explained that selling cigarettes conflicted with its Purpose of helping people on their path to better health. The move paid off in a big way — CVS Health announced a nearly 10 percent increase in revenue following the announcement. And, on the one-year anniversary of the decision, in states where CVS has a market share greater than 15 percent, there was a 1 percent decrease in cigarette pack sales, totaling 95 million fewer cigarette packs sold overall. More recently, CVS Health has been at the forefront of tackling the opioid crisis by limiting opioid prescriptions to a seven-day supply.
  • Daniel Lubetzky, Founder and CEO, KIND Snacks: Since founding KIND Snacks in 2004, Lubetzy has guided the “not-only-for-profit” company on a KIND Movement to make the world a little kinder. Lubetzky has also waged a war against unhealthy eating and sugar content in food, most recently contributing $25 million to the Feed the Truth effort aimed at more transparency behind nutrition research, information and policy. And in his “spare time,” Lubetzky, a Mexican immigrant and the son of a Holocaust survivor, founded or co-founded three organizations dedicated to deepening impacts: PeaceWorks Inc.Maiyet and the OneVoice Movement.
  • Eileen Fisher, Founder and President, EILEEN FISHER: In 2015, Eileen Fisher launched a bold new vision for her company: Vision2020 — to attain 100 percent sustainability in its practices by the year 2020. The effort includes progressive elements such as not only being carbon neutral by 2020, but carbon positive, and collaborating with others in the industry to adopt bluesign® textile technologies. While acknowledging the effort would not be easy, the campaign hinged upon the simple but aggressive rallying cry, “No Excuses” and ladders up to Fisher’s belief that “we can use business to change the world, literally.”

In Polman’s own words to the Financial Times in September 2016, he ruminated: “It shouldn’t be difficult to find someone better than me.” And while many in the industry may disagree with his sentiment and be sorry when one of the biggest heroes in corporate responsibility moves on, the bench strength of Purpose-driven CEOs runs deep and wide.

*Cone client

With over a decade of experience in strategic public relations, project management and media relations, Aaron advises corporate and nonprofit clients on how to effectively communicate with diverse stakeholders, articulate their vision, and build brand awareness. He has worked with… [Read more about Aaron Pickering]

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e3 (eCubed) = Everyone Everywhere Everyday by Jim Ritchie-Dunham

Almost every form of wellbeing measured today finds success for some people in some places some of the time.  Income, happiness, health.  Some have it, some of the time, and most do not, most of the time.

In all of our work in the past ten years, my colleagues and I hear over and over again the desire to shift the experience and outcomes in systems for everyone everywhere everyday, throughout whatever system it is.  The energy sovereignty of Vermont, a cancer-free economy in the USA, retrofitting the building stock of Europe, healthy communities in Mexico, generative building in South Africa.  We start with the knowing that we have to figure out how to achieve resilient impact for everyone everywhere in the system everyday.  And, we usually end up settling for most people in most places in the system most of the time.

While mostly successful in these earlier efforts, it is time we take on the bigger challenges of reaching everyone everywhere everyday, where E * E * E = 1.0.  It is time.  This means that to reach 100% overall, we have to reach 100% resilient impact, which requires that we reach everyone (E1 = 100%) everywhere (E2 = 100%) everyday (E3 = 100%).  E^3 or eCubed = 100% = 1.0.

To reach E^3 = 1.0, we have to evolve in our practice and in our understanding of the human being.  We have to learn what works and what does not.  We have to inquire into what it is, what causes it, and what its consequences are.

  • Desired consequences. What are the impacts we desire?  To determine this, we already have tools to explore the impact we want to have and how to achieve resilience in that impact. We can start with: (1) impact resilience measurement; and (2) the Vibrancy Move Process, which uses the reference behavior pattern and O Process tools to determine the gap between what we know is available and what we are currently experiencing.
  • Specification. What is E^3?  How is it different from the current solutions that satisfy many people in many places much of the time?  What does this expanded specification require us to understand?  We already have examples around the globe of people who are beginning to figure out E^3=1.0 solutions.  We are also learning how to learn from their abundance-based solutions.
  • Antecedents. What are the drivers of E^3=1.0?  We have some insights into the differences in agreements fields between solutions that work for some, those that work for many, and those that work for everyone.  Agreements Fields Mapping (pactoecography) helps us describe and understand what resilient impacts we want as humanity, why we want them for everyone everywhere everyday, and how to find the groups that are beginning to figure out the how, how to learn from and with them, and how to see what is next, to achieve E^3 = 1.0.

Figuring this out requires a movement, a global effort to understand how to reach globally local solutions that work for everyone everywhere everyday.  The next frontier. Several efforts are being made with different expressions, from isolated efforts to flocking networks.  Our own efforts in this emerging movement are supported by the Global Pactoecographic Covenant through the Global Initiative to Map Ecosynomic Deviance and Impact Resilience.  As humanity we have the resources, the tools, the knowhow to make the shift, from E^3<<1.0 to E^3=1.0.  We owe it to ourselves and to the resilience of our future.  We owe it to you, and we need you to engage, to bring what you see and what you learn about how to achieve resilient impacts for everyone, everywhere, everyday.  Join our covenant to serve this purpose, to make eCubed = 100%.

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What this World Needs By Margaret Wheatley


This world does not need more entrepreneurs.
This world does not need more technology breakthroughs.
This world needs leaders.

We need leaders who put service over self, who can be steadfast through crises and failures, who want to stay present and make a difference to the people, situations and causes they care about.

We need leaders who are committed to serving people, who recognize what is being lost in the haste to dominate, ignore and abuse the human spirit.

We need leaders because leadership has been debased as those who take things to scale or are first to market or dominate the competition or develop killer apps. Or hold onto power by constantly tightening their stranglehold of fear until people are left lifeless and cowering.

We need leaders now because we have failed to implement what was known to work, what would have prevented or mitigated the rise of hatred, violence, poverty and ecological destruction. We have not failed from a lack of ideas and technologies. We have failed from a lack of will. The solutions we needed were already here.

Now it is too late. We cannot solve these global issues globally. We can see them clearly. We can understand their root causes. We have evidence of solutions that would have solved them. But we refused to compromise, to collaborate, to persevere in resolving them as an intelligent, creative species living on one precious planet.

Now it’s up to us, not as global leaders but as local leaders. We can lead people to create positive changes locally that make life easier and more sustainable, that create possibility in the midst of global decline.

Let us use whatever power and influence we have, working with whatever resources are already available, mobilizing the people who are with us to work for what they care about.

As President Teddy Roosevelt enjoined us:

Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.


See Wheatley, M. J. (2017)  WHO DO WE CHOOSE TO BE? Facing Reality, Claiming Leadership, Restoring Sanity.  Oakland, CA: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc. 

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Employee ownership and the next system–Interview with Professor Joseph R. Blasi

The Democracy Collaborative’s Research Director Thomas Hanna and Next System Project Deputy Director Dana Brown sat down with Dr. Joseph Blasi pre-eminent expert on employee ownership, Distinguished Professor at Rutgers School of Management and Labor Relations, and regular contributor to work around Fifty by Fifty for a chat about the importance of employee ownership and its role in a larger agenda to reduce inequality, anchor jobs at home, and rebuild a strong and stable American economy.

Thomas M. Hanna: Could you just give us a sense of why employee ownership is important, and also why it’s not more widespread in the United States at this point?

Joseph R. Blasi: Sure. In articulating what the next social and economic system should be, employee ownership is important because capital shares by which I mean broadening the ownership of capital and broadening access to capital income are essential to keeping a middle class and avoiding the current system becoming a form of feudalism. For any real form of financial inclusion, capital ownership and capital income are an essential part of the next system. There’s just absolutely no getting away from it, and the reasoning is this: both capital ownership and capital income are highly concentrated in the United States. More than about 80-90% of both are concentrated in approximately the richest 10% of the population.

It’s really quite a serious problem and this would not be an essential part of the next system if it was a case that middle class and working class families saw their wealth and their income expanding as a result of real wage growth. The problem is the economic situation now in which real wage growth is essentially flat or declining and the families that are prospering in the United States are mainly those families who have outsize wage incomes– like movie stars, investment bankers and such–or access to capital ownership and capital income by owning significant amounts of stocks, bonds, and real estate or receiving meaningful grants of profit sharing or employee share ownership in the firm where they work.

If there’s going to be a next system designed in the context of a market driven economy, a broadening of capital ownership or capital income has to be part of it and we have to think through the details of that carefully.

TMH: We know that you share the goal of Fifty by Fifty and The Democracy Collaborative to bring about a massive expansion of employee ownership in the United States by 2050. What are some of the opportunities, strategies, and mechanisms for getting employee ownership to scale in this country?

JRB: I want to talk about both employee ownership and profit sharing because in American history both have become important ways to broaden capital ownership and capital income. Employee ownership is important when you’re talking about the roughly 5,000 corporations on the NYSE and the NASDAQ and when you’re talking about the tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of privately owned small business corporations that have succession problems (where you’re hoping the founders will sell to the employees). Profit sharing should not be forgotten because profit sharing has a long history in stock market companies and family businesses in the United States and it can potentially represent 10-20 percent of additional income on top of fair wages, as we observe at unionized auto companies such as Ford and airlines such as Southwest.

There will be a lot of family businesses that would do profit sharing if it were encouraged by federal and state governments who would never do employee ownership of any significant amount because the families want to continue to own these businesses 100 percent, so we have to focus on both.

I think the principal strategy is to change around the entire system of tax incentives and tax expenditures in the United States so that the trillion dollars in tax expenditures that the Federal Government gives to corporations every five or six years, that those tax expenditures, those tax incentives, are conditioned on companies having broad based employee ownership. I justify this in Chapter One of The Citizen’s Share by reviewing the tradition in American history popular among many Founders that broad-based property ownership is necessary for a democratic republic to exist and to sustain itself.

Let me give you a little perspective, ESOPs (Employee Stock Ownership Plans) have a lot of favorable tax treatment in the US and I go over that in our book, The Citizen’s Share, and in our policy report, Having a Stake, costing taxpayers about a half a billion to a billion dollars a year, and some years less, in tax expenditures. Whereas in contrast we spend something like a thousand billion dollars–a trillion dollars–every five or six years on tax expenditures just for the existing format in corporations, so you can see it’s just really clear if broadening capital ownership is an important goal, then a tax system that spends 99.99 percent of its tax expenditures encouraging something else needs to change.

All forms of broad based employee ownership need to be a part of a complete restructuring of the tax system, not just ESOPs, but a form of employee ownership that can deal with every kind of business entity. For example, worker cooperatives have a very important part to play in small and medium sized business and I think it’s really a moment for the future of worker cooperatives to be a way to buy family businesses where there isn’t a family member to take over. I think in public stock market companies we need to encourage ESOPs, such as the ESOPs that exist at Proctor and Gamble where workers own 15–25 percent of that company. We need new legislation to do that. In high-tech companies, we need to encourage grants of stock, stock options, and profit sharing to workers such as exists at companies like Google and Microsoft.

A major part of what I’m saying is that the strategy should first address the tax system in total and second it should address all the different formats of broad based employee ownership, no matter what they are–as long as they are based on grants of equity or profit sharing to employees and not workers buying company stock with wages or concessions–and it should address all the different sectors of the economy where those formats can be useful.

We’re not going to use worker cooperatives exactly as they are organized in small firms as a format for broad based employee ownership on the New York Stock Exchange. Sorry to tell everybody, that’s not going to happen right now. But we may use ESOPs, grants of equity compensation, and broad based stock options. It is possible we can adapt the worker cooperative structure using platform cooperativism (see the books of Trebor Scholtz of the New School University) in such companies or the representative governance structures of Mondragon in larger firms. In the near future, worker cooperatives will have a very essential role in converting existing small businesses where the founder wants to retire to broad based employee ownership. Any notion of a utopian one-sized fits all strategy is doomed to failure.

TMH: In the past as you’ve mentioned, in the book and in the paper, employee ownership and profit sharing have been able to command pretty broad support across the political spectrum in the US from Ronald Reagan to Theodore and Franklin Roosevelt and beyond. What do you think the new Trump era means for employee ownership efforts? Are there any particular new opportunities or threats in your view? Is this potentially a hindrance to the effort to scale up employee ownership in the way that we’ve been talking about?

JRB: I think in the short term a lot of progress can be made at the Congressional level, because there are large groups of Senators and Congress people across the political spectrum that have an interest in broad based profit sharing and employee ownership. They have often times made themselves known by co-sponsoring legislation in this area and there has been a strong history of bipartisan support for ESOP legislation and broader coop legislation for decades.

The problem is that I don’t think that Congress has been given enough information about how central a revision of national policy on employee ownership or profit sharing is to saving the middle class. That’s why Richard Freeman, Doug Kruse, and I wrote this Having a Stake policy piece for the DC think tank Third Way in order to provide a twenty-five page overview of this issue.

TMH: At The Democracy Collaborative, one of our stated goals is to move this country to a very different place, one in which outcomes are truly and genuinely equitable, democratic, and ecologically sustainable. Can employee ownership and profit sharing lead or contribute to such outcomes in your opinion?

JRB: Yes, to a great extent-but with some limitations. Let me explain why. To the extent that there are large groups of the population working in companies that have profits and where the ownership of these corporations has a lot of value, then employee ownership and profit sharing make a lot of sense.

This potentially involves tens of millions of adult workers in the population. However, we also have a lot of people that have dropped out of the labor market; who are under skilled; who are disabled; or who are senior citizens whose working life has mostly already taken place. We also have poor and needy children and adult workers in the nonprofit or public sector like the military, people in law enforcement, and teachers in kindergarten, elementary school, high school, day care centers, and universities. These groups account for tens of millions of more people. Employee ownership,  broad based ownership, and profit sharing is not going to help them increase their wealth at all.

So, the next system really requires a strategy to try to maximize all forms and all formats of employee ownership and profit sharing in all sectors of the economy where there are workers who can get access to them. Then, we need to focus on things like universal basic income and what I call, “Citizen’s Trusts”, which are privately managed trusts where citizens can receive the dividends of capital ownership–capital income just as the citizens of Alaska receive dividends from the Alaska Permanent Fund.

We should encourage every state to set up a Citizen’s Trust, fund it with seed money from the US Government, and provide the billionaires of the country tax incentives to contribute some of the billions to these trusts. The trusts could use leverage/debt to buy assets and pay for them out of the income on these assets as Louis Kelso proposed in his book Democracy and Economic Power. Such trusts would be professionally managed and they would pay out, like the Alaska Permanent Fund, significant dividends to residents and workers who are not in the for-profit sector where employee ownership or profit sharing is relevant. I would like to see such trusts initially benefit the very old and newborns. As robotization and tech unemployment expands, they would be central to the income of most citizens. These privately-owned trusts must own the robots.

TMH: Some theorists have long suggested that employee ownership may not necessarily produce the egalitarian outcomes anticipated or desired. Or that, in fact, it may exacerbate some economic and social inequalities. Often some of these people argue that some form of social ownership or joint community-worker ownership alongside worker control or self-management of the enterprise itself would be preferential to pure forms of employee ownership. Do you have any thoughts on that debate?

JRB: Oh sure, I have a lot of thoughts! If you look broadly at all the employee ownership in the United States, the degree of ownership is largely correlated to salary levels. That is unlikely to change and it exists in worker cooperatives too.

At a Proctor and Gamble, for instance, someone making $150,000 year roughly may have three times the employee ownership as the person making $50,000 a year, or six times more than the person making $30,000 a year. In stock market companies, which use grants of stock and stock options for employee ownership, that may even be greater. While I know a lot of progressives worry about how employee ownership functions in the ESOP form, it is important to note that the ESOP is actually the only–and I stress only–form of employee ownership in the United States which has a certain egalitarian circuit breakers built into it. This is because ESOPs are in ERISA (Employee Retirement Income Security Act) and have to grant employee ownership according to two strict rules.

The first is that ESOPs cannot benefit the highly-compensated employees or people who hold a lot of stock because they’re founders or family owners in the company. Secondly, they have to be at least as fair as according to salary.

To go to your broader issue, however, there are salary differences in worker cooperatives and there are salary differences in ESOPs, and I will claim to you that in an advanced and developed worker cooperative sector as we do not yet have in the United States–I wish we had one–but as we have in parts of Europe like Mondragon and such, the notion that the stock ownership varies with salary is pretty well accepted.

For example, in Mondragon they have an agreement that’s something like the highest person can’t make more than six or eight times than the lowest paid person. I will tell you that in general in ESOPs in the United States, because ESOPs are mostly in closely-held firms that used to be family businesses, we don’t typically see even these kinds of extreme salary differences.

I think that it is unrealistic, utopian, and counterproductive to think that we would have a big employee ownership sector where we wouldn’t have salary differences. If you look at Mondragon, which is the most developed example that we have in the world of a whole region trying to do employee ownership, they struggle to maintain their highest salary not more than eight times the lowest salary. They’ve even had to make exceptions in some cases.

In general, it’s my view as a private citizen and as sociologist, that one should be able to run most companies with less extreme salary differences than we have now in stock market companies (where we have outrageous and unsustainable salary differences). But the notion that we’re not going to have any salary differences is counter-productive. But if an intentional cooperative’s members desire that, they have the right to do it. Frankly, the issue of whether many millions will even have a salary or a stable job is more important for our nation. This is why Citizen’s Trusts are important. If jobs decline we will see a shift to many citizens having their –I hope–required non-profit work separated from their income. Many wealthy and so-called retired people function like this responsibly.

Now, let’s talk about worker control. I think that if we’re going to get tens of millions of people in the United States into thousands and thousands of firms which have significant broad based employee ownership, then we are not going to get there by having some purist, utopian, direct democracy form of worker control in many of those companies. It ain’t going to happen and it ain’t going to happen for the following reasons.

First, it ain’t going to happen because if you look at the worker cooperative sector as it is, you only have a very small number of worker cooperatives that hold to that model. The larger worker cooperatives tend to have representative participation in management and not full direct democracy.

Secondly, the largest example of worker cooperatives in the world, Mondragon, contrary to what many ill-informed progressives think and continually misrepresent about it, focuses on representative forums of participation at the workplace and not direct forms. They elect representatives and their focus is more on teams and involvement at the workplace level.

Thirdly, most American adult workers don’t yet have the training and the skills to run highly participative workplaces. They would need to receive that training and skills. Do I think it’s possible? Absolutely. But I think if I had to choose between having only purist versions of broad based employee ownership and worker control only versus having more of a diversity of formats which would get to scale more quickly and broaden ownership meaningfully, I would go for diversity of formats.

TMH: I just wanted to pick up on the last point that you were making and bring it around to the question of democracy more broadly. Many arguments made in favor of employee ownership suggest that it can contribute to a reinvigoration of political democracy. And beyond the purely distributive elements of this argument, many theorists have suggested that the experience of participating in the economic decision making in the workplace could play an important role in this revitalization. Do you have any thoughts on that?

JRB: Absolutely. Carol Pateman wrote about this in her famous book, Participation and Democratic Theory, and we see in Northern Italy and in Mondragon that employee ownership has had a real impact on participatory democracy. I think this makes a lot of sense. I think that the concept of just voting as the only form of democracy is a ridiculous notion as democracy means lots more civic participation than the important act of voting.

I think that what social scientists call the “spillover impact” of participation at the workplace is most pronounced when employees have a lot of impact on how their job is organized, where they have self-directed work teams, where they have self-management which is finally becoming more common in industry and where they have a lot of participation at the department and division level.

I also think that it’s very important that when there are people who have ownership interests in a firm at any level, they should be able to vote for members of the board of directors, whether it’s a worker cooperative or Proctor and Gamble. Those are very, very important norms of governance that we have to move to consider them seriously. Shareholder governance rights are entirely consistent with private ownership.

I would like to see at least every form of worker ownership have the ability to elect with their ownership interest members of the board of directors of their company. I simply make a difference in terms of whether all workers at all work places should elect their managers. I’m not sure that that is a realistic approach except in very tightly knit workplaces where there is a lot of education and training and a lot of social capital between the workers. In Mondragon, worker representatives do not elect managers. For me, the best achiever needs to be the manager and diversified boards need to decide that.

We have a completely non-democratic form of corporate governance in the United States in general, in our 5,000 stock market companies. I ask my students in my corporate governance class, “What do you call an election where the number of winners of the election equals the number of candidates?” That’s how our Boards of Directors are elected in publicly traded stock market companies. We have to reform those first. We have to get to the point where the shareholders of stock market companies can nominate a broader slate of people to run for the boards and also where the employee shareholders can also nominate employees to run for the boards.

In those stock market companies, and even Silicon Valley companies, that have five percent, ten percent, twenty percent, fifty percent employee ownership, the employees should be electing people to the board. We have a really completely, undemocratic system of corporate governance in our stock market companies which is really, in principle, a violation of the norm of shareholder democracy in joint stock corporations legally.

TMH: You mentioned in Having a Stake that it’s time to examine how ownership and profit sharing policies can help make US capitalism more efficient and equitable in the current economic environment. What would you offer to those that may argue that we have to begin thinking of political economic alternatives beyond the way that the current American economic system works? In your opinion, what role could and should employee ownership play in such visions for a more community-sustaining system?

JRB: I think that the Federal Government should encourage employee ownership with tax incentives so that in general our stock market companies should be around fifteen to twenty-five percent employee owned, just as a rule of thumb.

I think that that there should also be a huge sector where small businesses of fifty, a hundred, five hundred employees are largely employee owned. I do note, as one of my friends has told me, that many family owned businesses and sole proprietorships are essentially employee owned because the employees and the owners are one and the same. Don’t forget that. The notion of the family farm and the small family business, which is essentially a worker/owner ownership situation, is still part of broad based employee ownership.

My problem with employee ownership, as I said earlier, is it doesn’t do much for the kindergarten teacher and the high school teacher and the soldier or the fireman or firewoman, and there we need to think in terms of these broadly owned citizen’s trusts which own the robots and own the capital of the country and pay dividends.

In our next system, we have to think about the chance–and it’s already happening–where our work is disconnected from income. We’re going to have situations where we’ll have so much technological unemployment that we will have a lot of people who will be receiving dividends, like the Alaska Permanent Fund, and some forms of universal basic income. We will also need to be thinking about different types of work: reading to the blind, helping children, helping senior citizens, and doing the kind of citizen participation that you alluded to at the town and city and county level.

People will need to think about their income coming from some sources, but doing social work, too. I think that’s a very important part of the next system. We may, in fact, have a certain part of the economy–not small–which is employee owned. But that part of the economy may not have most of the working population in it because of the large public and nonprofit sectors, and those receiving incomes from Citizen’s Trusts.

Proponents of alternative systems can’t have this one-size-fits-all view about employee ownership. And we will also need to develop this new idea about pro-social work so that people begin to feel that it’s important work, but not necessarily work that provides your income.

Dana Brown: What is it that gives you hope about the future of employee ownership and profit sharing in the United States? Are there particular examples that you think are inspiring and that people can learn from as they produce strategies to expand employee ownership and profit sharing?

JRB: Yeah, I think that there are two things that give me hope. There are currently thousands of fifty-to-hundred percent employee owned firms where an employee ownership trust has used credit to build significant wealth. As we discuss in our policy report, there is no evidence that wages are lower or that benefits are lower. On the contrary, these firms, to the extent we’ve been able to measure it, have more defined benefit plans than non-ESOP firms. They have higher wages and they tend to have second diversified pension plans. That gives me hope.

The second thing that gives me hope is that I think we have entered a new moment for worker cooperatives. Worker cooperatives in the past have tended to be concentrated in low-wage service industries, and while they have achieved a lot in local communities, they often have not had high enough wages and benefits to be able to build up large amounts of worker wealth. The average worker wealth for ESOPs in most of the 50 states is many many times the incomplete data I have seen on worker cooperatives. But I believe that will change and we will see ESOPs continue to get more participatory and have stronger “best practices” norms (in some cases responding to DOL enforcement) and worker cooperatives become more worker wealth and employee benefits and high wage oriented.  

I think one of the most positive developments is that the traditional conflict between the ESOP format and the cooperative format is starting to fall away. If we can begin to have worker cooperatives that have the governance and participation norms of cooperatives and yet also use access to credit and tax incentives so that the cooperative is not founded using worker savings, but is founded using credit like ESOPs are, then we could have a hybrid form, a hybrid ESOP/cooperative form. It won’t necessarily be called that, but it will be a form of worker cooperative which can buy more valuable companies, offer higher wages, offer higher benefits and where the total value of employee wealth will be higher.

One of the things that a supporters of purist forms of worker cooperatives need to admit to is that worker cooperatives have often been in low wage industries, have had bad benefits, have been non-union, and have had very small wealth accumulation by workers. The worker cooperative movement has to own up to that. I think this has largely been a result of the fact that it’s very hard to start a worker cooperative with worker savings when you’re dealing with citizens who don’t have many savings and don’t have much wealth. It’s very, very risky.

If you could create a hybrid model where you’re using credit, like credit is used in the ESOP model, together with the worker cooperative model then you could have companies that have higher wages, higher benefits, and greater wealth.

TMH: Is there anything else you would like our readers to know or to think about?

JRB: I think the main thing I would like to say is that when I look at the thriving worker cooperative sector now, which I believe is on the brink of huge expansion of growth, and when I look at the ESOP sector, and the sector of tech firms and science based firms which are using profit sharing and employee share ownership in other formats, and when I look at the increased use of technology in all of these situations, I do think that we’re converging towards a next system business format where there’s profit sharing, where there’s member ownership, where there’s a lot of participation, where there’s very, very low hierarchy, and where there’s a more egalitarian compensation arrangement than we read about in the big Fortune 500 companies. And that’s positive.

I think it makes a lot of sense to stress the commonalities of all these formats and I think this current generation, the Millennial generation, is more open to diversity and participation and member rights and respecting the freedom of the individual and team work. In a way, this new generation is kind of built for this new future of work.



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National group says employee ownership is a win-win

Posted Tuesday, June 6, 2017 5:30 pm   By Erin Mansfield, VTDigger.org

BURLINGTON — A speaker for a national group said Friday that Vermont businesses should consider selling to their employees as a way to help them build assets and reduce wealth inequality. Marjorie Kelly, from the Democracy Collaborative, said businesses across the country whose owners are retiring have an opportunity to transition to employee ownership. Kelly spoke at the annual Vermont Employee Ownership Conference at the University of Vermont in Burlington. The Democracy Collaborative is trying to spur 50 million employees across the country to take an ownership stake in the businesses they work for by 2050. “It takes a job to get out of poverty; it takes assets to stay out of poverty,” Kelly said in an interview. “Forty-six percent of Americans cannot pull together $400 in an emergency, and so when you begin to spread assets into hands of ordinary people, then you’re starting to have a more stable economy.” “It’s assets that enable you to weather unemployment or deal with an emergency or send a kid to college, or buy a home,” she said. “And so employee ownership is a proven way to get assets into the hands of ordinary people, ordinary employees, including home care employees.” The Vermont Employee Ownership Center says 50 to 60 companies in the state are employee-owned. In 2016, there were a total of 21,192 companies in Vermont, according to the state Labor Department. Companies like Carris Reels in Rutland, DuBois and King in Randolph, and King Arthur Flour in Norwich have been employee-owned for years. The founders of Switchback Brewing Co. in Burlington sold to their employees in February. Kelly said there’s an opportunity for many other local businesses to sell to employees. That’s because of what she calls “the silver tsunami,” the massive retirement of baby boomers. Some of those are entrepreneurs, she said, who need a way out of their business in order to retire. Don Jamison, the executive director of the Vermont Employee Ownership Center, said there are two common types of employee ownership: a cooperative, in which workers have democratic control over their company and share in profits; and an employee stock ownership plan, or ESOP, in which employees own stock in their companies and can vote on the board of directors. He said employee ownership can help a business owner find someone to buy the business, keep a company rooted in a community, and give employees more work satisfaction. “Many people now, they don’t have much wealth,” Jamison said. “They only have wage income. So the aim is to increase the amount of people who actually have some wealth through shared ownership.” He said employees who have ownership stakes in their companies have higher incomes, better benefits and “much better retirement benefits” than employees at other types of companies. At one of the conference’s seminars, Adam Wrott, from the Valley Alliance of Worker Cooperatives, showed attendees a long list of the benefits that workers get at the Collective Copies Cooperative. “To anyone else in the world, I would say, `Hey, can you show me another copy shop who does anything like this for their employees?'” Wrott said. “That’s the power of the worker co-op.”




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